Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 45 vs. the TrailBlazers

Celtics (33-11) vs. TrailBlazers (24-25)
January 18, 1980
Boston Garden

The Portland TrailBlazers made their lone visit to Boston on January 18.  The proud franchise, still struggling to find an identity after their lone championship in 1977, was moving on from the Bill Walton Era after he departed to the San Diego Clippers as a free agent following the 1979 season.

Walton and Portland teammate Maurice Lucas helped build “Blazermania” in Oregon, an intensely loyal fan base that only waned during the JailBlazer years in the early 2000s.  The 1977 champions are still the youngest team to ever win an NBA title, and the bond between the two men became so tight that Walton named his son after the man fondly known as “Luke.”

Although it only resulted in one championship, Portland’s sensational run in the 70′s was built off a similar blue print to the Bill Russell-Celtics through rebounding and running:

[Portland coach Jack] Ramsay molded this crew into a rebounding and running package that thrilled the Portland crowds. He was, after all, Dr. Jack Ramsay, the thinking man’s coach. He had been the most respected of college coaches, guiding wonderful teams at St. Joe’s and compiling a 234-72 record over 11 seasons. In more than 20 seasons as an NBA coach, he would pile up 864 regular-season wins.

Whatever identity or cause Portland was seeking this season was not found this particular night on Causeway Street.  In front of the Garden’s 15th sellout in 22 home games, the Celtics improved to 20-2 at home with a 111-93 beatdown of the Blazers.

The C’s started slowly, trailing by 11 after allowing 33 first quarter points, but turned up the intensity in the middle frames.  Dave Cowens paced the Celtics with 20 points and 11 rebounds, while Larry Bird added 18 and 15 with Cedric Maxwell delivering 19 points off a perfect 5-5 night from the field.  Tiny Archibald accumulated 10 of the team’s 27 assists, and Ryan noted the importance of the team’s passing:

The Celtics really do live and die by ball movement. In the first half they had assists on a mere 8 of their 18 baskets, and they looked like five guys who had just met. In the second half, they had assists on 19 of their 26 baskets, and they often looked as if they were sharing one brain.  One of the delightful discoveries last evening was the Boston inside-out offense, which had been the league’s best until a month ago.  The Celtics wereagain dumping the ball in to the likes of Dave Cowens and Cedric Maxwell, who were in turn kicking it back out again to the likes of Larry Bird, Tiny Archibald or Cowens. “Movement,” said Cowens, “was the key. We talked about it at halftime. They were taking us away from our strength and pinning us to one side of the floor in the first half.”

The knockout blow was delivered in the third quarter as the Celtics outscored the Blazers, 37-15.  Cowens, per the Globe, led the way in delivering the knockout punch:

Portland, which led at the period (33-22) and half (51-49) was leading, 57-55, when Cowens picked up the team and the crowd with eight points in the next two minutes. He engaged in a brief one-on- one duel with Maurice Lucas which resulted in the latter’s return to the Portland bench, and it was he who kicked off a burst of 14 straight points with a power hook and a jumper. That run boosted the Celtics into a 73-60 lead, and the game was never close after that. With Cowens and Larry Bird (17 points, 15 rebounds) sweeping the boards and with the ball again moving in October fashion, Boston shot a dazzling 15 for 20 in that third quarter.

Maurice Lucas had a superb showing on the glass, collecting five offensive rebounds and 15 overall.  Don Chaney hit his first NBA three-pointer, which turned out to be a turning point in the game, as Bob Ryan detailed in the following day’s Globe:
There was complete poetic justice on the final play of the first half of last night’s Celtics-Trail Blazers game when a Portland club packed deep in an outrageously obvious zone was beaten by a three-point field goal tossed in by that old zone-buster himself, Don Chaney. That basket made it 51- 49, Portland.  And The Duck had stuck in another valuable basket earlier in the period, spinning down the lane for a three-point play on a backhand flip which reduced an eight-point (47-39) deficit to five . . .

Ryan stressed the importance of the win:

The importance of all this for the Celtics was that it restored some confidence prior to the arrival of Seattle tomorrow. The Celtics of the first half could not have beaten UMass. The second- half gang will be happy to welcome the fly into its cozy Garden web.

In other NBA news, courtesy of the Globe’s Sports Log, the 48-hour waiver period on Pete Maravich ends today, after which any team can try to sign the flashy 31-year-old guard with the troublesome knees who has yet to play on an NBA championship team. One club which appears to have more than just a passing interest is the Philadelphia 76ers, whose coach, Billy Cunningham, said last night that he views the 6-foot-5 guard as a potential “insurance policy.” There has been no word from the Celtics, but general manager Red Auerbach has expressed prior interest in acquiring Maravich.

Time would tell just how interested the Celtics were in Maravich.  In the meantime, the Celtics continued their home stand on Sunday against back-to-back defending Western Conference champions, the Seattle SuperSonics.

 

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About Justin Barrasso

Justin Barrasso has worked in the Boston sports scene in various different capacities since 2001, including writing for the Boston Herald and WEEI.com.