Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 48 vs. the Pistons

Celtics (35-12) vs. Pistons (13-36)
January 23, 1980
Pontiac Silverdome

The Celtics hammered the Pistons with 77 second half points and walked all over Detroit for a 131-104 victory.

For the first time all season, Bill Fitch changed his starting five.  Dave Cowens, forced to miss the game after injuring his left foot in the game against the Rockets the prior evening, was replaced in the starting lineup by Rick Robey.  Robey delivered for the C’s, contributing 24 points and 19 rebounds.

Rick Robey

“Robey is the guy,” Fitch told Bob Ryan in the Globe, “that regardless of any circumstance would have had fingers pointed at him, with people saying he couldn’t stand the heat, if we had lost.”

There was no way to overrate Robey’s role in this victory. It was the third time in the last seven games he has had to step in for Dave Cowens, and each time he has come through. He opened up with a 14-point, five-rebound first period while being guarded by Bob McAdoo, who had to start at center in place of the injured Leon Douglas. McAdoo could not contain Robey on the boards, and the Celtics had the good sense to dump the ball in low. By the end of the third period, Robey had compiled 22 points and 15 rebounds.

“When the pressure’s been on him,” said Bird, “he’s come through.” Rookie Greg Kelser gave the Pistons their only source of life by scoring 29 points via a mixture of drives and medium-range jumpers, but none of the others appeared to view the game as a team sport. “They’re amazing,” sniffed one Celtic. “They wouldn’t pass the ball to their mother on the fast break.”

The free-falling Pistons had no answer for the Celtics starters nor, for that matter, their reserves.  Larry Bird added 21 points and 10 rebounds The Celtic bench, led by M.L. Carr (21 points) and Gerald Henderson (16 points, and 5 assists, playing well for a second straight game), scored 47 points.  Robey and Henderson understood the significance of their extra opportunity, wrote Ryan:

Robey recognizes the opportunity he now has to demonstrate his viability as a playoff performer.

“I’m just trying to play hard,” he explains, “and I’ve been learning from one of the best in Dave. When someone asks me about this center or that center, I say that he’s no better than the center I face every day in practice. Dave has prepared me for this job, and the coaches have, too.”

As for Henderson, whom Chris Ford has nicknamed “Quick,” he has been taking two steps forward for every one backward over the past month or so. The rookie with one of the league’s most envied pair of legs has been playing with increasing confidence, and in his 16- point, 5-assist performance on Wednesday, he was able to do pretty much what he wanted to do against the Detroit guards.

“Gerald’s end product should be a total guard,” assesses Fitch. “We have four guards with specific skills now. We’ve got Tiny (Archibald), Chris (Ford), Duck (Don Chaney) and now Pete (Maravich). Gerry can learn something from each of them.”

Former Celtic and current Piston Bob McAdoo shared with Bob Ryan the reason behind about his unsuccessful tenure in Boston:

“I think a lot of the blame of what happened last year has to go to John Y. Brown. The man was just no good for basketball.”

The Pistons would only win three games, losing 27, the remainder of the season.

The Boston media was still abuzz with the Celtics’ signing of Pete Maravich.

After Bob Ryan covered the pros and cons in the Globe, Will McDonough added some additional info on the legend from LSU:

 

Pete Maravich

 

The big question about Pete Maravich’s joining the Celtics will not be how he fits in with his new teammates or his playing style but how good his injured knee is. Maravich has been slowed by an injured knee in recent years, and that is why Philadelphia gave him a complete physical when the 76ers tried to sign him the other day. What the doctors discovered could be pleasing to Celtic fans.

“The knee that was injured is now 19 percent stronger than his good knee,” said Celtic general manager Red Auerbach, not bothering to explain how you come up with a figure like 19 percent for a knee.

Besides the knee, others who have followed Pistol Pete wonder why Utah coach Tom Nissalke wouldn’t let Maravich play or even practice with the team in recent weeks. The rumor is that Nissalke’s beef with Maravich goes back a decade to college.

Nissalke was an assistant coach at LSU when Maravich’s dad, Press, was head coach. The next year, Nissalke took the head- coaching job at Tulane. When Pistol Pete and LSU arrived to play at Tulane, Maravich threw in 58 points, completely devastating the opposition. Some say Nissalke never forgot – or forgave.

Boston would have to open a roster spot to make room for Maravich.  In the meantime, the Celtics returned home for a Friday night matchup at the Garden against the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions, the Washington Bullets.

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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.