Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 54 vs. the 76ers

Celtics (40-13) vs. Philadelphia (39-14)
February 6, 1980
Boston Garden

In the team’s most impressive win of the season, the Celtics began their post-All Star break schedule by destroying the mighty Philadelphia 76ers, 129-110, in front of a capacity crowd at the Garden.  The win was particularly impressive as the C’s allowed Julius Erving to go off for 36 points yet still defeated the Sixers in a rout.

Nate Archibald

The win marked the fifth consecutive victory for the Celtics, as well as another win without Dave Cowens (sidelined with a hyperextended left toe since January 22) in the lineup.  The Celtics placed Cowens on the Injured Reserve list, meaning he would be out for the next five games.  With an extra roster spot, the team activated Pete Maravich.  Yet Maravich, still working himself into proper game condition, did not dress for the game against the Sixers.

I’m hoping he’ll be ready to dress out by Friday or Sunday,” Bill Fitch told the Boston Globe before the game.  “He’s not going to help anyone right now because he’s not in shape.

Bob Ryan recapped recapped the victory in the February 7, 1980 edition of the Globe:

The most enthusiastic Garden crowd since John Havlicek Day roared compete approval as Cedric Maxwell, Tiny Archibald (his best game in at least a month) and, of course, Larry Bird rescued them from a 12- point (59-47) halftime deficit with a sensational third-quarter display. The Celtics were trailing by a 76-66 score with 7:10 remaining in the half when the game turned completely around behind the penetration and fast break wizardry of Archibald, plus the all- around play of Bird, who finished with 32 points, 22 in the second half.

The Celtics scored a remarkable 81 points in the second half to turn a tightly-contest game into a rout, giving the C’s a two game cushion in the Atlantic Division.  Winning the division, important as always, held extra significance in the NBA in 1980: whomever won the Atlantic would avoid playing in a playoff mini-series in the NBA’s playoff format.

Led by a flu-ridden Larry Bird’s 32 points and 11 rebounds, the Celtics forced the Sixers into 26 turnovers (eleven more than Boston committed) and won the game on the defensive end.

“They were two different games, weren’t they?” Bird asked Leigh Montville.  “The first half game and the second half game.

“We just saw some defensive mismatches and we went out and put on the press and we just played.”

Philly controlled the game after a 34-16 second quarter, leading by a dozen at the half before the ensuing onslaught from the Green.

We were able to put defensive pressure on them,” Chris Ford told Larry Whiteside after the game.  “We were able to force them into some turnovers and some things they don’t normally like to do.  The crowd is a part of it.  They get us going and we seem to play so much better.

A big difference in the game was play of the Cedric Maxwell.  Ryan detailed his evening on the parquet:

The 76ers had hit Boston with their best shot back in the second period when they ripped off 18 fast-break points, shot 64 percent (16 for 25) andwent ahead by as many as 14 points while making the Celtics look like the Mass. College of Pharmacy jayvees. It was Philly by 12 (59-47) at the half, and by way of artistic emphasis, Julius Erving (35 points) had dunked the final three Sixer baskets.

Enter Cedric Maxwell.  He personally kept his team from falling into the Mystic River with five points on the offensive boards. Before the period was over, he would have 11 points; Tiny Archibald, scoreless in the first half, would have 12; Larry Bird would increase his total by 10; the crowd noise would have disturbed a Tupperware party in Wilbraham; the Celtics would be leading by an 88- 85 score (that’s 41 points, son), and the 76ers would know that the Celtics had not won 40 previous games by paying off Larry O’Brien.

Maxwell finished with 19 points, 13 boards (six offensive), 5-7 from the field, and a perfect 9-9 from the line.  Max, the league leader in field goal percentage, matched up with Philly’s 7-footer Caldwell Jones — who blocked Maxwell’s first four shots the last time they met on December 22 – and held him to four points while helping force Jones into six turnovers.  Tiny Archibald led the C’s with 11 assists (with only three turnovers), spoke to Whiteside after the game:

“The best thing about this victory,” said Archibald, “is that neither team has an edge. We’re 2-2 [against Philadelphia] on the season with two more to play. Momentum is an important part of basketball, and if they’d been up 3-1 we would have known we couldn’t beat them. We both have good teams. It should be very interesting down the stretch.”

Al Skinner made a cameo for the Sixers.  Skinner, who contributed one turnover and a personal foul in his five minutes of play, was cut by the team just days later on February 11.

The first place Celtics returned to action Friday night — New Bedford Night — at the Garden.

 

 

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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.