Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 56 vs. the Pistons

Celtics (42-13) vs. Detroit (14-42)
February 10, 1980
Boston Garden

The headline spoke for itself.

PISTOL, BIRD BLAST PISTONS, 128-111

The Boston Globe printed what the 21st sellout crowd (a new franchise record) witnessed at the Garden.  The pairing of Larry Bird and Pete Maravich led the Celtics to victory, humiliating the Pistons, 128-111, delivering Detroit its league worst 43rd loss.  Their loss was just as important as the victory, as the Celtics held the rights to the Pistons’ upcoming draft pick.

Bird led the Celtics with 24 points, 11 rebounds, and 7 assists, and Maravich contributed 14 points of his own.

Bird and Maravich

Maravich spoke with the Globe’s Larry Whiteside after the victory:

“You know, I feel very slow-footed out there.  I’m not in the best of shape and I’m not as quick as I know I’m capable of being because of it.  I know this is going to sound bad, but I don’t really want to be out there shooting.  I’d much rather concentrate on passing and moving the ball to my teammates.”

Most people in town understand what Pistol Pete Maravich is talking about these days.  He is a Johnny-Come-Lately to a club that has won seven in a row and is leading the Atlantic Division by three games over Philadelphia.

But you couldn’t blame the partisans for getting excited over what they saw of Maravich in the second quarter.  With the Pistons leading, 51-44, Maravich emerged from his cocoon to score 10 of the Celtics’ 13 points in the final four minutes, including two on a scooping layup with one second left. As a result, Boston was able to walk off at halftime in a 57-57 tie instead of trailing.

One of the greatest offensive talents in the history of basketball now had an opportunity to blend in with the best team in professional basketball.  Known for proclivity for long-range shooting, Maravich now had the three-point line to add into his offensive arsenal.  Health permitting, which was asking a lot, considering the shape of Maravich’s two creaky knees, the Pistol and the Celtics were a perfect fit.  At the time in 1980, Maravich and Bird ranked first (where Maravich still ranks) and fifth on the list of the NCAA’s all-time leading scorers.  Bird is now thirteenth on the list.

“I’ve got a long way to go with this team,” Maravich told Whiteside.  “I’ve got to learn the offense better and concentrate more on defense.  I’m just happy to be with a team like this.  I’ve never seen a group of guys with such positive attitudes.  I’ve been on the outside looking in for a long time, and the attitude they have here is contagious.  Even the ball boys have it.”

Will McDonough reported Maravich would receive $80,000 for his stint with the Celtics this year.  Philly coach Billy Cunningham is still mad about the incident and fumed when Pistol arrived here saying that he always wanted to be a Celtic.

“If he always wanted to be a Celtic, why did he come here first to talk to us and be examined by our doctors?” said Billy in Philly, where they had already sewn Maravich’s name on a 76er jersey.

Philadelphia traded for current Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins, a 6’3″ guard from the TrailBlazers.  Detroit’s Bob McAdoo, the former Celtic, had been benched in Detroit and was again looking to be traded.  The Celtics had no interest in reacquiring the big man from the University of North Carolina.

As for the future, namely the upcoming NBA draft, Bob Ryan’s Sunday Notes provided clarity on the upcoming Celtics draft situation:

For 1980, they have Detroit’s No. 1, Washington’s No. 1, their own No. 2, their own No. 3 and Indiana’s No. 3 (for Frankie Sanders). In 1981, they will have their own No. 1, Detroit’s No. 2 (from the Chris Ford-Earl Tatum deal) and San Diego’s No. 2 (Sidney Wicks) . . .

The Celtics left the confines of the Garden to embark on a pivotal five game road trip.  Lined up were all teams from the Western Conference, including sellout crowds in Phoenix, Utah, Denver, and a raucous Seattle crowd where over 33,000 tickets had already been sold at King County Domed Stadium.  Ryan ended his notes column by comparing Bird’s arrival to the impact a fellow Boston legend made on ice:

What Bobby Orr did for hockey in 1966-67, Larry Bird is doing for basketball in 1979-80. That is to say, he has taken a strong base of support for a game and has turned it into a fanatical following by exploring heretofore uncharted artistic waters . . .

The Celtics returned to action on Wednesday in Phoenix.

 

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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.

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