Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 60 vs. the Jazz

Celtics (44-15) vs. Utah (20-42)
February 20, 1980
Salt Palace

The Celtics’ February road trip included a homecoming of sorts for Pete Maravich and Jeff Judkins.

Pistol Pete’s career had been derailed in Utah and nearly ended on an unceremonious note when Jazz coach Tom Nissalke relegated him to the bench for seven weeks and put the basketball in the hands of new star Adrian Dantley.  Judkins grew up in Utah and played his college ball there, too.  Before overpowering the Jazz to the tune of a 105-98 victory, the Celtics were greeted at the airport in Salt Lake City by 30 friends and relatives of Judkins, practiced at his old high school, and ate a dinner served by his mother.  The former University of Utah standout went on to deliver 19 points on 7-9 shooting in his return home, while Maravich’s uneven tenure with the Celtics continued with a DNP-Coach’s Decision.

Pete Maravich_John Havlicek
In an interview conducted last week with Marshall Terrill, a co-author of Pete Maravich: The Authorized Biography of Pistol Pete, Terrill touched on some of the difficulties Maravich encountered at the end of his tenure with the Jazz:

Nissalke felt like he couldn’t build a winning team around Maravich who was 31 at the time.  While his game was still graceful, he no longer was as explosive…. His knee injury from a Jan. 31, 1978 game against the Buffalo Braves never healed properly, and he wasn’t he same player.  Defensively, Maravich had no lateral movement and didn’t pull his weight on that end of the court.  Nissalke felt Maravich, despite the fact that he was still a draw in the league, was a liability and benched him.  That deeply wounded Maravich’s pride.  He said of that period that he was “mentally crippled” and felt like he was wasting away on the bench.

Maravich was a very emotional person where it concerned basketball and took everything personally.  He suffered many sleepless nights (he was a notoriously light sleeper) as a result.  It seemed as if Maravich represented the Jazz’s past while Adrian Dantley, who was averaging 29 points a game, represented its future.  It was a changing of the guard moment for Pete and I think he and the Jazz organization realized he needed a fresh start someplace else.

Dantley poured in 31 points and 8 rebounds against the Celtics while Maravich watched from the bench.

*Maravich and Auerbach really shine after the 2-minute mark*

After the Celtics signed Maravich, the organization opted to have the Pistol train away from the confines of the team.  Terrill continues:

Maravich was very unhappy with the way the Celtics treated him during his rehabilitation and wrote about it extensively in his 1987 autobiography, “Heir to a Dream”.  He felt the only way to get into playing shape was to play.

For the first two weeks he was in Boston, he never saw any of the other players.  He practiced in another gym away from the team with Mike Cole, who worked in the promotions department.  Maravich wrote: “The team’s actions didn’t make any sense to me. When I pressed for an explanation I was told they needed to bring me into the system slowly. That’s when I remember feeling as though I was some kind of alien or a disease for which they needed to find a cure.”

Though Maravich didn’t play, Bird finished with 33 points and Rick Robey scored 20 and pounded the glass for a career-high 21 rebounds.  Behind a 14-point second quarter, the man who stole the show was, per Bob Ryan in the Globe, Jeff Judkins:

The hometown kid, who played his high school ball at Highland High and his college ball five minutes away from his house at the University of Utah, came within a basket of equaling his season’s high as he paced a 34-point Celtic second quarter that turned a 32-24 one-period advantage into a lead that peaked at 60-44 on a Gerld Henderson jumper with 54 seconds remaining in the half.

Even without Dave Cowens, the Celtics never trailed or relinquished their lead after Larry Bird scored to put Boston ahead, 4-2.  Cowens was still recuperating from an injury to the big toe on his left foot, but the Celtics had surprised the Association by playing terrific basketball without their premiere low post defender, winning ten of the thirteen games without Big Red.  Bob Ryan detailed their play without Cowens:

Having lost their best defensive player when Cowens went down, the Celtics have shifted the emphasis to offense in his absence.  The team had outscored opponents by a 119.7-108.2 margin in those 12 games, four times breaking 130 points.  The defense hadn’t been all that bad either, with only Phoenix (135 on 60 percent shooting) breaking 111 against the Green and White.

It helped, of course, that Larry Bird had averaged just under 25 points during Cowens’ absence.  Five months into his rookie season, and Bird had recorded double-doubles in 57 of his first 60 NBA games.  The team stepped up to fill in the holes from the loss Cowens’ production: Rick Robey, averaging thirteen points per game, and Eric Fernsten, who went from nearly but cut to contributing eight points per game, both helped ease the loss of the big man from Florida State.

In other Celtics news, Will McDonough reported that the organization was looking for other alternatives outside of the Boston Garden and beyond the proposed sports complex in East Boston.  The team, he reported, looked into relocating to a city known for its incredible eats at Kelly’s Roast Beef:

The Celtics and the Boston Garden have been involved in very sensitive negotiations in recent weeks concerning a new lease.  The Celtics, whose current lease is up at the end of the year, are trying to build their own arena in Revere.  But it certainly won’t be ready in time for next season, so they are interested in a short- term deal.  The Garden’s management, which is making a legitimate effort of their own to rebuild the arena, wants a long- term arrangement.

The C’s looked to build a new winning streak on Saturday in Denver and go for the series sweep against the Nuggets.  With the Celtics landing in Denver on Friday, there were cheers a good 1800 miles away over in New York — Lake Placid, to be exact — as the United States Olympics hockey team defeated the Russians, 4-3.  To this day, it’s the last tape-delayed American Olympic hockey game ever aired on television.

 

2_20_80

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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