Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 64 vs. the Warriors

Celtics (48-15) vs. Golden State (20-46)
February 29, 1980
Boston Garden

The Celtics celebrated by the leap year by whipping the Golden State Warriors, 110-99.  The 15,320 fans at the Garden were present for 24th sellout of the season of the season as well as the Green’s fifth straight win.  The Celtics ended the month of February with a 9-2 record, and Larry Bird — who led all scorers with 28 points — was the catalyst for the success.

After opening the last game against the Spurs with a 38-point quarter, the Celtics dropped 36 on the Warriors in the opening frame in this one.  Golden State’s dreadful season continued, and the C’s neutralized Golden State big man Robert Parish.  After scoring 22 and picking up 11 boards against the Celtics on December 29, Parish was held to just 8 and 6 in Boston.  Bob Ryan from the March 1, 1980 edition of the  Boston Globe summed up this affair very quickly:

It was on the schedule, so they played it.  This is the safest thing that can be said about the Celtics-Warriors affair at the Garden last night.

Golden State was on their second coach of the season, having placed Al Attles on the injured reserve with a torn achilles tendon (again, it had been a tough year for the Warriors) after an 18-43 start to the season.  Johnny Bach, in the first of two stints as Warriors coach, assumed the responsibility of finishing out the season.  Known for his work on Phil Jackson’s staff with the Chicago Bulls, Bach has a rich history with the game of basketball that includes a tenure in Boston with the Celtics.

From left to right: Jim Cleamons; Johnny Bach; Phil Jackson; and Tex Winter.  All but Winter were involved with the NBA during the 1979-80 season.

From left to right: Jim Cleamons; Johnny Bach; Phil Jackson; and Tex Winter. All but Winter were involved with the NBA during the 1979-80 season.

Bach is credited with providing the architecture behind the zone defense, but well before his coaching career,

Steve Aschburner championing Bach’s credentials for the Basketball Hall of Fame:

As a coach in both college and the NBA, as someone who drew a paycheck from the Boston Celtics before Red Auerbach ever did, as a lifelong teacher and role model for players across eight decades, Bach has checked most of the boxes and drawn a few more at the bottom of any eligibility sheet for the hoops Hall.

“He’s been a head coach in college [Fordham 1949-1968, Penn State 1969-1978], a head coach in the NBA [Golden State, 1979-1980, 1983-1986],” said [Donald] Gallagher [an attorney and co-author of “Stolen Glory: The U.S., the Soviet Union and the Olympic Basketball Game That Never Ended” — Bach was an assistant with the U.S.].  “He played in the league, he was an assistant when the Bulls won their first three championships. He deserves the credit for their ‘Doberman defense.’ He’s the one who really architected zone defense in basketball — there are not many people who could say they were on the same page as him with zone defense.

Gallagher had that in mind when he nominated Bach last year, accompanying his pitch with endorsement letters from Jackson, Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf and current Chicago basketball boss John Paxson. He had taken Jerry Colangelo at his word when the Hall’s board chairman talked about “a place in the Hall of Fame for all contributors to the game of basketball. … Somehow, some way, we don’t want them to get lost in the shuffle.”

Bach was signed by the Celtics before the 1948-49 (we’re still searching for copies of those box scores), but cut before he could return for a second season.  Another former Celtic, Jo Jo White, shot 4-6 for 8 points.

Chris Ford_Jo Jo White

Nevertheless, the Warriors were outmatched, primarily because the Celtics had their way running the fast break.  Per Bob Ryan:

The Celts found it easy to run their offense against the Warriors who, despite the exhortations of coach John Bach (Al Attles is home recuperatingfrom a torn achilles tendon) and reserve center Ray, refused to pick up the Celtics deep in their defensive end. They allowed the Celtics to run their plays as if they were going through a shadow drill on the first day of practice. Bird was an immediate beneficiary of this defensive laxity as the team sprung him for wide- open jumpers on the first two Boston possessions.

Bird treated the appreciative crowd to a 12-point first quarter of 6-for-7 shooting as the Celtics assumed a 36-27 lead. His only miss was a clock- beating three-pointer which spun around and out, but which was rebounded by Eric Fernsten, who made one of two followup free throws. Maxwell (10) and Ford (8) were other big scorers.

Dave Cowens built up some stamina by playing 21 minutes and picking up a game high 9 rebounds off the bench, but his shooting (2-12) was woeful.  Speaking of woeful, Celtics fans were treated to the first ever three-point attempt by future Doc River assistant coach Clifford Ray.

Clifford RayThe attempt was unsuccessful.

The Celtics returned to action on Sunday to face the Detroit Pistons.  The game would be held a day after the NBA’s coin flip between the Celtics and Utah Jazz to decide who held the rights to the no. 1 pick in the upcoming 1980 NBA draft.  Though this February 29 game officially marked the final time the Celtics played the Warriors during the 1979-80 season, the C’s would use that draft pick to torment the Warriors for years to come.

 

2_29_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.