Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 66 vs. the Spurs

Celtics (50-15) vs. San Antonio (33-34)
March 4, 1980
Hemisfair Arena

Only five days after playing each other at the Boston Garden, the Celtics manhandled George Gervin and the Spurs, 137-108.  The C’s and Spurs embarked on a scoring spree at the Garden, playing a 38-38 first quarter, but the two teams outdid that performance in Texas: the score was 40-40 after the first twelve minutes of basketball.

Larry Bird

The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan discussed the Celtics’ dominant victory:

There was a game until the 2 1/2 -minute mark of the first half, when the Celtics ended a long period of basket-swapping with a run of eight straight that gave them a 70-60 halftime lead that was followed by a sensational third period.  In that display, the Celtics shot 76 percent (16-for-21) to move into a 107-84 lead.  An early bit of final-period Celtic sloppiness enabled the Spurs to creep within 17 at 107-90.  But Celtic coach Bill Fitch called timeout to restore order, and the Celtics had no trouble regaining control, building the lead to the final margin on an Eric Fernsten tap.

There weren’t many fans left in the building at the end.  They had gotten tired of watching Boston fast breaks and poor San Antonio shots.

The Celtics peaked in the first and third quarter, scoring a respective 40 and 37 points in those two quarters.  Larry Bird led the team with 29 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists, followed by Cedric Maxwell with 23 points, a game-high 9 rebounds, and 6 assists.  Nate Archibald added 19 points and 9 assists, and Rick Robey contributed 19 points.  Chris Ford scored 10 to give the Celtics starters a total of 99 points.  The run-and-gun style suited Pete Maravich, who finished with 15 points.  Maravich expressed his initial impressions of the Celtics to Bob Ryan in the Globe:

Pete Maravich says that what has impressed him most about the Celtics is their “attitude and atmosphere.”  Maravich explains, “This is the only team I’ve ever played on where guys got on the bus in the morning and talked about basketball.  It’s always, How did Philly do last night?  What did Seattle do?’  I’m impressed by that, and by how badly the guys want to win.”

Ryan also delivered a funny anecdote on Spurs forward Larry Kenon:

Larry Kenon

“Memoirs of a Hot Dog,” the autobiography being compiled by Larry Kenon, received a new chapter last night when Mr. K, the celebrated self-styled “best all-around forward in basketball,” shot 0 for 6 in the first half and capped his performance by missing a dunk because he wanted to throw it in backhand instead of straight on.  The Celtics took the miss and scored at the other end.

The best all-around forward in basketball was dressed in Celtic green, and the NBA announced on Monday, March 3 that Larry Bird was the Player of the Week as well as February’s Player of the Month.  His impact on the court was undeniable and a movement for Bird — in his rookie season — was building to win the league’s Most Valuable Player award.

“Larry Bird,” said [Utah Jazz coach] Nissalke, “is the best rookie to come into the league since Bill Walton.  I really believe that if he had gone to Los Angeles they would only have two or three losses this season, and that if Magic Johnson had gone to Boston, they’d have no more than 36 wins.  Magic is very good, but he is a spear carrier on that club. Bird is carrying the Celtics.”

Bird also made an impact off the court.  Michael Connelly, formerly of the Boston Herald and now with Sports of Boston, wrote Rebound! Basketball, Busing, Larry Bird, and the Rebirth of Boston, spoke in a recent interview with BSMW and discussed the force of Bird in Boston:

Rebound!

The city itself was going through a tough time and was searching for something.  [On a local level, the Celtics] were a lot like the U.S.A. hockey team in 1980 during the recession and the Iran hostage crisis.  The team certainly captured the city’s imagination and Bird was a rare guy.  I’m not a hero-worshipper, I’m actually more of a contrarian, but something about Bird and his blue-collar work ethic was almost magical.  Guys like that come around once in a lifetime.

Race and Boston always seem to connect, and the Celtics represent a thread woven permanently into that discussion.  The Celtics drafted the first African American player, started the first African American starting five, and hired the first African American head coach.  Yet the city once acclaimed for liberty encountered a terrible time of disarray as the 1970s transitioned into 1980s.  Connelly captured the discontent in the city and the Celtics’ ability to help capture the passion of both blacks and whites.

Boston is a very parochial city, but the genesis of the book was David Justice.  Justice built into his contract that he could never be traded to Boston because of the perceived racial divide that existed in the city.  I grew up in Boston, I love Boston, so that inspired me to do the book.  It was interesting that, as the book was unfolding, Kevin Garnett had some similar concerns [about being traded from Minnesota to Boston].  No one in this city in the history of sports has ever been welcomed and loved like Kevin Garnett.  Tommy Heinsohn’s quote on the back cover of the book says a lot: no race, no group can ever have all the answers, but together they can do it.  This Celtics team is a prime example of that.  Cedric Maxwell was a big player and really a leader on that team.  M.L. Carr was beloved in the city because of all his energy.  There were a lot of people to grab onto, and the team was winning after an oasis of losing with Curtis Rowe and Sidney Wicks.

Red Auerbach would do whatever it took to win.  He was driven to win under any circumstance.  He punched the owner of the St. Louis Hawks in the face because he thought the rim was too low.  There’s a guy also coming from a minority, being Jewish, and Celtic Green was the only thing he cared about.

Celtic Green, perched back atop of the NBA, moved to a full two games ahead of Philadelphia (49-17) with the win.  After a back-to-back in Houston the next night, the Celtics would return home for a date with the Sixers on Friday 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.

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