Celtics (53-16) vs. Indiana (31-40)
March 11, 1980
Market Square Arena
The Celtics dropped a second straight game to a team below the .500 mark, as well as picked up their second defeat of the season in Larry Bird’s home state, in a 114-108 loss to the Pacers.
Unfortunately for the Celtics, a three-game cushion over the Philadelphia 76ers had now dwindled down to just one game in the Atlantic Division.
After 69 games starting the exact same backcourt, Bill Fitch had to change up his starting lineup with both guards out of action. The point guard, Nate Archibald, had stayed in Boston. Archibald was expected to miss at least two games with a corneal abrasion after an Elvin Hayes elbow to the right eye in the previous game against the Bullets. As for the shooting guard, Chris Ford ended his streak of 471 consecutive games played (good enough to rank third best in among active NBA players at the time) to be with his mother, who the Boston Globe reported had suffered a stroke. Ford was placed on the injured reserve list, meaning he would have to miss at least five games. Don Chaney filled the void, resuming his spot on the active roster.
The Celtics continued their surge on the NBA, assuming the role of one of the hottest tickets in the Association. Market Square Arena was at a full capacity of 16,924 to watch Larry Bird and the Pacers. Bird did not disappoint, scoring 28 points. Though he struggled with foul trouble in his first game in Indiana in October, Bird delivered the goods with a 30/11 night in November, yet finished 1-2 after this loss in Indiana. Cedric Maxwell finished right behind Bird with 25 of his own (off an impressive 10-12 night from the field), but a hot shooting streak from Pacers guard Joe Hassett put the Celts in a fourth quarter whole from which they never recovered. The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan detailed the Celtics’ demise in a quarter where the Pacers’ designated shooter out-shot Bird and ended an eight-game losing streak for Indiana:
What the Celtics did not have was Hassett, who was about to embark on the type of shooting demonstration that will keep him occupied in a Rico Carty manner for the next 10 years. Hassett responded to the Bird bomb with a three- pointer of his own. And in less than three minutes, Hassett would deposit two more three- pointers and two everyday 20-foot stop-and-poppers. That’s 13 points in 2:57, son, and when he was finished, the Pacers were smiling over an 18-point (106-88) lead with 5:30 to play.
The Pacers out-rebounded the Celtics by two boards (43-41), but the loss of Archibald was critical in the passing game. George McInnis (9 assists), Mike Bantom (8 assists), and Johnny Davis (8 assists) nearly equaled the entire Celtics team’s assist total, and Indy finished the game with nine more assists than Boston. This is a good example of where a box score only ties a part of the story. Ryan expanded on this notion in the following day’s Globe:
If ever a stat sheet should be sent up for perjury, this was the one. For the numbers indicate that rebounding was not a big issue when it probably was the area in which the Celtics lost the game. The sheet shows Indiana winning the rebound battle, 43-41, with Boston grabbing one more offensive rebound than the Pacers. How, then, did Indiana retain possession so many times when the Celtics should have had the ball? The Pacers kept the ball alive innumberable times, grabbing every long rebound (the Celtics were very slow reacting to the basketball) and making the most of every broken play.
An area where the box score did not lie was thelack of production on this particular evening from Dave Cowens, Jeff Judkins, and Pete Maravich. Indiana registered their depeth with seven different scorers with at least ten points. Former Celtic — and future general manager of the Atlanta Hawks — Billy Knight scored 16 points, while Clemon Johnson matched him with a 16-point performance of his own. Knight joined the Hawks’ front office in 2002, and was eventually promoted to GM. He was the responsible for drafting Marvin Williams over Chris Paul and Deron Williams in the 2005 NBA Draft.
The two-game losing streak matched the season high for the Celtics. This marked the first time the C’s had dropped two in a row since October 20 and October 23, which included the overtime loss in Indiana. The Celtics looked to curb the losing streak by returning to the Garden the next night to play the Houston Rockets.