Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 71 vs. the Rockets

Celtics (53-17) vs. Rockets (35-37)
March 12, 1980
Boston Garden

Whenever the Celtics were in need of a win, they needed to look no further than the Houston Rockets.

For the sixth consecutive time in the 1979-80 season, the C’s dispatched the Rockets, this time by a final score of 121-105.  Larry Bird had a sensational night, finishing two assists short of a triple-double with 29 points, 13 rebounds, and 8 assists.  Bird shot 67 percent from the field, hit two of his four 3-pointers, and was nearly perfect (7-8) at the free throw line.  Six months into the season, the Rockets still had no answer for the Larry Bird and the Celtics.

A long-standing trait of successful Celtics teams is the ability to allow star players — from Wilt Chamberlain to Lebron James in Cleveland — put up outstanding individual numbers, yet ultimately fall to the team wearing green and white.  Moses Malone definitely etched his name into that upper-echelon of playersable to dominate the Celtics yet, up to this point in his career, unable to actually beat them.

Moses Malone

Malone finished with 23 and 10, capping off an incredible set of six individual perfomances against the C’s.  In order from the first game of the season, here are his numbers:

Friday, October 12 at the Garden: 31 points, 16 rebounds

Wednesday, October 24 at the Summit: 19 points, 18 rebounds

Wednesday, January 2 at the Summit: 13 points, 17 rebounds

Tuesday, January 22 at the Garden: 24 points, 10 rebounds

Wednesday, March 5 at the Summit: 30 points, 18 rebounds

Wednesday, March 12 at the Garden: 23 points, 10 rebounds

With Malone displayed his individual brilliance, seven Celtics scored in double-figures to lead a balanced scoring attack.  Unlike the brief two game losing streak, a game-changer for the Celtics on this particular night was the improved play from the bench.  In particular, Dave Cowens (12 points, 4 rebounds) and Pete Maravich (10 points in 14 minutes) were big contributors, and Gerald Henderson (14 points), doing his best impression of Tiny Archibald, impressed another capacity crowd at the Garden with 10 assists in only his second career start at the point.  Bob Ryan from the Boston Globe reported on the game in the following day’s paper:

Boston never trailed after an early 13-2 spurt broke a 6-6 tie, and the home team got up by 24 points at 90-66 with 2:44 remaining in the third period. But Houston didn’t quit, and with 3:27 left in the game the Celtics’ lead had been sliced to eight at 106-98.

That’s when Bird decided the game.  He swished a soft 20-footer, drew a pair of free throws while posting up Rick Barry and then put the game out of sight with a three-point runner on an in-bounds play with 1:57 left to complete a 28-point, 13-rebound, 8-assist, 10-for- 15 evening’s work.

The Celtics were licking their chops at the potential of a playoff matchup with Del Harris’ Rockets.

The 76ers also won, defeating the Washington Bullets, and remained just one game behind the Celtics in the quest for the Atlantic Division and a first-round playoff bye.  The C’s returned to action on Friday night at the Omni in Atlanta.

 

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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.