Celtics (3-0) vs. Houston (0-3)
April 15, 1980
The Celtics punched their ticket to the conference finals by sweeping away the Houston Rockets, winning the fourth and final game of the series, 138-121.
The C’s shot a scorching 63 percent from the field and featured four players in double-digits. Larry Bird led all scorers with 34 points. Bird, who also pulled down 10 rebounds and picked up 7 assists, came within just three assists of picking up his first playoff triple-double. Even now, 33 years later, M.L. Carr still gushes when discussing playing alongside Bird. In his recent interview with BSMW, Carr touched on the skills that allowed Bird to make an immediate impact in the NBA:
Larry’s understanding of the game made him so special. Bill Russell used to say, “the game of basketball is not how high you can jump or how fast you can go, it’s how quick you can cut off angles because the game is a game of angles.” Larry understood that probably better than anyone at the time. He wasn’t a great leaper but he cleared out space for rebounding opportunities. Defensively, he used angles to outsmart some of the quicker guys. He had an incredible basketball IQ for a kid that young. And put that together with his offensive skills, and I’m talking more than just shooting, because his ability to see the floor and pass were uncanny for a guy his size at that time.
Carr had a solid game of his own, coming off the bench to add 23 points in just 21 minutes. Though the team was, both figuratively and literally, still centered by Dave Cowens, and the whole league was buzzing about Larry Bird, the Celtics were still very much Chris Ford’s team. In just his his second season with the Celtics, the 31-year-old Ford had earned the trust of Bill Fitch. Ford was no longer at the point where he could average 15 points in 4 assists per game, the numbers he posted during the 1979 season, but his gritty style of playbuilt a reservoir of faith in his coach’s eyes. Fitch relied on Ford’s steadiness, whereas the same could not be said for Fitch and Pete Maravich. After enduring some miserable seasons with Detroit as well as a losing season in his first year with Boston, Ford made the most of his opportunity in 1980.
Carr explained Ford’s impact to the team:
We had an unbelievable bond among the guys, but I can still remember Chris Ford being one of our driving forces. Chris had never been this close to a championship. He was unbelievable, from the first day of practice to the first time on the bus, every time you saw him, he was all about winning. He was the real driving force behind everything we did.
Ford was also the MVP of the series against Houston.
The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan touched on Ford’s two-sided play and overall effectiveness in the conference semis:
No Celtic has done his job better in this series, and thus far he’s the playoff MVP.
“His hands are moving all the time,” marveled Cedric Maxwell, “and if he isn’t stealing a pass, he’s deflecting one.”
“We all know what is on the line,” said Celtic guard Chris Ford. “We know we have to do it right now. This is a unique team and the guys are all unselfish. You may stop one or two guys for awhile, but somebody else will take up the slack.
The tidal wave named Philadelphia is about to meet the avalanche named Boston. The confrontation everyone from Chatham to Cape May has been begging for since Thanksgiving will start on Friday night at the Boston Garden, now that the 76ers have laid the Atlanta Hawks to rest.
The Sixers knocked out the Atlanta Hawks in five games, and Hawks coach Hubie Brown explained to the Globe that the impending series between the Celtics and Philly would be a clash of the titans.
“The Boston-Philadelphia series,” said the vanquished Brown, could go down in history as one of the greatest of all time, if both teams continue to play the way they are now.”
The Globe also picked the brains of a couple of the Rockets on how the Celtics would match up with Philly:
“It should be a fantastic series,” said Rudy Tomjanovich. “They both have high-powered offenses, each team has a great forward, and they can both hit the boards. I was really impressed with Maxwell, and Carr could start for anybody else in the league. I think the Celtics have more depth, so I’d probably pick them.”
Forward Robert Reid voiced a dissenting opinion, claiming that the ease with which the Celtics dispatched Houston will work against them.
“I’ll go with Philly,” said Robert Reid. “Because they have more experience in tight playoff situations, and we didn’t give Boston that much of a workout. They don’t know how they will react under pressure. And Philly can give Boston more trouble with the running game, whereas we didn’t have the speed to do it.”
Reid’s prescience aside, the Celtics opened the best-of-seven series against Philadelphia at the Garden on Friday, April 18.