Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 78 vs. the Nets

Celtics (58-19) vs. New Jersey (32-46)
March 23, 1980
Boston Garden

Tripping over the finish line, the Celtics gave away a home game to the putrid New Jersey Nets, 101-96.  The defeat gave the Celtics a two-game losing streak, tying the longest stretch they had encountered all season.

Boston 30th sellout in 39 games stood out for the reason that no one Celtic could assume control of the scoring load.  Points were fairly well-distributed with four players in double-digits (Gerald Henderson led the team with 16 points), but the Celtics were burned again by the offensive prowess of Nets guard Mike Newlin.

Mike Newlin

Newlin dropped 52 on the C’s back in December and finished with 38 points in this long, two-hour-and-twenty-minute affair on Causeway Street.  The game felt even longer for Celtics rookie Larry Bird, who shot 1-15 from the field as his mini-slump continued.  The Boston Globe’s Walter Haynes reported on the loss: [Read more…]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 77 vs. the Cavaliers

Celtics (58-18) vs. Cleveland (34-43)
March 22, 1980
Richfield Coliseum

The Celtics stumbled, 109-105, in front of a sellout crowd of 19,548 in Cleveland against the suddenly hot Cavaliers.

The win marked the eighth straight for the Cavs, a team facing a future of uncertainty.  The only coach and general manager the team had ever known, Bill Fitch, now coached the league-best Boston Celtics, and a new change in ownership had the NBA wondering whether professional basketball could survive in Ohio.  The Boston Globe’s Steve Marantz reported further on the sale:

Bill Fitch-Cavs

[Read more…]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 76 vs. the Pistons

Celtics (57-18) vs. Detroit (16-60)
March 20, 1980
Pontiac Silverdome

The Celtics picked up a fourth straight victory with a beatdown, 124-106, of the Pistons in Detroit.  Combined with two straight losses by the 76ers (54-22), the Celtics were four games ahead of Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division standings with only six games remaining on the schedule.  The magic number for the Celtics to win the division and secure a first-round bye now stood at three.

Pete Maravich

Larry Bird struggled all night, not displaying the offensive prowess he had shown a year earlier in March of 1979.  He shot 4-14 from the field, and though he grabbed seven rebounds and seven assists, Bird also picked up a game-high eight turnovers.  Bill Fitch talked to the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan after the game about a rare lackluster performance:

“Of all the games this season this is the one I’ll remember because Bird proved he was human,” said Fitch.  “It wasn’t his shooting, it was his passes, his decisions on the floor, everything.  Until tonight, I had never seen him play a bad game.  He quit looking at the hoop in the end.”

But Fitch absolutely sees Bird as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player.  The MVP contest is being hyped as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Bird.

Ryan was able to speak with Bird about the turnovers after the game:

Bird has shrugged off his shooting problems in the Dome.  “I never could get it going here,” he sighed.  “But I’ll come back next year with a good attitude.”  Pressed to comment about his turnovers, which bested his assists by an 8-7 margin, Bird said, “Some passes could have been caught but our concentration wasn’t as good as usual on the break.  And Max (Cedric Maxwell) couldn’t run with his bad ankle, which meant that a few he usually catches went off his fingertips.  I have confidence in those passes and my teammates, and I’ll keep throwing the same passes.”

Dave Cowens and Cedric Maxwell helped pick up the slack, combining for 31 points and 24 rebounds, but the big story for the second straight game was the play of Pistol Pete Maravich.


The game was televised as the USA Network’s Thursday Night NBA game, and included a halftime interview with a clairvoyant Bob Ryan, who predicted the Los Angeles Lakers to capture the NBA title.


Inserted into the starting lineup again in place of Chris Ford (still on the IR), Maravich led the Celtics with 20 points.

Again Pete Maravich had his shooting shoes on, and he scored 10 points to lead all first-quarter scorers, Bob Ryan wrote.  Included among his four baskets was one in- your-face jumper to the fourth degree.

Ryan also commented on an anomaly on the box score, a three-pointer from Dave Cowens:

The supreme moment in this game came when Dave Cowens took a pass from Rick Robey with 3:09 left and swished a three-pointer from the left corner.  He came downcourt grinning and slapped hands with Pete Maravich.  When he went to the bench for a time out, he was similarly greeted by his teammates.  Such is life with a 58-18 team that had just wrapped up its fourth straight triumph and 25th road conquest of the season.

“It’s great to have a three-pointer under my belt,” said Cowens, semi- seriously.  “But you notice it took a center to get me the ball.”

The Celtics also celebrated Don Chaney’s 34th birthday by placing the Duck back on the active roster.  Chaney openly discussed his disappointment with his role on the team with The Boston Globe’s Walter Haynes:

“Right now I don’t have good feelings about my contribution to the team because I’m not playing.  I feel more like an outsider and not in the swing of things.  Maybe the average person would say I should be content to just sit on the bench,” said Chaney…

“People might call it bitching,’ but I do want to play more,” he continued.  As a player, you feel the game in your whole mind and body, and because you love it, you can’t walk away from it.  For 95 percent of my life, it’s been basketball, and all of it has been learning to play from a competitive standpoint.”

Don Chaney

Chaney did, however, understand why he was not part of the mix of players receiving playing time:

“Hey, I’ve lost a step and some of my stamina,” he admitted.  “But on a good ballclub, guys want to play so badly that when they are on the floor, they try to outplay the starters.  This makes a team stronger.  A player loses it all when he resolves that he can’t beat another player out of a job.

“When I was young, I would think about what it will be like when I have to stop playing.  I don’t think the media can really understand the inner thoughts of a player on something like this.  You can only understand it if you’ve been there yourself.  It’s why even John (Havlicek) will go out and pick up a basketball now.  Just to feel it.”

Chaney scored six points in a dozen minutes against the Pistons.  Regardless of his role, he looked forward to returning to the post-season.

“This team has a very good chance of making it to the finals,” said Chaney, who won a title with the Celtics in 1974.  “It’s a well-balanced team; we have a good attitude, and everyone gets along with each other.  Maybe right now we’re playing a little routinely because of the anticipation of the playoffs.  But the playoffs are like a whole new season, a rebirth.

The Celtics continued the road trip by heading to Cleveland to battle the Cavaliers on Saturday.



Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 75 vs. the Pacers

Celtics (56-18) vs. Indiana (34-41)
March 18, 1980
Hartford Civic Center

In the midst of legal battles with the Boston Garden, the Celtics returned “home” after a three-game road to the friendly confines of the Hartford Civic Center.  After a career that made stops across Beaver County, Pennsylvania all the way to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, it really didn’t matter where he played: the only true home for Pete Maravich was the hardwood floor of a basketball court.  Buoyed by a vintage 31-point performance from Pistol Pete, the Celtics avenged a loss from eight days prior and defeated the Indiana Pacers, 114-102. [Read more…]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 74 vs. the Nets

Celtics (55-18) vs. New Jersey (32-43)
March 17, 1980
Rutgers Athletic Center

For the second straight game, Larry Bird scored another 29 points to lead the Celtics to victory.  Instead of the Knicks, however, Bird and the Celtics moved narrowed their sights onto New Jersey in a 117-92 shellacking of the Nets.

The win put the Celtics in the driver’s seat for the division, as Philadelphia squandered another opportunity to make a final push at the Atlantic by splitting games in Cleveland (a loss) and at home with the Pistons (The Celtics got to watch the Cleveland- Philadelphia game on television Sunday night after Fitch purchased a portable antenna that allowed the hotel TV to pick up the Philadelphia channel, wrote Bob Ryan on March 18, 1979.  There is no reasonable limit to his industriousness.).

The Boston Globe’s Ryan put the game in perspective: [Read more…]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 73 vs. the Knicks

Celtics (54-18) vs. New York (36-37)
March 15, 1980
Madison Square Garden

Larry Bird scored 29 points at the World’s Most Famous Arena, leading the Celtics to a victory, 123-120, over defeating Red Holzman’s Knicks.  The win gave the Celtics a 4-1 record against New York for the season and, coupled with a loss by the 76ers (53-19), also gave the C’s a two-and-a-half game lead in the division.

The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan, duly impressed with the game, reported his analysis in the following day’s paper:

Hey, listen up.  Here’s a great idea for a basketball game.  It will have drama, suspense, a torrid pace, fierce rebounding, spectacular individual brilliance, team dedication and a controversial ending involving a call made about once a decade.  We’ll call it a Knicks-Celtics game and we’ll bang out Madison Square Garden.

Boston Celtics

We’ll have Larry Bird running around in the Superman cape again, giving the Celtics a 117-116 lead with 1:46 left when he refuses to quit after having two inside tries blocked and calmly banks in a third-effort, lefty, overhead invention, and then putting them ahead by a 119-116 score 37 seconds later with a baseline jumper on which he attracts more attention than a naked Bo Derek strolling down Wall street on a Friday afternoon.  But for a really juicy twist, we’ll have Gerald Henderson sink the final basket with 33 seconds left to put the Celtics ahead at 121-118.

In addition to the 29 points, Bird also finished with a dozen rebounds and five assists.  Dave Cowens, returning to his role as starting center, also submitted a gem with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists.  The move back to the bench didn’t seem to adversely affect Rick Robey, who scored 23 points in 30 minutes.  Nate Archibald also returned to form with eight assists, 11 points, and just one turnover.

The controversial call which Ryan referred to occurred with the Knicks trailing, 121-120.  Before the Knicks could inbound the basketball, New York’s Larry Demic committed a foul with his screen on Dave Cowens in the backcourt.  Cowens then knocked down both free throws and NY’s Michael Ray Richardson missed a desperation three as time expired.

As terrific as Bird played, Ryan wondered in his Sunday Notes column whether the Celtics were becoming too dependent on the rookie out of Indiana State:

The Celtics have become subtly dependent on Larry Bird to bail them out of tight situations, and when he isn’t in the game, the offense is noticeably sluggish.  The situation is not unlike that of six or eight years ago when the Celtics of the time were often helpless when John Havlicek was out of the game, however briefly.

In other Celtics news, Ryan noted two other interesting developments for the Celtics.  The first was the ongoing battle between the Boston Garden and the Boston Celtics, who were making it abundantly clear that they were looking elsewhere — East Boston, Revere, and beyond — and were very giving the impression they genuinely wanted to relocate.

Still think the Celtics aren’t serious about building their own arena?  Then be advised that owner Harry Mangurian has hired former Red Sox general manager Dick O’Connell to quarterback the project.  O’Connell’s title will be “Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Board,” and he will act as liaison among the Celtics, Ogden Leisure Corp. – owners of Suffolk Downs – the various city and state government agencies and the financial community.

“Dick knows the city and the people,” explains Red Auerbach, “and he has the time to devote exclusively to this project.  As we’ve been such good friends over the years, it will make for a good relationship.  But he’ll be working more with Harry than with me.  I’ve always had a lot of respect for him.  He’s got a lot on the ball.”

Also, with the immense popularity of Larry Bird, the team planned to begin selling playoff ticket packages.  Ryan reported:

Twelve-game strips of playoff tickets will go on sale to the general public at the Boston Garden on March 20.  But potential buyers hoping to purchase single-game seats for any playoff game should be aware that they’re likely to wind up with obstructed views.  Due to the dramatic rise in season-ticket holders (over 6000), each of whom is entitled to buy an additional strip for each seat held, the demand for the 15,320 available seats will be unprecedented.  It’s not like, say, 1966, when you could hang around and buy a single ticket for the seventh LA game.

The Celtics finished up the three-game road trip on Monday in New Jersey.



Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 72 vs. the Hawks

Celtics (54-17) vs. Hawks (44-28)
March 14, 1980
Omni Coliseum

A difficult stretch continued for the Boston Celtics.  With the season nearly 90 percent complete, the Celtics struggled to hold onto the lead in the Atlantic Division, dropping three of the past four games, including this affair in Atlanta, 88-87.

Larry Bird

Indiana did a favor for the Celtics, knocking off Philadelphia, so the Green Team remained one game in front of the 76ers.  The C’s lost this non-televised game (heard locally on WBZ) despite 23 points from Larry Bird, a 14/16 night from Cedric Maxwell, and a 13/11 performance from Rick Robey.  As well as the frontline played, the Celtic guards struggled to find any consistency, and that included the return of Nate Archibald.  The Celtics committed 20 turnovers to just 12 assists, a ratio they rarely encountered throughout the season.  Dave Cowens, rounding into post-season form, finished with 13 points and 8 rebounds, but Gerald Henderson — coming off his most impressive game as a professional with 14 points and 10 assists — struggled to produce, shooting 1-6 with one assist.  The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan looked for some positives in a disheartening loss:

On the surface, the evening could be viewed in a totally negative light, since the Celtics seemingly wasted a strong defensive game.  But with the 76ers dropping a 104-94 decision to the Pacers, no real harm was done.  And there were two significant developments coming out of this defensively oriented game.

The first was a strong performance by Dave Cowens, who put his offense (13 points on 6-for-11 shooting), his rebounding (8 power retrieves) and his defense together for the first time since his return to the lineup on Feb. 26.  The second positive note was the spectacular late-game heroics of Bird, whose jumper with 1:02 remaining pulled the struggling Celtics close at 84-83; whose tremendous pass resulted in a Cowens layup with 26 seconds left that gave Boston an 85-84 lead, the first Celtic advantage since 57-56; and whose clever cut-and-fake drew the two free throws with nine seconds left.  Then there was the matter of sinking both in a non-bonus situation.

In addition to soundly beating the Celtics in the assists battle (24-12) as well as in limiting turnovers (five less for Atlanta), Hubie Brown’s Hawks received 11 offensive rebounds and 12 defensive rebounds in a career high night for Wayne “Tree” Rollins.  Though the Celtics guards suffered through an off-night, Rollins highlighted Boston’s biggest issue: defending the paint.  Premiere post players like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Moses Malone had their way with the Celtics, and though the interior defense had improved from October to March, it still served as a fatal flaw looming for the Celtics.



The victory put the Hawks in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye as Atlanta had basically secured the Central Division title.  Ryan noted the significance of the Hawks winning the division:

Speaking of the playoffs, here is the latest update on tiebreaking procedures should Boston and Philadelphia wind up tied for the Atlantic Division lead and are also 3-3 in their season’s series.  The first criterion will be conference record, and going into last night’s action, the teams were tied [at 38-12].  Next would be Atlantic Division record, and there Philly had the edge with 14-3 as opposed to Boston’s 13-5.  Step four is record against conference playoff opponents, and then the edge would swing back to Boston, thanks to Philly’s 1-4 record with Atlanta.

The C’s returned to action for a back-to-back with a Saturday battle against the Knickerbockers at Madison Square Garden.



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. [Read more…]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 70 vs. the Pacers

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. [Read more…]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 69 vs. the Bullets

Celtics (53-15) vs. Washington (32-36)
March 9, 1980
Boston Garden

All good runs come to an end.  The nine game winning streak for the Boston Celtics came to an end in overtime against the Washington Bullets, while the Bullets’ run of being the elite team in the Eastern Conference was also coming to an abrupt end.  The Bullets ended the Celtics streak by defeating the Green Team, 133-128, after dropping 18 points in OT.

Dave Cowens_Hoop Magazine

[Read more…]