R.I.P. Bill Sharman – Celtics, Lakers Champion, A Remarkable Life

Hall of Famer Bill Sharman who was a player on the early Celtics championship teams, and then was a coach and executive with the Lakers for several more championships, died today at the age of 87.

He had a truly remarkable life, one deserving of being told in detail. I had recently written up an outline of his life, in hopes of putting together a future project. Here is part of that draft, which should give you a quick idea of how incredible this man’s life was.

Few men saw more basketball than Bill Sharman. As a player, he was an integral part of the early days of the Boston Celtics dynasty, teaming with Bob Cousy in what was the best backcourt in the NBA. As a coach, he led the Los Angeles Lakers on a 33-game winning streak, and an NBA title in his first year with the team. As an executive, he oversaw the acquisition of players such as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and James Worthy, loading up the franchise for the great battles of the 1980’s against his former Celtics team.

Born in Abilene, Texas in 1926, Sharman’s family moved to California, where he became a star athlete for high schools in Lomita and Porterville. At the age of 18, in the midst of World War II, Sharman joined the Navy, where he served a two-year stint in the Pacific.

Out of the Navy, Sharman went to Southern California University, where he starred for the Trojans both on the basketball court and on the baseball field. A two-time letter winner, Sharman was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, with whom he spent five minor-league seasons, earning a call-up in September of 1951. Sharman never appeared in a Major League Baseball game, but earned the distinction of being thrown out of one without ever appearing in one, as on September 27th, the umpire ejected the entire Dodgers bench after an argument over a call at home plate. Sharman was on the Dodgers bench for Bobby Thompson’s “Shot heard round the world” which won the National League pennant for the New York Giants over the Dodgers on October 3rd, 1951.

Following his hoops career as USC, Sharman had also been drafted in the second round by the Washington Capitals of the NBA. Sharman was leading the team in scoring as a rookie at 12.2 points a game in the 1950-51 season when the franchise folded after 35 games.

A dispersal draft was held and after refusing to report to the Fort Wayne Pistons who had won his rights, the Pistons traded him to the Boston Celtics. The previous year, the Celtics had ended up with Bob Cousy in a separate dispersal draft transaction, and now Sharman and Cousy would be the Celtics starting backcourt for the next decade.

Sharman averaged 17.8 points per game in his career, peaking at 22.3 ppg in the 1957-58 season. The arrival of Bill Russell and Tom Heinsohn in 1956 made the Celtics into champions, and Sharman would be an NBA champion four times before his career with the Celtics came to a close at the end of the 1960-61 season.

The NBA was expanding into Chicago the next season, and team were required to submit four names for the expansion draft. With young guards Sam and K.C. Jones waiting in the wings, Sharman’s name was among those the Celtics submitted. Sharman though, took a coaching job with the Los Angeles Jets of the new American Basketball League, an outfit started out of spite by Harlem Globetrotters founder Abe Saperstein after he felt the NBA went back on a promise to award him an NBA team in Los Angeles.

The short-lived league was noteworthy for being the first to introduce the three-point shot, as well as for hiring the first African-American coach in professional sports history. Sharman took the job with the idea of becoming a player-coach, something Celtics owner Walter Brown strongly objected to, and the NBA threatened legal action due to its “Option Rule.” Sharman eventually had his way, and played in 19 games for the Jets. The team was doing quite well, with a 24-15 record, before it folded on January 10th, 1962. Sharman was not out of work for long, getting hired by the Cleveland Pipers of the ABL in February as head coach by young owner George Steinbrenner. Sharman led the Pipers to the first (and only ABL Championship.)

The next fall, Sharman took over the Cal State-Los Angeles basketball team, coaching there until 1964. He then went into broadcasting for a couple of years. In 1966, he was hired as head coach of the San Francisco Warriors, where he led a squad of players that included Rick Barry, Nate Thurmond and Al Attles. He took them to the NBA finals in his first season, where they lost to the Philadelphia 76ers.The next season, the Warriors finished third in the West, and were swept by the Los Angeles Lakers in the Western Conference Finals.

Sharman was back in Los Angeles that fall, this time with the Los Angeles Stars of the ABA. After fifth and fourth place finishes in LA, the Stars moved to Utah in 1971, where Sharman led them to 57 wins and and the league championship, where they defeated the Kentucky Colonels, led by rookie star Dan Issel.

The Los Angeles Lakers had moved from Minneapolis in 1960. In Minnesota they had been the league’s first dynasty, winning five league titles in the early days of the NBA. Since moving to Los Angeles though, there had been nothing but heartache, as the Lakers made it to the NBA finals eight times, only to lose each time, seven times of which had been to the Boston Celtics.

Even though Sharman was under contract to the Stars for four more seasons, the Lakers wanted him to replace Joe Mullaney as head coach. After a few weeks of posturing and threatening from the two teams and leagues, Sharman became head coach of the Lakers.

His first season was nothing short of spectacular, as the Lakers ran out to a record-breaking 69 wins in the regular season, including a 33-game winning streak. The Lakers then beat the New York Knicks four games to one in the NBA finals to win their first championship in Los Angeles. Sharman had now coached in three professional leagues, and won championships in each of them.

He then became GM of the Lakers, and drafted Magic Johnson in 1979, he remained GM until 1982, when he became President of the Lakers. He held that post until 1988 when he retired, having won NBA titles as a player, coach, GM and Team President. He remained a team special consultant the rest of his life.

Sharman was inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame as a player in 1976 and as a coach in 2004, one of only three men honored twice. 

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 2 vs. the 76ers

Celtics (0-1) vs. Philadelphia (1-0)
April 20, 1980
Boston Garden

The Celtics opened the playoffs by demolishing Houston.  After the sweep, Rockets coach Del Harris anointed the 1980 Celtics as “the best team I’ve ever seen.”  The C’s, however, were given a rude awakening in the opener of the conference finals, as Philadelphia used a combination of style (Dr. J), power (Darryl Dawkins), and grit (Henry Bibby) to wrestle away homecourt.  Game Two was a different story, as the Celtics relied heavily on their starting five and fought off every Philly comeback to hold on and win, 96-90.

Bird SI Cover

Bob Ryan examined the victory in the pages of the Boston Globe the following morning, a game that saw all of Boston’s starting five in double figures:

There can be no denying that the Boston half of the morning box score is an eyebrow archer.  Boston substitutes accounted for a mere 28 of the 240 playing minutes.  Fitch stayed with his five-man mule team, and nobody will ever be able to convince him he did not do the right thing.

“If,” he said, “I run into a carbon copy of this game anywhere along the line, I’ll do it again. I think this team is as well-conditioned as any in the league.  My players have the right to ask out for a blow, and the substitutes for each player can put themselves in for their man if they think they should. I may run a dictatorship, but it’s with a diplomatic-democratic twist.”

Larry Bird, who played 46 minutes, led all scorers with 31 points and, as evidenced in the video, put his body on the line for the Celtics.  The NBA’s reigning Rookie of the Year also picked up 12 rebounds.  Ryan touched on Bird’s play, which ultimately was the difference between victory and defeat.

After missing his first three shots, he sank 13 of his next 15 attempts from the floor, and the variety of his offense suggested a man playing “Horse” with himself.  The level of the 76ers’ defense in this game matched their first-game effort, but this time The Rookie made shots no 6-foot-9 man has a right to make.  It was that simple.

“He made some incredible shots,” conceded Sixer coach Billy Cunningham. “There wasn’t much you could do about it.”

The game was not entirely perfect for Bird.  He accumulated only one shot at the free throw line, delivered only two assists, and turned the ball over an alarming eight times.  Despite the defeat, Philadelphia saw vulnerability in their opponent.  Larry Whiteside’s story from the Globe had Julius Erving’s take on Bird’s 31-point night.

“Let’s face it,” said Julius Erving.  “Larry had an outstanding individual game.  Everybody knows he is capable of doing that on any given night.  He’s got that kind of ability.  But he wound up taking 30 shots, and everybody knows that is not the kind to team game that the Celtics have played all year.  I just don’t know if he’ll have that kind of success if he has to do it every night.  It worked in this game.  We’ll just have to see what happens.”

Larry Bird driving past Caldwell and Bobby Jones

Ryan touched on the sequence that gave the Celtics their first victory of the series:

The game wasn’t put away until the final nine minutes, or until the Celtics, who had blown a 15-point second-period lead down to a tie at 62-all, answered the final Sixer thrust with big baskets by Cowens (14) and Bird.  Philly was still hanging tough at 76-70 when Cowens responded to a delightful low-post mismatch with Steve Mix by swinging into the lane for a hook with 9:18 left.  Bird then expanded the margin to 10 at 80-70 with a jumper from just inside the three- point arc.  The 76ers were unable to reduce the deficit to less than 10 until garbage time, as the Celtics twice expanded the lead to 13, the second time at 90-77 with 3:41 to play.

The Celtics also reasserted themselves on the glass.  After the Sixers picked up nine more defensive rebounds than the C’s in the series opener, Bird (12 rebounds) and Cedric Maxwell (15 rebounds) shifted the direction of the series by limiting Philly’s second-chance opportunities.  The Sixers shot 48 percent in Game One, yet barely managed 44 percent from the field in Game Two.

“I just went out there with the same confidence that I’ve had all season,” Bird told the Globe’s Whiteside.  “We proved we were the best team in an 82-game season. Now we’ve got to prove we’re the best team in the playoffs.  I didn’t mind the fact that I played so long.  In a game like this, and playing against a talented club like Philly, you don’t really want to come out.”

The Globe’s Leigh Montville, who now writes for Sports on Earth, detailed the scene in the Celtics’ locker room after the game:

“Sloppy,” a man tried to tell Celtics’ guard Chris Ford.  “You won, but you looked sloppy.”

Chris Ford and Lionel Hollins fight for a loose ball

“What do you mean?” Ford fairly shouted.  “Everyone out there is fighting tooth and nail.  Maybe from where you’re sitting the game looks sloppy, but if you’re playing you know the games aren’t going to be picture-perfect because nobody’s going to let them be.  Maybe you can say everyone’s making mistakes.  I say everyone’s just trying like hell.”

The Celtics had not won in Philly since January of 1979.  In order to avoid returning to the Garden facing a 3-1 deficit, the C’s would need to find a way to procure a victory at the Spectrum.  While the Celtics were only seven wins away from a championship, the Boston Bruins had just bowed out of the playoffs after losing, 4-1, to the New York Islanders (who were beginning a run of four straight Stanley Cup victories).  The Globe’s Ernie Roberts asked Harry Sinden his thoughts on the Celtics:

One writer asked Sinden if he thought it unfair that the Bruins had to play eight games in 11 days while the Celtics seemed to have the luxury of a two- or three-day rest between playoff games. Harry grinned.  “I don’t think it is pertinent,” he said, “but who should I complain to?  Mr. (Larry) O’Brien (commissioner of the NBA)?  Actually I hope the Celtics win their title because I’d like to see one championship team come to Boston.”

The Celtics traveled to Philadelphia for Game Three.

 

Philadelphia Game 2

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 1 vs. the 76ers

Celtics (0-0) vs. Philadelphia (0-0)
April 18, 1980
The Boston Garden

The Celtics began the  Eastern Conference Finals at the friendly confines of the Boston Garden against the Philadelphia 76ers.  The two teams split the six regular season meetings, with each team winning their home games.  Rumors that Philly could not win in Boston proved premature as the 76ers dominated the game’s third quarter and stole the opening game of the series, 96-93. [Read more...]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 4 vs. the Rockets

Celtics (3-0) vs. Houston (0-3)
April 15, 1980
The Summit

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.

M.L._Carr

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.

Chris Ford

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.

Ford, currently a coaching consultant for the New York Knicks, and the rest of the Celtics looked forward to a trip to the conference finals.  After disposing of Houston in ten straight games during the season, the challenge from the opposition was about to become considerably steeper.  All other Celtic-related issues, like trying to build a new home away from the Boston Garden and a relentless pursuit of Ralph Sampson (who decided to remain in school), were replaced with a sole focus on the Philadelphia 76ers.  Bob Ryan detailed the ensuing encounter in the Globe:

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.

 

Game 4 vs. the Rockets

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 3 vs. the Rockets (M.L. Carr Speaks With BSMW)

Celtics (2-0) vs. Houston (0-2)
April 13, 1980
The Summit

The Celtics took command of the Eastern Conference semi-finals series against the Rockets with a 100-81 victory at the Summit in Texas.

Led by 20 points and 10 assists from Nate Archibald, the Celtics moved one step closer to advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.  Similar to the Celtics’ current playoff opponent in the New York Knicks, the 1980 Rockets had firepower in Moses Malone (28 points, 9 boards) and Robert Reid (23 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists). but the rest of the team was rendered ineffective.  The Celts were able to find Houston’s weaknesses.  Even though Malone was constantly double-teamed, he did not accumulate one assist the entire game.  In an interview with BSMW, longtime Celtic M.L. Carr — who was capping off a very successful first season with the Celtics — spoke about his team’s success against Houston.

Our team’s talent was unbelievable, but the other part of it was that there was a hunger among the guys.  Tiny had not won, Cowens had, but hadn’t won in a while and he was trying to get another one, Chris Ford had never won a championship, Pete Maravich had never won, I had never won, so there was an incredible hunger, along with the collection of talent, and we were truly about the team.

ML Carr

Coming in that year, the Celtics were rebuilding.  Obviously, they’d had one of the worst years of their time, but Red was adamant about bringing the team back to where it should be.  The team went out and drafted the Larry the year earlier, brought Chris Ford in the year before it, and signed me and Gerald Henderson as free agents.  We had no idea it would go as well and as quick as it did.

I always wanted to be a Celtic.  Saying that could have hurt me in negotiations, but they really pursued me hard.  Red was very, very good, and sold me on the fact we could turn this team around.  He laid out a role for me, and I had been a Celtics’ fan since I was a child growing up.  Red was very involved, and that helped us get on track.  After we won the division, we were so excited after the game.  We were jumping up and down, and Red walked into the locker room.  Red asked, “what are you all doing?”  We told him we were so excited to have won the division and had the best record in the league.  “We don’t celebrate division titles here,” Red said.  “We only celebrate championships.”  He brought us right back to reality.

We had Cowens, Max, Tiny, these guys who had gone through a very tough time the year before.  But, for me, it was a chance to come from the Detroit Pistons.  In three years there, I’d been to the playoffs only once.  I knew this was a chance to be a part of something special.

Rockets coach Del Harris had predicted his team would shoot close to 50 percent from the field back at the Summit.  That number never came to fruition, as Houston shot 41 percent from the field (32-for-78) but allowed eight more shots and twelve more successful attempts for the Celtics.  The C’s, who only made eleven free throws and went 1-5 from long distance, hit 51 percent of their shots and stretched an eight point halftime lead to 14 after three quarters, and then went for the jugular in the fourth and final frame.  Chris Ford stood out with his third consecutive superb game, finishing with an all-around line of 13 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists.

The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan detailed the Celtics dominance in the series:

The Celtics are simply burying the Rockets with superior team play at both ends.  When Tiny Archibald got hot, for example, Chris Ford passed up a wide-open 18-foot jumper from the right to pitch the ball back to Archibald at the top of the key.  Tiny obliged by swishing a jumper.  But perhaps the most impressive displays were on defense.  One, in particular, pleased Bill Fitch.

“It came in the third quarter,” Fitch said.  “Rick Barry made a good penetration, and he wanted to throw the ball back out to an open man.  It was a smart play.  But Tiny did the thing we’re always preaching – he pursued.  He picked the pass off and turned what would have been a good offensive play by Barry into a good defensive play for himself.  And there were two other times when Rick Robey came from behind Malone to intercept passes.  The reason he could do it was the pressure on the ball, which prevented the pass from getting there until Rick could get in front of Malone.”

Jan Volk

Jan Volk, who served as the team’s general manager from 1984-1997, started with the Celtics organization in ticket sales in 1976.  By the spring of 1980, his role evolved to assisting team president Red Auerbach in the front office.  Volk was also gracious enough to share some time with BSMW discussing the season, the playoff run, and how the team emphatically removed the losing culture that had crept into the Boston Garden.

There was a renewed appreciation for what winning was all about that season, said Volk.  We began asserting ourselves with a new cast of characters.  The team, centered around Larry Bird, had many great players.  We were a contender and the appreciation, particularly by the fans, was even more intense because they now really appreciated what they had.  I think that’s pretty common to appreciate what you have after you lose it, and we had got it back.  We had a period of time where we were in transition both on the court and in ownership.

Though it was a small sample size, Bird performed brilliantly in the playoff spotlight.  He shined in game three with 18 points, 7 rebounds, and 8 assists.  Volk admitted that even the Celtics were impressed with Bird’s immediate impact in the league, but also noted that this was not Larry’s team, a fact that was freely accepted.

© Copyright 2013 CorbisCorporation

Larry came in recognizing this was Dave Cowens’ team.  Larry is a very confident guy, but he did not assert himself in deference to Dave Cowens the way he ultimately did subsequently after Dave retired.

Volk also touched on a couple of areas where the rookie from Indiana State surprised even Red Auerbach:

I don’t think anybody knew Larry was going to be as good as he turned out to be for his entire career.  Red would say that he was particularly pleased that Larry was such a good rebounder.  He did not realize, at that point [when Bird was drafted], he was such a good rebounder.  And, despite the fact that he didn’t look to be a terrific defensive player, he was a very good team defensive player.  So those were two aspects of his game that were underappreciated by the time he was drafted.

Draft Bird early and waiting a season may look easy now, but the Celtics suffered through a miserable season while Bird dominated at ISU.  And there was no guarantee that Bird would sign with the Celtics, though thanks to the Bob McAdoo move with Detroit, Boston could have actually drafted Bird with the top choice in the 1980 draft.  Fortunately, he signed and revitalized the Celtics with an MVP-caliber year that earned him Rookie of the Year honors.  Volk recalled the process that led to drafting Bird:

Portland had two picks.  They picked Mychal Thompson with their first pick, and they had the seventh pick.  We had the sixth and the eighth.  If we didn’t take Bird with our first pick, that sixth pick, he would have gone to Portland.  Portland was the only other team we felt could take a chance, more reasonably take a chance than the other teams, but there was a reasonable likelihood that the other teams couldn’t wait the year, and there was an argument to be made that we couldn’t wait, either.  But we did.

We sold out a game on a Wednesday evening early in the season against the World Series.  If you went out on the street, you couldn’t have found one-out-of-a-hundred-people who could name two players playing [on the opponents].  And yet, we sold out.  That was a testimony to what we had, which turned out to be extraordinarily special.

Volk still admires the relationship that Bird and Auerbach formed, beginning in the fall of 1979.

Red respected Larrry, not only in his abilities, but also his work ethic.  I know Larry respected what Red had accomplished.  I don’t think there is much an understanding of historic perspective today, but Larry knew what it was.  Larry was happy to be here: he didn’t want to be any place else and we didn’t want him to be any place else.

Ryan touched on Bird’s impact in his first playoff series in the Globe:

Larry Bird hooked up with his roommate, Rick Robey, for three consecutive baskets in one stretch, and each was different in nature.  The first was a bullet pass from the right wing to a cutting- across-the-lane Robey.  The second was a great left-to-right, fast- break lead.  The third was an artful little pick-and-roll bounce pass.  “When Rick comes out, sets his pick and rolls quickly,” explained Bird, “I can see the whole floor.  If he sets his pick and stands there, it clogs things up.  But he knows how I play now, and we work together real well.”

Larry Bird_Boston Celtics

Fitch on Bird’s offense in this series: “I’d give him a 7 on a 10 scale, but only a 5 on a Bird scale.  The encouraging thing, however, is that he’s coming.  He’s going up instead of down.”

The Celtics were still trending upward, though no one, even those in Philadelphia, had the prescience to know that was going to change any time soon.  The C’s remained in Houston and looked to sweep the Rockets the following night.

 

 

Game 3

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 2 vs. the Rockets

Celtics (1-0) vs. Houston (0-1)
April 11, 1980
Boston Garden

The Celtics held serve and defeated the Rockets, 95-75, to claim a 2-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference semi-final match-up.  Only leading by three points at intermission, the Celtics hit Houston with an offensive barrage in the second half, featuring a total of six scorers in double-figures.

Pete Maravich and Larry Bird from INSIDE SPORTS
[Read more...]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 1 vs. the Rockets

Celtics (0-0) vs. Houston (0-0)
April 9, 1980
Boston Garden

**After yesterday’s tragedy at the Boston Marathon, I send my prayers to all those affected.

With the NBA playoffs set to begin and the Celtics traveling to New York, it’s a good opportunity to look back at the Celtics playoff run from the 1980 season.  After finishing a 61-win season, the Celtics healed up during their first round bye and awaited the winner of the Houston-San Antonio best-of-three series. As soon as Houston discarded the Spurs (Moses Malone dominated with 37 points and 20 rebounds in the series finale, while Calvin Murphy added 33 points),the Celtics took the series opener against the Rockets, 119-101. [Read more...]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 81 vs. the Cavaliers

Celtics (60-20) vs. Cleveland (36-44)
March 28, 1980
Boston Garden

The Celtics wrapped up a first round bye by clinching the Atlantic Division with a 130-122 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers.  With the win, the Celtics reached their combined win total from the past two seasons (61) during the 1979-80 season.  Larry Bird scored 33 points for the Celtics.

Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics

The Celtics registered over 30 points in all four quarters, relying a bit more on their offense than usual with Dave Cowens missing the game after reinjuring his left big toe against the Knicks.  Cleveland had no answers for Boston’s starting five was dominant.  In addition to Bird’s 33 points and 10 rebounds, Cedric Maxwell scored 23 point and ripped down 14 boards, while Rick Robey added 25 and 13.  Tiny Archibald continued his comeback season with 21 points and 12 assists.  Another sellout (the 32nd in 41 home games) at the Garden was treated to a dozen points off the bench from Pete Maravich.  A quote from Philadelphia 76ers general manager Pat Williams, per the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan, put the Celtics season in perspective: [Read more...]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 79 vs. the Bullets

Celtics (58-20) vs. Washington (37-41)
March 25, 1980
Capital Centre

The Celtics inched closer to a 60-win season with a one-point victory, 96-95, over the Bullets in the nation’s capital to secure the team’s 59th victory.

Larry Bird

After dropping the previous meeting with the Bullets, the Celtics exacted some revenge in the final meeting of the season for the two teams.  Pete Maravich capped off the Celtics’ victory with a fourth-chance three-pointer for the winning basket.  The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan detailed the winning sequence:

Like, wow, Pistol, did you really want to shoot a three-pointer? [Read more...]

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...]