Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 55 vs. the Pacers

Celtics (41-13) vs. Indiana (27-29)
February 8, 1980
Boston Garden

The Celtics continued to roll over the competition, squashing Indiana, 130-108, on New Bedford Night at the Garden.  While Olympic boxing hopeful Andre McCoy was being honored and boxing fans were salivating over his future, the Celtics were busy winning their sixth straight game.  This was already the fourth time during the 79-80 season the Celtics had generated a winning streak of at least six games.

Sports News Larry Bird

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Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 54 vs. the 76ers

Celtics (40-13) vs. Philadelphia (39-14)
February 6, 1980
Boston Garden

In the team’s most impressive win of the season, the Celtics began their post-All Star break schedule by destroying the mighty Philadelphia 76ers, 129-110, in front of a capacity crowd at the Garden.  The win was particularly impressive as the C’s allowed Julius Erving to go off for 36 points yet still defeated the Sixers in a rout.

Nate Archibald

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Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 53 vs. the Bullets

Celtics (39-13) vs. Washington (23-28)
January 31, 1980
Capital Centre

The Celtics ended the first half of the season by embarrassing the back-to-back defending Eastern Conference champions on their home floor.  The NBA landscape was changing: the Celtics had replaced the Bullets as one of the East’s top two teams, and the second half of the season would provide the Lakers with the same opportunity to replace Seattle as the premiere team in the West.

Larry Bird led the Celtics in their 119-103 victory with 24 points, 13 rebounds, and 5 assists.  After allowing the Bullets to push them around a week earlier at the Garden, the Celtics responded by amplifying their intense and physicality.  The Celtics won the battle of the boards, 47-38.  Another key for the C’s was the play of Eric Fernstern, who appeared to be on the cutting block the moment Pete Maravich was ready to play.  Fernstern, as Bob Ryan noted in the Globe, made his teammates proud with this performance: [Read more…]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 52 vs. the Cavaliers

Celtics (38-13) vs. Cleveland (23-31)
January 30, 1980
Boston Garden

Bill Fitch must have been happy to be coaching on the home bench for this one.

The Celtics returned to the Boston Garden to defeat the Cavs in their final home game before the All Star break.  After defeating the Bulls the night before, the Celtics traveled back home win and outscored Cleveland, 110-103.  The win marked the 39th victory of the season, which was already ten more than Boston compiled the entire prior season.

Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell each led the way with 21 points, and Bird added 15 rebounds.  As the Green still waited for Dave Cowens’ injured foot to heal, Rick Robey added 16 and 11, and the Celtics continued to move the ball extremely well.  The starting five dished out 18 assists, and the C’s used a big fourth quarter to close out Fitch’s former club. [Read more…]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 51 vs. the Bulls

Celtics (37-13) vs. Chicago (18-33)
January 29, 1980
Chicago Stadium

The Celtics continued to build some momentum before the All Star break with a 103-99 victory in Chicago over Jerry Sloan’s Bulls.

 

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Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 50 vs. the Clippers

Celtics (36-13) vs. San Diego (27-28)
January 27, 1980
Boston Garden

Larry Bird exploded for 36 points — a new career high — as the Celtics regained their edge at the Garden and sent the Clippers away with their sixth straight loss by defeating San Diego, 131-108.  Bird added seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals.

The Celtics controlled the boards, out-rebounding the Clippers, 55-38.  Rick Robey fought through a pulled groin muscle to deliver 23 points and 14 rebounds, and Cedric Maxwell added 13 boards.  Though the Celtics committed four more turnovers than SD, it was a product of their passing.  Led by Tiny Archibald’s nine assists, the Celtics compiled 14 more assists than the Clippers.  Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe captured the connection the Celtics’ fans had for their team: [Read more…]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 49 vs. the Bullets

Celtics (36-12) vs. Washington (20-27)
January 25, 1980
Boston Garden

The Celtics are always connected with history.

In addition to drafting the first African American player (Chuck Cooper), employing the first African American starting five, and hiring the first African American head coach, the Celtics are in many ways to the sport of professional basketball the complete opposite to what the Red Sox were to diversity in baseball.  This particular night held a little history, as the Bullets ended a six-game losing streak — their longest since 1966 — with a road victory, 118-107, over the Celtics in the Garden. [Read more…]

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 48 vs. the Pistons

Celtics (35-12) vs. Pistons (13-36)
January 23, 1980
Pontiac Silverdome

The Celtics hammered the Pistons with 77 second half points and walked all over Detroit for a 131-104 victory.

For the first time all season, Bill Fitch changed his starting five.  Dave Cowens, forced to miss the game after injuring his left foot in the game against the Rockets the prior evening, was replaced in the starting lineup by Rick Robey.  Robey delivered for the C’s, contributing 24 points and 19 rebounds.

Rick Robey

“Robey is the guy,” Fitch told Bob Ryan in the Globe, “that regardless of any circumstance would have had fingers pointed at him, with people saying he couldn’t stand the heat, if we had lost.”

There was no way to overrate Robey’s role in this victory. It was the third time in the last seven games he has had to step in for Dave Cowens, and each time he has come through. He opened up with a 14-point, five-rebound first period while being guarded by Bob McAdoo, who had to start at center in place of the injured Leon Douglas. McAdoo could not contain Robey on the boards, and the Celtics had the good sense to dump the ball in low. By the end of the third period, Robey had compiled 22 points and 15 rebounds.

“When the pressure’s been on him,” said Bird, “he’s come through.” Rookie Greg Kelser gave the Pistons their only source of life by scoring 29 points via a mixture of drives and medium-range jumpers, but none of the others appeared to view the game as a team sport. “They’re amazing,” sniffed one Celtic. “They wouldn’t pass the ball to their mother on the fast break.”

The free-falling Pistons had no answer for the Celtics starters nor, for that matter, their reserves.  Larry Bird added 21 points and 10 rebounds The Celtic bench, led by M.L. Carr (21 points) and Gerald Henderson (16 points, and 5 assists, playing well for a second straight game), scored 47 points.  Robey and Henderson understood the significance of their extra opportunity, wrote Ryan:

Robey recognizes the opportunity he now has to demonstrate his viability as a playoff performer.

“I’m just trying to play hard,” he explains, “and I’ve been learning from one of the best in Dave. When someone asks me about this center or that center, I say that he’s no better than the center I face every day in practice. Dave has prepared me for this job, and the coaches have, too.”

As for Henderson, whom Chris Ford has nicknamed “Quick,” he has been taking two steps forward for every one backward over the past month or so. The rookie with one of the league’s most envied pair of legs has been playing with increasing confidence, and in his 16- point, 5-assist performance on Wednesday, he was able to do pretty much what he wanted to do against the Detroit guards.

“Gerald’s end product should be a total guard,” assesses Fitch. “We have four guards with specific skills now. We’ve got Tiny (Archibald), Chris (Ford), Duck (Don Chaney) and now Pete (Maravich). Gerry can learn something from each of them.”

Former Celtic and current Piston Bob McAdoo shared with Bob Ryan the reason behind about his unsuccessful tenure in Boston:

“I think a lot of the blame of what happened last year has to go to John Y. Brown. The man was just no good for basketball.”

The Pistons would only win three games, losing 27, the remainder of the season.

The Boston media was still abuzz with the Celtics’ signing of Pete Maravich.

After Bob Ryan covered the pros and cons in the Globe, Will McDonough added some additional info on the legend from LSU:

 

Pete Maravich

 

The big question about Pete Maravich’s joining the Celtics will not be how he fits in with his new teammates or his playing style but how good his injured knee is. Maravich has been slowed by an injured knee in recent years, and that is why Philadelphia gave him a complete physical when the 76ers tried to sign him the other day. What the doctors discovered could be pleasing to Celtic fans.

“The knee that was injured is now 19 percent stronger than his good knee,” said Celtic general manager Red Auerbach, not bothering to explain how you come up with a figure like 19 percent for a knee.

Besides the knee, others who have followed Pistol Pete wonder why Utah coach Tom Nissalke wouldn’t let Maravich play or even practice with the team in recent weeks. The rumor is that Nissalke’s beef with Maravich goes back a decade to college.

Nissalke was an assistant coach at LSU when Maravich’s dad, Press, was head coach. The next year, Nissalke took the head- coaching job at Tulane. When Pistol Pete and LSU arrived to play at Tulane, Maravich threw in 58 points, completely devastating the opposition. Some say Nissalke never forgot – or forgave.

Boston would have to open a roster spot to make room for Maravich.  In the meantime, the Celtics returned home for a Friday night matchup at the Garden against the two-time defending Eastern Conference champions, the Washington Bullets.

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Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 47 vs. the Rockets

Celtics (34-12) vs. Rockets (23-24)
January 22, 1980
Boston Garden

In an up-and-down night for Boston, the Celtics received a breakout defensive performance from M.L. Carr in a 112-106 victory over the Houston Rockets.

The Rockets, winners of six of their previous eight games, trailed 77-55 until Rick Barry went on a scoring binge.  Barry scored 17 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter, and the game was about to shift in Houston’s favor until Carr ensured the Celtics would hold on for the victory.  Larry Whiteside from the Globe detailed the game’s turning point:

“I remember when I came into the game,” said Carr. “The first thing I said to him was, the party’s over. You don’t get no more 3- pointers.’ “

And it was his simple philosophy that turned what had been a stirring comeback by the Rockets…  Carr shadowed Barry all over the court, to the sidelines when he chatted with coach Del Harris, and would have gone into the Rockets huddle if the rules would have allowed it.

“You talk aboout a key to a game,” coach Bill Fitch would say later. “It had to be putting Carr on Barry. He became Lamont Cranston Jr. The Stopper. He took Rick right out of the things he wanted to do at a time when Barry was hot and wanted the ball.”

The Celtics didn’t really plan to use Carr to guard Rick Barry last night.

Larry Bird was doing a decent enough job for three quarters and Barry had only six points. But the former ABA star, who made the 3- point goal a living spectacle early in his career, cut loose in the final period, scoring 17 of his 23 points. Nine of them came on three straight 3-pointers. In fact, he scored 11 straight points at one juncture and it was two free throws by Barry tht tied the game at 97.

“Larry just wasn’t able to handle Barry,” said Fitch. “But I knew that when I sent him in. I just told him to stay in there long enough for M.L to get a blow. When M.L. told me he was ready, I sent him in.”

“We were in trouble. Our plan was to take advantage of their lack of speed and of Moses Malone. When Moses was covering Dave (Cowens), we shot from outside. When Moses was covering Maxwell, we ran. But it became a different game when Dave got hurt and Moses took over inside. Then Barry got hot, and we had to do something.”

Something meant M.L. Carr.

A Garden crowd of 13,549 also witnessed an injury to Dave Cowens.  Bob Ryan and Whiteside shared a joint byline to expand on the first major injury for the Celtics in the 1979-80 season:

Cowens injured his left foot in the third quarter of Tuesday’s 112-106 triumph over the Houston Rockets, and although X-rays were negative, that doesn’t mean he has escaped meaningful injury. The foot was swollen and purplish yesterday, Cowens says he can’t walk on it, and the big thing is that Cowens still really doesn’t know what’s wrong with it.

“I don’t think it’s something I’m going to be able to play with right off,” he said. “The first thing is to get the swelling down. Then we might be able to determine what I have. Right now I can’t walk on it.”

Cowens thinks he might have injured himself by coming down on Moses Malone’s foot, but he’s not really sure about that. “It’s like when you catch your finger in somebody’s jersey and pull it back, stretching the ligaments, or something, by hyperextending it,” he explained. “The pain is at the base of the big toe, where it joins the instep. For all I know, I may have hyperextended the big toe, and until the swelling goes down, X-rays won’t mean a whole lot.”

Rick Robey was slated to replace Cowens in the starting lineup, but there was another addition to the Celtics lineup.  After nearly agreeing to terms with Philadelphia, a last minute snag allowed Pete Maravich to become a Celtic.  Ryan’s discussed the move in the following day’s Globe:

Saying that “I’ve been trying to get here for 10 years,” Pete Maravich signed a contract last night to finish out the season with the Boston Celtics.

The signing took place following the Celtics’ 112-106 triumph over the Houston Rockets and capped an event-filled 28 hours since Maravich arrived in Philadelphia Monday night, ostensibly to sign a contract with the 76ers.  Instead, Maravich told the Sixers he was considering three other teams – Boston, Houston and Atlanta – and that he would be going to Boston the next day.

This came as news to the Celtics, who privately had conceded Maravich to their Atlantic Division rivals throughout Maravich’s seven weeks of forced idlement with the Utah Jazz. That bizarre situation culminated with Maravich being placed on waivers late last week. Mindful of his large contract, no teams claimed him, and when the waiver period expired, Maravich flew to the East Coast to dicker with the two Eastern titans.

Ryab debated the pros and cons of Maravich in Green:

Would Pete Maravich be good for the Boston Celtics?

As with any major issue, there are no easy answers. Signing a Pete Maravich would have ramifications, not only for this year but for several seasons to come.

Here are some positives:

- Maravich can score, and the Celtics at present are lacking in firepower off the bench, which is, presumably, where Maravich would be coming from.

- Maravich is experienced, and when Tiny Archibald is out of the game, the Celtics have nobody to run the team.

- Maravich should be motivated by playing on a winning team in front of enthusiastic fans and for a coach (Bill Fitch) he has known and liked for a long time.

- Maravich will come cheap. Maravich’s contract settlement with Utah has removed the financial burden, and the Celtics would be making no seriousfinancial commitment by signing him.

- By signing Maravich, the Celtics would keep him away from Philadelphia. Don’t think this isn’t a factor.

And here are some negatives:

- Maravich has sustained a major injury to his right knee, and there is no assurance he will hold up.

- By signing Maravich, the Celtics will raise fan expectations to new heights. The team needs more than just a Pete Maravich in order to be a champion. It still would need a frontcourt physical player along the lines of a Kermit Washington, Steve Mix or Paul Silas coming off the bench. But it will be difficult to convince fans that the signing of Maravich isn’t a title guarantee.

- If Maravich comes, somebody must go, and this has been a closely knit team. That somebody would be either Eric Fernsten or Jeff Judkins, and it would most likely be the former. Much has been made of the chemistry on this team, and there is no question that the remaining players would feel bad about the plight of their fallen comrade.

- Maravich hasn’t played in two months, and it would be anybody’s guess when he would be able to help the team.

In other Celtics news, Tiny Archibald, Cowens, and Bird were all added as reserved to NBA All Star team.  Bird was the only rookie to make the team.

The Celtics traveled to Detroit to take on the Pistons the next night.

 

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Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 46 vs. the SuperSonics

Celtics (34-11) vs. SuperSonics (35-13)
January 20, 1980
Boston Garden

The Celtics again showed they were not quite ready for showtime, dropping another game to a top-tier NBA team.  In a double overtime battle, Seattle — the defending champion as well as favorite to win the championship — used their experience to defeat the Celtics, 108-106.

 

Despite some of the low shooting percentages on the box score, The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan gushed over the contest:

It was the kind of game that made fans feel a sense of smugness for having shelled out the money to see it; that made winning players proud to have hung in there and losers proud to have participated; and that made CBS wonder how it came to be that in showing it prior to the Super Bowl the network had managed to serve the chateaubriand before the goose livers, as it were.  It was a basketball game played at the highest level, and if you don’t understand how a game in which the two participants combined to shoot a collective 42 percent from the floor could be labeled “great,” then it’s obvious you’re heading for a failing grade in Hoopology 101.  For the 108-106 double-overtime Seattle conquest of the Celtics before an enraptured capacity Garden gathering of 15,320 yesterday afternoon was nothing less than an affirmation of two things – the first being that the NBA at its best is basketball at its best, the second being that nobody should accuse the SuperSonics of overstating the case if they choose to warm up to “We Are The Champions.”

Seattle was the league's defending champion

Seattle was the league’s defending champion

The win marked the seventh consecutive win for the Sonics, with four of those wins coming on the road.  Seattle was led by their point guard, Dennis Johnson.  DJ, the eighth of sixteen children, starred at Pepperdine before the Sonics drafted him in the second round of the 1976 NBA draft.  After a dreadful game 7 in the 1978 NBA Finals where Johnson shot 0-14, he reemerged the following season to lead the Sonics to their first ever championship and captured the Most Valuable Player award.  In this particular game, as Ryan explained, DJ was again a difference-maker:

One golden moment in this game will never be forgotten. It came with one second left in regulation time when Dennis Johnson, the third option on a desperation play, drilled in game-tying three- point field goal from in front of the press table (into which he tumbled after releasing the shot). That miracle shot negated a Boston comeback that had begun with a stumbling Celtic team trailing, 76-70 (7:52 left), a resurgence that had been fueled by a pair of Chris Ford three-pointers (he had five in the game), and that had been culminated with a free throw by Larry Bird, the victim of a loose-ball foul with three seconds to play and the Celtics leading by an 86-84 score.

 

Dennis Johnson

 

ESPN’s Bill Simmons wrote a terrific piece after Johnson’s death in 2007, marveling the affect he had on his teams:

DJ will be remembered by everyone who was there as one of the best big-game guards who ever played. Basically, it’s Clyde Frazier, Jerry West, Sam Jones, Reggie Miller, Michael Jordan and DJ on the list. From 1978 to 1988 with three different teams, DJ played in six NBA Finals and two other conference finals, going down as the best all-around guard for 11 straight seasons on teams that won 47, 52, 56, 57, 46, 53, 62, 63, 67, 59 and 57 games. He averaged 17.3 points, 5.6 assists and 4.3 rebounds for his playoff career — including an astonishing 23-game run for a banged-up ’87 Celtics team on which he averaged 19 points, 9 assists and a whopping 42 minutes a game guarding the likes of John Lucas, Sidney Moncrief, Isiah Thomas, Vinnie Johnson and Magic.

(Note: Seattle traded him for Paul Westphal in 1980 and finished 22 games worse the following season; Phoenix traded him for Rick Robey in 1983 and finished 12 games worse. Nobody ever seemed to appreciate DJ until he was gone.)

Johnson and backcourt mate Gus Williams torched the Celtics, but Boston refused to give in to Seattle’s pressure.  Bird (15 points, 13 rebounds, 7 assists) had another solid game, but Chris Ford and his five 3-pointers led the C’s with 26 points.  Dave Cowens (8-24) had another poor shooting night, but the Celtics did not have any depth at the center position, forcing Cowens to play 49 minutes.  Bird and Tiny Archibald, who finished with 19 points and 9 assists, both played 53 minutes each.  Both teams relied heavily on their starting five, with the Seattle reserves outscoring Boston’s inexperienced bench, 20-17 (Former Celtic Paul Silas finished the night with 13 rebounds off the bench in only 26 minutes).

 

SuperSonics

 

Rebounds were critical in deciding the outcome of the game.  Seattle won the battle of the boards (63-49) and was able to get 20 offensive rebounds to the Celtics’ 10.  Ryan commented in the following day’s paper that the loss was demoralizing for the Celtics:

None of this demeans Boston, which now trails the 76ers by one game in the Atlantic Division and stands 1-5 in matches against Philly, LA and Seattle. The Celtics played hard and they made honest mistakes against a great team. But two Sunday toughies in a row is rough on the coach. “It’s like analyzing a funeral,” Fitch lamented. “It’s like saying to someone in the family, Are you crying big tears or little tears today?’ “

“A game of ifs,” said Ford. “Yes,” agreed Silas, “if DJ doesn’t make that shot, it’s history.”

The Celtics returned to the Garden to conclude their seven game home stand for a rare Tuesday night affair with the Houston Rockets.

 

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