Celtics (22-7) vs. Bucks (19-13)
December 14, 1979
The Celtics opened their third straight weekend set of three-games-in-three-days with the Western Conference’s Milwaukee Bucks. The two teams squared off just five days earlier at the MECCA and were set to conclude the season series at the friendly confines of the Boston Garden. Don Nelson’s Bucks had started off the season with championship aspirations in November, winning 15 of their first 20, but were stumbling through the month of December. Including the loss at home to the C’s, Milwaukee had dropped five in a row and six of their previous seven. This game at the Garden would not provide any the remedy to the Bucks’ woeful streak, as the Celtics provided its sellout crowd of 15,320 some holiday spirit in 97-94 victory.
Nelson and the Celtics shared a wonderful connection, but as the Bucks moved to the East the following season, it would be tarnished from his feud with future Celtics guard Danny Ainge. Sam McManis of the LA Times wrote in May of 1985 that:
During the Boston-Milwaukee playoff series in 1983, Coach Don Nelson of the Bucks was fined by the NBA office for calling Ainge a “cheap-shot artist” and saying that everybody in the league hates Ainge.
Even now, two years after Nelson’s comment, it still bothers Ainge.
“Nelson apologized to me, but it’s my opinion that the league forced him to apologize after they fined him,” Ainge said. “It definitely bothers me that people have that opinion of me and fans boo me. It was pretty tough to handle at first because, first of all, I don’t think I’m a bad guy or anything. Another player could do the exact same thing I do on the court and nobody would say anything. I’m playing on a team where I’m the target.”
There were no antics from Nelson this night at the Garden. The Celtics were again paced by their starting five. Cedric Maxwell was nearly perfect, shooting 10-for-12 and hitting all seven free throws to finish with 27 points. He added 5 rebounds, but his biggest flaw were his seven turnovers. In a very rare showing, Nate Archibald contributed more turnovers (6) than he did assists (4). He also helped make up for some of his sloppiness with the ball with 16 points. Also, similar to the loss six nights ago in Cleveland, Dave Cowens suffered through another terrible shooting night, finishing 4-for-20. Cowens never made it to the free line, but unlike that miserable night in Cleveland, he contributed with 14 rebounds and blocked two more shots. Continuing a very quiet streak of steady play, Chris Ford knocked down three more 3-pointers and led the team with five assists. In 34 minutes of play, Larry Bird added 21 points and 9 boards. Bill Fitch distributed some minutes to his bench, as Rick Robey played 18 minutes, but he couldn’t get into any groove offensively. M.L. Carr also endured a poor shooting night, playing just 10 minutes and shooting 1-for-7. And, after a fantastic game against the Nets just two nights earlier, Gerald Henderson also came back down to earth, ending the night without a basket.
The Celtics withstood a 30 point performance from former UCLA standout Marques Johnson (who was placed in rare company in a 1980 Sports Illustrated column: at forward, the game’s glamour position, two players stand out. One is Philadelphia’s 6’7″ Julius Erving and the other is Milwaukee’s 6’7″ Johnson.) and found a way to win — just as the Bird teams would do throughout the coming thirteen seasons — on nights where not everything clicked. The Celtics returned to action the following evening to face off in Madison Square Garden against the New York Knicks.