Celtics (29-9) vs. Rockets (17-20)
January 2, 1980
The Celtics finally put together two wins in a row during their six-game road trip, defeating the Rockets, 111-103, at the Summit in Houston. Cedric Maxwell led the C’s with 29 points and 10 boards (5 offensive), and his defense was an essential factor in limiting the effectiveness of Houston’s brute forward, Moses Malone. Malone still managed to collect 17 rebounds — 11 off the offensive glass — but was limited by Maxwell and Dave Cowens in the post to only 13 points and shot just 31 percent from the field.
The win was anything but easy for the Celtics, having already blew leads of 12 and 9 points throughout the game. Bob Ryan recapped the game in the Globe and detailed a furious Celtic rally to win the game:
You know how good this one was? Bill Fitch even liked it. Since he usually analyzes each Celtic performance with all the humor of your friendly IRS man in the midst of an audit (“. . . Now, about this deduction for your trip to Disney World”), that tells you all you need to know about triumph No. 30 and road triumph No. 14 in this increasingly enjoyable Celtic season.
The Celtics trailed by 10 points late in the third quarter, the result of an 18-1 Rocket spurt keyed by three consecutive Rick Barry three-pointers. They still trailed by seven, 95-88, with 6:42 left, which, obviously, is no big deal in this league. But what set this 111-103 victory over the Rockets apart from some others the Celtics have had was the total two-way execution in the game’s final four minutes.
Because, in order to pull this one out, the Celtics scored the game’s final 10 points, beginning with a Dave Cowens 20-foot clock jumper from the right side which tied the game at 103-103 with 2:47 to play. In one masterful minute of defense, the Celtics forced successive Houston 24-second violations and then made them really count by scoring at the other end. And when more tremendous team defense by the quintet of Dave Cowens, Cedric Maxwell, M.L. Carr, Tiny Archibald and – isn’t this great? – Don Chaney forced Barry into a wild three-point heave in order to beat another 24-second buzzer, Chaney put the game away by (a) grabbing a traffic defensive rebound and (b) calmly sticking in an open 20-footer with 17 seconds left to give Boston an insurmountable 109-103 lead.
There was a lot of Boston locker-room comment afterward about the Houston offensive approach down the stretch, because in their final four possessions, the home team had two 24-second violations and two three-point misses. “It seemed like they were going to the three- point area,” said Archibald, who snaked around for 17 assists. “It’s like they forgot they had Moses (Malone) and we had a center (Dave Cowens) with five fouls. I mean, if you’re watching the score and the fouls, you’ve got to go inside.”
Larry Bird finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds, but Ryan noted that his reluctance to shoot the ball in the first half of the game and his over-passing hurt the team.
… Bird, a curiously reluctant shooter in the first half (and an overpasser to the detriment of both himself and the team on occasion), rebounded a three- point miss of Chris Ford’s for the first Boston basket in 4:43.
Bird only finished with one assist. Tiny Archibald, however, was superb with the ball, tallying 17 assists to only 3 turnovers. He added 16 points, eight of which he accumulated from the free throw line. The win improved the Celtics to 12-2 when Archibald hit double-digits in assists. Chris Ford connected on another 3-pointer, making that 20 out of the past 21 games he had done so (with the December 15 at Madison Square Garden being the lone exception). Bird’s 10 assists, which were tied with Maxwell, made him the leading rebounder for Boston in 21 of their 39 games.
As for the Rockets, rookie forward Allen Leavell poured in 20 points in just 25 minutes off the bench for Houston, leading the charge on a fast break that Boston had trouble defending. Houston’s stars — Rick Barry, Rudy Tomjanovich, Malone, Robert Reid, and Calvin Murphy — all struggled to find their shooting touch. Barry only shot two free throws, sinking one of them, and he — and his unorthodox shot — led the NBA in free throw percentage (.961) after connecting on 98 of his first 102 free throws.
Mike Dunleavy added 10 points and 6 assists (and also 6 turnovers) for Del Harris’ bunch. Harris, seen recently in the Olympics as the head coach for China, was in his rookie season as coach of the Rockets and, up to this point, could not bring any consistency to this team. Tom Nissalke had coached Houston for the prior three seasons, but left to take the coaching job with Utah (who, by the way, were 10-8 after starting with a dreadful 2-19 record). The loss dropped the Rockets, still contending for a playoff spot, to 0-3 against the Celtics.
Even with the Celtics’ success against the majority of the league, with the best record at home (16-1), on the road (14-8), and in the Association (30-9), Ryan made a note in the Globe that the C’s left Los Angeles and the Southern California fans unconvinced after their mediocre showing in the Forum last Friday night. Yet crowds were still packing in to see Bird and his teammates. The Celtics came here second in the league in home attendance (an average of 13,842). They were averaging 14,252 per game on the road and Houston officials were anticipating one of the larger Houston crowds of the season, perhaps in the neighborhood of 12,000. Houston listed their gates at just under 12,000 — 11,846 — for the game.
“This is what we preached at training camp,” Bill Fitch told the Globe. “Be tough mentally on the road, and the pressure will fall on the home team. Tonight was an example.”
The Celtics returned to action to complete their road trip with a date on Saturday against the Spurs.