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.