Celtics (53-15) vs. Washington (32-36)
March 9, 1980
All good runs come to an end. The nine game winning streak for the Boston Celtics came to an end in overtime against the Washington Bullets, while the Bullets’ run of being the elite team in the Eastern Conference was also coming to an abrupt end. The Bullets ended the Celtics streak by defeating the Green Team, 133-128, after dropping 18 points in OT.
Long in the tooth, Washington was still finding ways to win games. The red, white, and blue had won eight of their last ten games and were making a push for the final spot in the playoffs (the six seed, current inhabited by the New York Knickerbockers). Depending on whomever won the Atlantic Division, the Bullets — if able to capture the six seed — would play either Boston or Philadelphia.
Larry Bird’s 33 points were out-done by Elvin Hayes’ 35 point, 17 rebound outburst. It was Hayes, if you recall, who expressed doubt early in the season to The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan earlier regarding the Celtics’ supposed return to glory:
Way back before the 10th game of the season, [Bullets forward] Hayes sneered at the idea that the Celtics were back. “Come and see me when they win 29,” was his appraisal of the Boston entry.
With the season nearly finished, it turned out to be Washington who was just above the 29 win mark. For all his bluster earlier in the season, Hayes delivered a big win for the Bullets here at the Garden. Ryan detailed the loss, which saw the Celtics squander an eight point halftime lead, in the March 10, 1980 edition of the Globe:
With 7:23 remaining in the third quarter, Bird made two free throws after a foul on Ballard, increasing the Celtics lead to 13 points, 73-60. With 7:35 remaining, Kevin Grevey was ejected for remarks he made to official Bob Rakel.
But the Bullets came right back behind guard Larry Wright’s eight points. They outscored the Celtics, 25-15, to close the gap to 88- 85 at the end of the third quarter.
“They starting playing the good D’ on us and then we started not executing on offense,” said Tiny Archibald. “They ran and we didn’t. Remember they’re trying to make a run at the playoffs. We knew they were going to be tough.”
The loss marked only the fifth time the Celtics had lost at home all season, and two of those losses were at the hands of the Washington Bullets. Worst than the defeat, however, were the injuries. Nate Archibald was struck in the right eye by an Elvin Hayes elbow. The Globe printed that Archibald would miss the next two games, marking the first games all season the Celtics would play without their All Star point guard. Rumors were also swirling that Chris Ford was set to be placed on the injured list. Ford was battling the flu, but the bigger concern was the condition of his mother, who was gravely ill back home in New Jersey. If he were to be place on the injured list, his consecutive game streak of 471 (third best among actives players behind Randy Smith and Jim Chones) would be broken. For the first time all season, the Celtics would start a new backcourt. Pete Maravich looked to be in line for some extra playing time, as he poured in a new high as a Celtic with 20 points in only 14 minutes.
United States gold medal winner Mike Eruzione was honored at the game.
In other NBA news, the NBA Board of Governors called for a realignment of divisions beginning in the 1980-81 season. Dallas, Houston, and
San Antonio were all to be placed into a revamped Midwest Division, along with Kansas City, Denver and Utah. Chicago and Milwaukee would be moved from the Midwest to the Central. Ryan noted in the Globe that the decision would positively impact the NBA:
The Celtics will not miss a four-and-a-half-hour, change-planes trip to San Antonio; I can tell you that. The travel situation improved drastically this season, compared to last, and it will be even better next year, thanks to this move. The result will be a better product. For once, the owners should be congratulated.
The Celtics traveled to Indiana for a road game with the Pacers on Tuesday.