Celtics (54-18) vs. New York (36-37)
March 15, 1980
Madison Square Garden

Larry Bird scored 29 points at the World’s Most Famous Arena, leading the Celtics to a victory, 123-120, over defeating Red Holzman’s Knicks.  The win gave the Celtics a 4-1 record against New York for the season and, coupled with a loss by the 76ers (53-19), also gave the C’s a two-and-a-half game lead in the division.

The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan, duly impressed with the game, reported his analysis in the following day’s paper:

Hey, listen up.  Here’s a great idea for a basketball game.  It will have drama, suspense, a torrid pace, fierce rebounding, spectacular individual brilliance, team dedication and a controversial ending involving a call made about once a decade.  We’ll call it a Knicks-Celtics game and we’ll bang out Madison Square Garden.

Boston Celtics

We’ll have Larry Bird running around in the Superman cape again, giving the Celtics a 117-116 lead with 1:46 left when he refuses to quit after having two inside tries blocked and calmly banks in a third-effort, lefty, overhead invention, and then putting them ahead by a 119-116 score 37 seconds later with a baseline jumper on which he attracts more attention than a naked Bo Derek strolling down Wall street on a Friday afternoon.  But for a really juicy twist, we’ll have Gerald Henderson sink the final basket with 33 seconds left to put the Celtics ahead at 121-118.

In addition to the 29 points, Bird also finished with a dozen rebounds and five assists.  Dave Cowens, returning to his role as starting center, also submitted a gem with 25 points, 11 rebounds, and 6 assists.  The move back to the bench didn’t seem to adversely affect Rick Robey, who scored 23 points in 30 minutes.  Nate Archibald also returned to form with eight assists, 11 points, and just one turnover.

The controversial call which Ryan referred to occurred with the Knicks trailing, 121-120.  Before the Knicks could inbound the basketball, New York’s Larry Demic committed a foul with his screen on Dave Cowens in the backcourt.  Cowens then knocked down both free throws and NY’s Michael Ray Richardson missed a desperation three as time expired.

As terrific as Bird played, Ryan wondered in his Sunday Notes column whether the Celtics were becoming too dependent on the rookie out of Indiana State:

The Celtics have become subtly dependent on Larry Bird to bail them out of tight situations, and when he isn’t in the game, the offense is noticeably sluggish.  The situation is not unlike that of six or eight years ago when the Celtics of the time were often helpless when John Havlicek was out of the game, however briefly.

In other Celtics news, Ryan noted two other interesting developments for the Celtics.  The first was the ongoing battle between the Boston Garden and the Boston Celtics, who were making it abundantly clear that they were looking elsewhere — East Boston, Revere, and beyond — and were very giving the impression they genuinely wanted to relocate.

Still think the Celtics aren’t serious about building their own arena?  Then be advised that owner Harry Mangurian has hired former Red Sox general manager Dick O’Connell to quarterback the project.  O’Connell’s title will be “Special Assistant to the Chairman of the Board,” and he will act as liaison among the Celtics, Ogden Leisure Corp. – owners of Suffolk Downs – the various city and state government agencies and the financial community.

“Dick knows the city and the people,” explains Red Auerbach, “and he has the time to devote exclusively to this project.  As we’ve been such good friends over the years, it will make for a good relationship.  But he’ll be working more with Harry than with me.  I’ve always had a lot of respect for him.  He’s got a lot on the ball.”

Also, with the immense popularity of Larry Bird, the team planned to begin selling playoff ticket packages.  Ryan reported:

Twelve-game strips of playoff tickets will go on sale to the general public at the Boston Garden on March 20.  But potential buyers hoping to purchase single-game seats for any playoff game should be aware that they’re likely to wind up with obstructed views.  Due to the dramatic rise in season-ticket holders (over 6000), each of whom is entitled to buy an additional strip for each seat held, the demand for the 15,320 available seats will be unprecedented.  It’s not like, say, 1966, when you could hang around and buy a single ticket for the seventh LA game.

The Celtics finished up the three-game road trip on Monday in New Jersey.