Celtics (55-18) vs. New Jersey (32-43)
March 17, 1980
Rutgers Athletic Center

For the second straight game, Larry Bird scored another 29 points to lead the Celtics to victory.  Instead of the Knicks, however, Bird and the Celtics moved narrowed their sights onto New Jersey in a 117-92 shellacking of the Nets.

The win put the Celtics in the driver’s seat for the division, as Philadelphia squandered another opportunity to make a final push at the Atlantic by splitting games in Cleveland (a loss) and at home with the Pistons (The Celtics got to watch the Cleveland- Philadelphia game on television Sunday night after Fitch purchased a portable antenna that allowed the hotel TV to pick up the Philadelphia channel, wrote Bob Ryan on March 18, 1979.  There is no reasonable limit to his industriousness.).

The Boston Globe’s Ryan put the game in perspective:

The Celtics put this one away by rolling up a 74-44 advantage in the middle periods, and the crowd was extremely responsive to every move put on by Larry Bird, Pete Maravich, Tiny Archibald, Rick Robey and Co.  And there were moments – especially during a 24-9 seven- minute third-period run that guaranteed a successful Boston trip – when the Celtics played some of their most dazzling basketball of the season.

The Celtics simply went berserk against a lackadaisical Net club in those final seven minutes.  Robey ran away from all his frontcourt pursuers for 15 second-period points, including 7 on fast breaks.  Bird was mixing his usual assortment of running hooks, soft jumpers, runners and fast-break drives. Archibald was feeding everybody but a Sioux family in North Dakota en route to a 15-assist evening.  And so, with 31 seconds to play in the half, the Celtics had a 69-39 lead.

With the best record in NBA and the division nearly locked up, the Celtics refused to take their foot off the gas, punishing the Nets with the second worst loss to the Celtics in franchise history (the first occurred on Halloween of 1979 as Bird was just settling into his ninth game as a member of the Celtics).

There were many highlights in this victory.  Nate Archibald had fully recovered from the Elvin Hayes elbow to his eye and dished out 15 assists and scored 10 points.  Though Cedric Maxwell shot a very uncharacteristic 1-8 from the field, Dave Cowens finished with 12 points and 16 boards, while Rick Robey finished with 20 points.  The Celtics dropped a 45-point second quarter on their gracious hosts.

Even with the Celtics dominating and a bright future resonating on the horizon, it still must have been difficult not to have been too nostalgic as March Madness approached.  The players who enjoyed some of the most famous NCAA runs, however, were Bird and Pete Maravich.  Bird, of course, was taking the NBA by storm, while Maravich — who scored a dozen in the win against the Nets — sought to finish his career with dignity.  Oddly enough, Bird’s Hall of Fame career was taking flight just as the Pistol’s, due to knee problems and age, careened.

Bird 1980

Bird and Maravich couldn’t have been any more different.  Far from a friendship, the two NCAA legends did not even see eye-to-eye.  Marshall Terrill, who co-wrote Pete Maravich: The Authorized Biography of Pistol Pete, in an interview with BSMW, discussed the friction between the two basketball legends:

Bird was very leery of Maravich and the two did not bond.  They seemed to be polar opposites on everything.  Bird was doing ads for McDonald’s and eating junk food while Maravich was a strict vegetarian.  Maravich would rib Bird, “You’re eating cows’ noses.”

Maravich definitely recognized the irony [of playing with the new sensation in Bird] but also recognized the Celtics winning legacy and his legacy of playing for losing teams.  Maravich was smart enough to know that this was Bird’s team and adjusted his mental attitude accordingly.  Maravich was used to being the superstar and the center of attention, and realized Boston was the last whistle stop on the NBA ride.  To Maravich’s credit he came to the organization with hat in hand and said, “I just want to contribute and be a part of the team.”

Bob Ryan, in the March 9, 1980 edition of the Globe, noted the different interests of the two men:

Will the other Celtics have to take sides behind either health food advocates Dave Cowens and Pete Maravich on the one hand and junk food kings Cedric Maxwell and Larry Bird on the other?  Bird took a look at The Pistol swigging some distilled water from his own jug the other day and inquired, “Why don’t you eat like an American?”

Personal feelings aside, the Celtics would return home to the Garden the following night against the Pacers.  The C’s would need to lean on — you guessed it — Pete Maravich to lead the team to victory.