Celtics (57-18) vs. Detroit (16-60)
March 20, 1980
The Celtics picked up a fourth straight victory with a beatdown, 124-106, of the Pistons in Detroit. Combined with two straight losses by the 76ers (54-22), the Celtics were four games ahead of Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division standings with only six games remaining on the schedule. The magic number for the Celtics to win the division and secure a first-round bye now stood at three.
Larry Bird struggled all night, not displaying the offensive prowess he had shown a year earlier in March of 1979. He shot 4-14 from the field, and though he grabbed seven rebounds and seven assists, Bird also picked up a game-high eight turnovers. Bill Fitch talked to the Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan after the game about a rare lackluster performance:
“Of all the games this season this is the one I’ll remember because Bird proved he was human,” said Fitch. “It wasn’t his shooting, it was his passes, his decisions on the floor, everything. Until tonight, I had never seen him play a bad game. He quit looking at the hoop in the end.”
But Fitch absolutely sees Bird as the NBA’s Rookie of the Year and the Most Valuable Player. The MVP contest is being hyped as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar vs. Bird.
Ryan was able to speak with Bird about the turnovers after the game:
Bird has shrugged off his shooting problems in the Dome. “I never could get it going here,” he sighed. “But I’ll come back next year with a good attitude.” Pressed to comment about his turnovers, which bested his assists by an 8-7 margin, Bird said, “Some passes could have been caught but our concentration wasn’t as good as usual on the break. And Max (Cedric Maxwell) couldn’t run with his bad ankle, which meant that a few he usually catches went off his fingertips. I have confidence in those passes and my teammates, and I’ll keep throwing the same passes.”
Dave Cowens and Cedric Maxwell helped pick up the slack, combining for 31 points and 24 rebounds, but the big story for the second straight game was the play of Pistol Pete Maravich.
The game was televised as the USA Network’s Thursday Night NBA game, and included a halftime interview with a clairvoyant Bob Ryan, who predicted the Los Angeles Lakers to capture the NBA title.
Inserted into the starting lineup again in place of Chris Ford (still on the IR), Maravich led the Celtics with 20 points.
Again Pete Maravich had his shooting shoes on, and he scored 10 points to lead all first-quarter scorers, Bob Ryan wrote. Included among his four baskets was one in- your-face jumper to the fourth degree.
Ryan also commented on an anomaly on the box score, a three-pointer from Dave Cowens:
The supreme moment in this game came when Dave Cowens took a pass from Rick Robey with 3:09 left and swished a three-pointer from the left corner. He came downcourt grinning and slapped hands with Pete Maravich. When he went to the bench for a time out, he was similarly greeted by his teammates. Such is life with a 58-18 team that had just wrapped up its fourth straight triumph and 25th road conquest of the season.
“It’s great to have a three-pointer under my belt,” said Cowens, semi- seriously. “But you notice it took a center to get me the ball.”
The Celtics also celebrated Don Chaney’s 34th birthday by placing the Duck back on the active roster. Chaney openly discussed his disappointment with his role on the team with The Boston Globe’s Walter Haynes:
“Right now I don’t have good feelings about my contribution to the team because I’m not playing. I feel more like an outsider and not in the swing of things. Maybe the average person would say I should be content to just sit on the bench,” said Chaney…
“People might call it bitching,’ but I do want to play more,” he continued. As a player, you feel the game in your whole mind and body, and because you love it, you can’t walk away from it. For 95 percent of my life, it’s been basketball, and all of it has been learning to play from a competitive standpoint.”
Chaney did, however, understand why he was not part of the mix of players receiving playing time:
“Hey, I’ve lost a step and some of my stamina,” he admitted. “But on a good ballclub, guys want to play so badly that when they are on the floor, they try to outplay the starters. This makes a team stronger. A player loses it all when he resolves that he can’t beat another player out of a job.
“When I was young, I would think about what it will be like when I have to stop playing. I don’t think the media can really understand the inner thoughts of a player on something like this. You can only understand it if you’ve been there yourself. It’s why even John (Havlicek) will go out and pick up a basketball now. Just to feel it.”
Chaney scored six points in a dozen minutes against the Pistons. Regardless of his role, he looked forward to returning to the post-season.
“This team has a very good chance of making it to the finals,” said Chaney, who won a title with the Celtics in 1974. “It’s a well-balanced team; we have a good attitude, and everyone gets along with each other. Maybe right now we’re playing a little routinely because of the anticipation of the playoffs. But the playoffs are like a whole new season, a rebirth.
The Celtics continued the road trip by heading to Cleveland to battle the Cavaliers on Saturday.