Celtics (58-19) vs. New Jersey (32-46)
March 23, 1980
Tripping over the finish line, the Celtics gave away a home game to the putrid New Jersey Nets, 101-96. The defeat gave the Celtics a two-game losing streak, tying the longest stretch they had encountered all season.
Boston 30th sellout in 39 games stood out for the reason that no one Celtic could assume control of the scoring load. Points were fairly well-distributed with four players in double-digits (Gerald Henderson led the team with 16 points), but the Celtics were burned again by the offensive prowess of Nets guard Mike Newlin.
Newlin dropped 52 on the C’s back in December and finished with 38 points in this long, two-hour-and-twenty-minute affair on Causeway Street. The game felt even longer for Celtics rookie Larry Bird, who shot 1-15 from the field as his mini-slump continued. The Boston Globe’s Walter Haynes reported on the loss:
… Larry Bird, who was hounded all 94 feet of the court by New Jersey’s Jan van Breda Kolff, who apparently didn’t read Bird’s most valuable player clippings. It wasn’t until 50 seconds were left in the first quarter that Bird was able to score, thanks to two free throws. Basically he stunk, scoring only eight points on 1-of-15 field-goal shooting.
Bird was now shooting a miserable 29 percent from the field (20-69) over the past four games. Haynes also touched on the othe Celtics stalwarts who struggled all game against the Nets:
Cedric Maxwell was also off his game, chalking up four turnovers and only seven points. He had rough afternoon on the offensive boards as he was abused and misused by George (the Second Backboard) Johnson (5 blocked shots and 11 rebounds) and Maurice Lucas (16 points and 15 rebounds), who gave up nothing underneath without a fight.
And Tiny Archibald played like Steve Grogan on a bad day as Archibald tried to quarterback the Celtics’ offense that shot 37 percent. Except for Gerald Henderson (16 points, 6 assists) Boston’s guards were just spot markers for the Nets’ backcourt. Mike Newlin poured in a game-high 38 points and combined with Robert Smith and Eddie Jordan to score 61 points.
“We wanted to have van Breda Kolff play Bird the whole 94 feet on defense,” said Net coach Kevin Loughery. “Then we wanted to make it difficult for Tiny to penetrate and also have him play defense. If you stop Bird and Tiny, you stop the offense. Some days it works, and some days it doesn’t.”
The loss, combined with a 76ers victory, put Philly within two games of Boston, with the teams set to finish the regular season together with a game in Philadelphia. Philly had encountered a scare the previous week, as Julius Erving suffered a sprained foot. He looked to have avoided any serious damage, however, and would be cleared to play shortly after missing three games. The Globe’s Bob Ryan detailed Dr. J’s finest NBA season to date:
As for Dr. J., this has clearly been his most productive season since the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. There was much reason to scoff at the Doctor hype, based on his oft-mediocre play during his first three NBA seasons. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt while he tried in vain to make sense out of playing with George McGinnis, Erving was nowhere near the celebrated Dr. J. they had lionized in the ABA. The basic strategy to defense Erving used to be to take away the first step on his drive, force him to go down the middle if he has to take it to the hoop and, above all, try to make him shoot from the outside, where he was no Rudy T. But this year he has shot exceptionally well. Moreover, he has passed well. In short, he’s never been more of a consummate offensive threat, and every once in a while he reminds you that he can still touch the rim.
By allowing the division lead to slip away to a dangerous Sixers team, the Celtics understood they were playing with fire.
“We were lifeless and spotted them 10 points in the beginning. It was up hill all the way,” said M.L. Carr. “Here we had a golden egg in our hands (referring to the former three-game lead over Philadelphia) and now we’ve thrown it away. At this stage of the game there is no tomorrow.”
Tomorrow for the Celtics would in fact be Tuesday, March 25 with a game in Washington against the Bullets.