Celtics (59-20) vs. New York (37-41)
March 26, 1980
The Celtics dealt a crushing blow to the playoff hopes of the New York Knicks with a 129-121 victory in Boston.
The loss hurt New York as the Knicks were in the midst of a dog fight with Washington for the final playoff spot in the East (and the right to be the first team eliminated from the post-season), but the victory was also painful for the Celtics. Dave Cowens and Larry Bird were both injured during the win. Cowens reinjured his big left toe, while Bird suffered a deep thigh bruise after a collision with New York’s Toby Knight sent him into the basket support.
The Knicks had no answer for an offensive barrage from the Celtics fourth quarter. After scoring 37 points in the first and 32 in the second, the C’s began the final frame trailing, 95-91, but finished the quarter with 38 points. With the victory, the Celtics had won 60 games for the first time since 1975 and had completed the biggest turnaround in NBA history, besting the Milwaukee Bucks, who went from 27 wins in 1968-69 to 56 wins the following season. This season by the Celtics marked the first 30-win turnaround in league history.
“Everything started from the beginning because we were a team that stayed together. We are a team that really gets along,” Chris Ford told Walter Haynes of the Boston Globe, starting his second game since coming off the injured list last week.
“It’s not just 11 players playing. It’s 12,” he added. With that comment, it was obvious Ford wanted everyone to know that Don Chaney, who is on the injured list, is still a vital part of the team. And it has been a 12-man feeling all along.
Chaney was placed on the injured list witha pulled groin, which jeopardized his chance to suit up in the playoffs. Outside of the injuries, the story of the night was the sensational play from Tiny Archibald.
After scoring 10 and dishing out 17 assists in the win over the Bullets, Archibald followed that up with 29 points and 17 assists in 47 minutes against his hometown Knicks.
“You know, Tiny wasn’t feeling well tonight,” Fitch told Haynes. “And I’ve never had that much success with ballplayers playing when they’re sick. But I had a hunch.”
Rick Robey gushed over Archibald’s play to Bob Ryan:
“He wants it. You can see it in his eyes. He knows the only way for us to win is for him to set us up, and he’s playing his best ball of the season.”
The fourth quarter also included a dual between Pete Maravich and Earl Monroe. In the words of the Globe’s Haynes, the Pistol “contined to keep his mortgage on the fourth quarter.” Maravich, who shot 8-10 from the field and scored 12 points in the fourth, found his groove in the final minutes of the game. Earl “the Pearl” Monroe piled up 14 points (as well as 25 points in just 15 minutes) in the fourth in a classic match of two of the NBA’s legends.
“The thing about this team is that it doesn’t rely on any one guy. We look to everyone to contribute down the stretch,” said Maravich, whose turnaround 19-foot bank shot made it 119-107 with 2:45 remaining and just about sealed things up.
With detail from the Globe’s Bob Ryan, the injury bug continued for the C’s with Cowens as he was forced to sit out the final eight minutes of the game.
Now Cowens was really into it, and on the next two Knick possessions, he demonstrated why Fitch has labeled him “the best defensive center in the league, if you’re going to play a team defense.” Big Red twice switched onto an out-of-control Sly Williams (in the game because NY was in foul trouble) and swallowed him up. Each bad shot was then turned into a Maravich jumper on the transition. Suddenly, it was 102-97 and Red Holzman was calling a time out amidst enough noise to disturb a baby shower in Tewksbury.
Only 30 seconds after play resumed, Cowens went limping off the court with a recurrence of his hyperextended left big toe. On came Robey, and for all intents and purposes, out of the game went Bill Cartwright. Robey just ate the chubby one’s lunch, pregame and midnight snack down the stretch.
“He was dynamite,’ lauded Fitch. “He got four key rebounds, and what I really like is that he immediately made sure nobody lost his confidence or dropped his drawers because Dave wasn’t in there.”
As for Bird, Ryan explained that Bird had gone to the locker room to be bandaged after being slammed into the basket support by Toby Knight on a fast break. He was on the left wing of a 2-on-1 break when he was sent sprawling. The injury was a deeply bruised thigh, and it necessitated treatment from Dr. Thomas Silva, the team physician. Cedric Maxwell was also still dealing with the lingering effect of his sprained ankle, so the Celtics were definitely a team in need of a first-round bye in the playoffs.
The Celtics’ brief two-game homestand continued on Friday with another rematch with the Cavs. With a victory, the Celtics would clinch the Atlantic Divison.