Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 67 vs. the Rockets

Celtics (51-15) vs. Houston (34-34)
March 5, 1980
The Summit

Competing in a foot race with the Spurs for the final playoff spot in the East, the Houston Rockets fell to the Boston Celtics in overtime at the Summit, 103-99.  Houston came up short despite a 30-18 performance from 24-year-old phenom Moses Malone.

Moses Malone

The Rockets held the Celtics to a 38-point second half, not allowing the C’s to register 100 or more points in regulation for the first time in 23 games.  Cedric Maxwell led the Green with 22 point and 11 boards, and the win marked a new season high for wins in a row with the team’s eighth straight victory.  Bob Ryan from The Boston Globe detailed the 52nd win for Boston:

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Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 66 vs. the Spurs

Celtics (50-15) vs. San Antonio (33-34)
March 4, 1980
Hemisfair Arena

Only five days after playing each other at the Boston Garden, the Celtics manhandled George Gervin and the Spurs, 137-108.  The C’s and Spurs embarked on a scoring spree at the Garden, playing a 38-38 first quarter, but the two teams outdid that performance in Texas: the score was 40-40 after the first twelve minutes of basketball.

Larry Bird

The Boston Globe’s Bob Ryan discussed the Celtics’ dominant victory:

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Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 65 vs. the Pistons

Celtics (49-15) vs. Detroit (15-50)
March 2, 1980
Boston Garden

In a game that saw Larry Bird pour in 41 points, the Celtics picked up their sixth straight win and 50th win of the season with a three point victory, 118-115, over the Detroit Pistons.  This marked the first time since the 1975-76 season that the Celtics had registered at least 50 wins.  With 16 games remaining, the possibility of 60 wins still loomed, which would be the first time the C’s hit that mark since the 74-75 season (and the sixth time overall in franchise history).  The 50 wins marked a career high for Bill Fitch.

Bill Fitch

A day prior to this noon tip-off (before the game, the Celtics entertained their fans with a mixed two-on-two college basketball tournament at 11:15am between four teams from Boston College, Boston State, MIT and Bentley), the Celtics won the coin flip against the Utah Jazz for the no. 1 pick in the upcoming 1980 NBA draft.  The Jazz general manager Frank Layden called the league office and called “heads,” but league commissioner Larry O’Brien announced the result was tails.  Unlike his Jazz counterpart, Red Auerbach was present for the coin flip (there was actually another coin flip prior to this that Utah win, allowing the Jazz to make the heads or tails call).  For what it’s worth, the NBA no longer employs a coin flip to make its biggest decisions. Continue reading “Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 65 vs. the Pistons”

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 64 vs. the Warriors

Celtics (48-15) vs. Golden State (20-46)
February 29, 1980
Boston Garden

The Celtics celebrated by the leap year by whipping the Golden State Warriors, 110-99.  The 15,320 fans at the Garden were present for 24th sellout of the season of the season as well as the Green’s fifth straight win.  The Celtics ended the month of February with a 9-2 record, and Larry Bird — who led all scorers with 28 points — was the catalyst for the success.

After opening the last game against the Spurs with a 38-point quarter, the Celtics dropped 36 on the Warriors in the opening frame in this one.  Golden State’s dreadful season continued, and the C’s neutralized Golden State big man Robert Parish.  After scoring 22 and picking up 11 boards against the Celtics on December 29, Parish was held to just 8 and 6 in Boston.  Bob Ryan from the March 1, 1980 edition of the  Boston Globe summed up this affair very quickly:

It was on the schedule, so they played it.  This is the safest thing that can be said about the Celtics-Warriors affair at the Garden last night. Continue reading “Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 64 vs. the Warriors”

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 63 vs. the Spurs

Celtics (47-15) vs. San Antonio (33-31)
February 27, 1980
Boston Garden

The Celtics increased their winning streak to four in a row after out-running the San Antonio at the Garden, 130-125.

The game, far removed from today’s NBA, entertained a building sellout to a38-38 first quarter.  George Gervin looked to be on pace for a record-setting night after 21 points in the first quarter alone, but the Celtics’ defense “limited” the Ice Man to only 35 points for the evening.

Gerald Henderson

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Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 62 vs. the Hawks

Celtics (46-15) vs. Atlanta (38-25)
February 26, 1980
Hartford Civic Center

The Celtics traveled to the newly opened Hartford Civic Center for a road game with Hubie Brown’s Atlanta Hawks to continue a tough stretch of games for the Green.  After traveling for a five game road trip, making stops with Western Conference staples in Seattle, Portland, and Phoenix, Bill Fitch was on record that he considered this stretch a seven game road trip: five on the road, one “home” game in Hartford, and a tough match-up back at the Garden with the San Antonio Spurs.  Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe reported on Fitch’s philosophy:

Fitch contends that the Celtics are off on a seven-game road jaunt. There are five indisputable road games… [including] the tough Atlanta Hawks.

“We’d better put our road faces on for that one,” Fitch says.  “That’s the equivalent of a road game.”  He’s right, of course.  Traditionally, the Celtics view these home-away-from-home games in Hartford, Providence, Springfield, etc. with all the enthusiasm of a vegetarian ordering up a Big Mac.  Finally, there is the home game of Wednesday, Feb. 27.  Fitch is a firm believer in the theory that states that the first home game after a long road trip is actually the last game of the road trip.  Presto – a seven-game road trip.

With the way the Celtics were playing, however, it really didn’t matter where the game was held.  Boston ripped through Atlanta, 108-97, to improve to 4-1 against the Hawks.  The win stretched the C’s winning streak to three games, and the team was paced by a dominant effort from the front line.  Cedric Maxwell finished with 15 points and 9 boards before fouling out, but Larry Bird (25 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists) and Rick Robey (27 points, 13 rebounds) dominated Atlanta’s big men.  Nate Archibald and Chris Ford kept feeding the ball to the big men, combining for a dozen assists, and even though Pete Maravich did not make an impact (4 minutes, 2 points), the Celtics remained successful — and picked up their first victory in Connecticut, as Bob Ryan noted in that next day’s Globe, in years:

Last night’s game at the Civic Center marked Boston’s first appearance here since the infamous roof collapse in January 1978. In their last game in the “old” building, which seated 3000 less than the rebuilt edifice, they were beaten by the Phoenix Suns as Paul Westphal (43) and Walter Davis (40) shot them down…

The game also marked the return of Dave Cowens to the lineup.  Fitch promised that he would easy Cowens back into the rotation, and the head coach was good to his word: Cowens logged fourteen minutes off the bench.  In order to make room on the roster, Don Chaney was placed on the five game injured list.  Remarkably, he managed to pull a hamstring at the exact moment the Celtics proclaimed Cowens was ready to return.

The Celtics returned home — this time to the Garden — for a game the very next night with the San Antonio Spurs.




Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 61 vs. the Nuggets

Celtics (45-15) vs. Denver (24-40)
February 23, 1980
McNichols Sports Arena

The Celtics wrapped up a five game road trip by making quick work of the Denver Nuggets, 124-105.  The win improved the C’s to 20-11 on the road.

Looking to build another winning streak to help distance themselves in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference, particularly from Philadelphia (44-17), the Celtics relied on a team effort that produced seven scorers in double figures.  There were also three players (Larry Bird, Cedric Maxwell, and Rick Robey) who also recorded double digits in rebounds, as the C’s hit the glass and out-boarded the Nuggets, 58-35.  The Celtics also produced 69 first half points and continued to display their willingness to share the ball, registering 34 assists (nine by Archibald, eight from Bird).

Cedric Maxwell led the team with 19 points.  Paired on the floor with Tiny Archibald, Pete Maravich had his best performance, showcasing his ability to score in bunches, finishing with 14 points on 5-7 shooting in only 16 minutes.  Bird had another tremendous outing, refusing to let up on his domination of the league.  He finished with a line of 15/8/8, just shy of recording another triple-double. Continue reading “Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 61 vs. the Nuggets”

Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 60 vs. the Jazz

Celtics (44-15) vs. Utah (20-42)
February 20, 1980
Salt Palace

The Celtics’ February road trip included a homecoming of sorts for Pete Maravich and Jeff Judkins.

Pistol Pete’s career had been derailed in Utah and nearly ended on an unceremonious note when Jazz coach Tom Nissalke relegated him to the bench for seven weeks and put the basketball in the hands of new star Adrian Dantley.  Judkins grew up in Utah and played his college ball there, too.  Before overpowering the Jazz to the tune of a 105-98 victory, the Celtics were greeted at the airport in Salt Lake City by 30 friends and relatives of Judkins, practiced at his old high school, and ate a dinner served by his mother.  The former University of Utah standout went on to deliver 19 points on 7-9 shooting in his return home, while Maravich’s uneven tenure with the Celtics continued with a DNP-Coach’s Decision.

Pete Maravich_John Havlicek
In an interview conducted last week with Marshall Terrill, a co-author of Pete Maravich: The Authorized Biography of Pistol Pete, Terrill touched on some of the difficulties Maravich encountered at the end of his tenure with the Jazz:

Nissalke felt like he couldn’t build a winning team around Maravich who was 31 at the time.  While his game was still graceful, he no longer was as explosive…. His knee injury from a Jan. 31, 1978 game against the Buffalo Braves never healed properly, and he wasn’t he same player.  Defensively, Maravich had no lateral movement and didn’t pull his weight on that end of the court.  Nissalke felt Maravich, despite the fact that he was still a draw in the league, was a liability and benched him.  That deeply wounded Maravich’s pride.  He said of that period that he was “mentally crippled” and felt like he was wasting away on the bench.

Maravich was a very emotional person where it concerned basketball and took everything personally.  He suffered many sleepless nights (he was a notoriously light sleeper) as a result.  It seemed as if Maravich represented the Jazz’s past while Adrian Dantley, who was averaging 29 points a game, represented its future.  It was a changing of the guard moment for Pete and I think he and the Jazz organization realized he needed a fresh start someplace else.

Dantley poured in 31 points and 8 rebounds against the Celtics while Maravich watched from the bench.

*Maravich and Auerbach really shine after the 2-minute mark*

After the Celtics signed Maravich, the organization opted to have the Pistol train away from the confines of the team.  Terrill continues:

Maravich was very unhappy with the way the Celtics treated him during his rehabilitation and wrote about it extensively in his 1987 autobiography, “Heir to a Dream”.  He felt the only way to get into playing shape was to play.

For the first two weeks he was in Boston, he never saw any of the other players.  He practiced in another gym away from the team with Mike Cole, who worked in the promotions department.  Maravich wrote: “The team’s actions didn’t make any sense to me. When I pressed for an explanation I was told they needed to bring me into the system slowly. That’s when I remember feeling as though I was some kind of alien or a disease for which they needed to find a cure.”

Though Maravich didn’t play, Bird finished with 33 points and Rick Robey scored 20 and pounded the glass for a career-high 21 rebounds.  Behind a 14-point second quarter, the man who stole the show was, per Bob Ryan in the Globe, Jeff Judkins:

The hometown kid, who played his high school ball at Highland High and his college ball five minutes away from his house at the University of Utah, came within a basket of equaling his season’s high as he paced a 34-point Celtic second quarter that turned a 32-24 one-period advantage into a lead that peaked at 60-44 on a Gerld Henderson jumper with 54 seconds remaining in the half.

Even without Dave Cowens, the Celtics never trailed or relinquished their lead after Larry Bird scored to put Boston ahead, 4-2.  Cowens was still recuperating from an injury to the big toe on his left foot, but the Celtics had surprised the Association by playing terrific basketball without their premiere low post defender, winning ten of the thirteen games without Big Red.  Bob Ryan detailed their play without Cowens:

Having lost their best defensive player when Cowens went down, the Celtics have shifted the emphasis to offense in his absence.  The team had outscored opponents by a 119.7-108.2 margin in those 12 games, four times breaking 130 points.  The defense hadn’t been all that bad either, with only Phoenix (135 on 60 percent shooting) breaking 111 against the Green and White.

It helped, of course, that Larry Bird had averaged just under 25 points during Cowens’ absence.  Five months into his rookie season, and Bird had recorded double-doubles in 57 of his first 60 NBA games.  The team stepped up to fill in the holes from the loss Cowens’ production: Rick Robey, averaging thirteen points per game, and Eric Fernsten, who went from nearly but cut to contributing eight points per game, both helped ease the loss of the big man from Florida State.

In other Celtics news, Will McDonough reported that the organization was looking for other alternatives outside of the Boston Garden and beyond the proposed sports complex in East Boston.  The team, he reported, looked into relocating to a city known for its incredible eats at Kelly’s Roast Beef:

The Celtics and the Boston Garden have been involved in very sensitive negotiations in recent weeks concerning a new lease.  The Celtics, whose current lease is up at the end of the year, are trying to build their own arena in Revere.  But it certainly won’t be ready in time for next season, so they are interested in a short- term deal.  The Garden’s management, which is making a legitimate effort of their own to rebuild the arena, wants a long- term arrangement.

The C’s looked to build a new winning streak on Saturday in Denver and go for the series sweep against the Nuggets.  With the Celtics landing in Denver on Friday, there were cheers a good 1800 miles away over in New York — Lake Placid, to be exact — as the United States Olympics hockey team defeated the Russians, 4-3.  To this day, it’s the last tape-delayed American Olympic hockey game ever aired on television.



Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 59 vs. the SuperSonics

Celtics (44-14) vs. Seattle (44-16)
February 17, 1980
King County Domed Stadium

The Seattle SuperSonics reminded a national audience that the defending NBA champions were still the prohibitive favorite to win the championship.  Though it was close, the Sonics fought past the Celtics, 109-108, scoring the final eight points of the game to complete a season sweep of the best team in the Eastern Conference.

Dennis Johnson

Dennis Johnson had another terrific game for Seattle, finishing with 21 points and eight rebounds.  Johnson’s ascent and success in professional basketball was an anomaly.  The NBA was filled with unique stories, but perhaps none more so than the story of Dennis Johnson.  Johnson’s Legends page detailed his story:

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Bird’s Rookie Year — Game 58 vs. the TrailBlazers

Celtics (43-14) vs. Portland (27-32)
February 15, 1980
Memorial Coliseum

The Celtics recovered from a loss in Phoenix with a 106-91 triumph in Portland.  Boston built an 11-point lead by the half and cruised to their eighth win in the previous nine games.  Following up from his 45-point outburst against the Suns, Larry Bird led the C’s with 28 points and 15 rebounds.

Bob Ryan detailed the victory in the February 16, 1980 edition of the Boston Globe:

Piece of cake. Can of corn.  Day at the beach.  Walk in the spring rain.  Day at the office.  Get the idea yet?  The Celtics simply overwhelmed the Portland Trail Blazers last night, giving them too much Larry Bird (28), too much M.L. Carr, too much Tiny Archibald and just too much team before walking off with a 106- 91 victory that ended their losing streak at its customary number – one.

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