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10.28.2010

Bird's Rookie Year: December 13, 1979

FIRST PLACE CELTICS

December 13, 1979

The Celtics are playing hard and are being awarded with victories, 22 (compared with 29 all last season), good enough to be tied for first place in the Atlantic Division with the Philadelphia 76ers.

"Success breeds confidence and confidence breeds success ... if you work hard," said coach Bill Fitch after last night's 13th win in 14 games at the Garden, a 116-102 domination of the New Jersey Nets.

And no one works harder than Dave Cowens. At 31, he is scoring baskets in bunches, rebounding, playing aggressive defense and diving for loose balls like a rookie.

"I've been lucky," said Cowens. "I've played with good teams in this city for seven years and had only 1 years when it was bad. If there is a difference between this year and last it has to be the people. With some teams you can work hard and still feel you're all alone. If you work hard for this team, you're never alone."

It won't always be as easy for the Celtics as it was last night against the Nets, who fell to Boston for the third time this season. The Celtics squandered most of a 17-point lead yet wound up coasting to a convincing victory.

"We played intelligently," said Fitch. "We moved the ball like we'd been doing earlier in the season. We played defense and got out on the break. Give New Jersey some credit. They did a heck of a job just catching up."

But the Nets never entirely caught up, and that sums up the story. Good teams get over the hump and are able to win on the road, but the Nets are not a good team.

"They pressed so much that we wind up with a lot of wide-open shots because of our passing," said Cedric Maxwell. "I can't say how good I'm playing. The coach said I did well and that's his opinion. But we've won 22 games this year. I think the record of the team speaks for itself."

New Jersey was putting together a rally in the third quarter when its world collapsed. Chris Ford hit a pair of three-pointers and Boston's 79-73 lead suddenly expanded to 88-75 after three quarters.

"We're moving the ball pretty well now," said Ford. "But I think it is because we've learned the hard way. We have to be a smart team. We can't just throw up shots haphazardly. We've got to work hard and work hard together.

"Take the three-point play. There is some design to it, whenever we decide to go for one. Mike Newlin came down one time and just threw one up. He was on a fast break and tried a three-pointer for no reason at all," added Ford, who leads the NBA in three-point percentage (.472), hitting 25 of 53 shots.

Ford has contributed three pointers in 11 straight games and was 3 for 6 from that range last night.

"The ball is moving and I'm getting it in my range and at a point where I have my rhythm and timing working. That all comes from teamwork," he said.

Teamwork included five starters, plus, reserve guard Gerald Henderson, hitting double figures. Cowens led the parade with 24 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots in 42 minutes. Larry Bird had 21 points and 11 rebounds. Maxwell shot 6 for 8 from the floor, blocked 3 shots and had 4 assists. Henderson added 12 points. The Celtics had a 53-50 rebounding edge and just four more goals, 44-40, than New Jersey.

"Cowens saved us tonight," said Fitch. "He was aggressive and knocked people around like his old self. It helped us, especially when they came close in the second half, because they were killing us by getting so many second shots."

Team work is producing success and success is producing confidence, but this is a team that understands what success can bring.

"Naturally we're happy with our winning," said Maxwell. "But that will only make our job harder, not easier. A lot of people now expect us to win every night, and that's not always possible.

"The Patriots have lost. The Red Sox lost. We're the team now, and people have a good feeling about us. But all we can do is go out and play hard each night and hope we come out winners."

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