Bird's Rookie Year: December 14, 1979 (part 4)


December 14, 1979

They both began the NBA season with more hope than talent. At one point, the Celtics and Bucks ranked 1-2 as the surprise teams of the year in their respective divisions. And both continue to hold either the lead or a share of first place.

But when they meet tonight (7:30 p.m., WBZ) at the Garden in the rematch of their mini-series, it will be like two ships passing in the night. For Boston is seemingly in high gear, coming off a 116-102 victory over New Jersey Wednesday, and has a 13-1 record at home. Milwaukee has lost five in a row and hasn't won a game since Dec. 4.

It is ironic that coach Don Nelson and his Bucks should show up in town at the same time his old buddy, Dave Cowens, and his Celtics are muscling teams around the way they did when Nelson and Cowens were Celtic teammates. The resurgence of Cowens does not surprise Nelson one bit. The Celtics beat the Bucks in Milwaukee on Sunday, 113-108, with Cowens contributing 23 points and 11 rebounds.

"He looked like the same old Dave to me," says Nelson. "I know he played a great game against us. He can always intimidate you in the middle. He doesn't block shots as some guys do, but he intimidates with his body. Really, it doesn't make any difference if he gets the job done. Jack Sikma does it for Seattle the same way and is very successful."

The Bucks, who had a 12-3 record a month ago, are now 19-13 but are still in first place in the NBA's Midwest Division, where a year ago they finished tied for fourth at 38-44, 10 games behind Kansas City. The Celtics, who had a 10-3 record a month ago, are now 22-7. Boston won only 29 games all season, just 27 with Cowens as player-coach.

"When Dave took the job as head coach last year," said Nelson, "I had a feeling it was an impossible job for him, and it was. It's just not an easy job; he's happier now."

Nelson concedes that the Bucks, plagued by injuries, have their work cut out for them. Marques Johnson, their all-star forward, played only 17 minutes Wednesday night in a 112-91 loss at Philadelphia. In the same game, Harvey Catchings came down hard on the floor. Both are questionable for tonight, according to Nelson.

In Milwaukee, the Bucks had a particularly difficult time with the Celtic fast break, led by Tiny Archibald, and with the front line of Cowens, Larry Bird and Cedric Maxwell, which can erupt at any moment.

"We've got good people who can play," said Cowens. "Bird can put it in from anywhere on the floor. You know if you get the ball to Max (Cedric Maxwell) inside, something is going to happen. Tiny (Archibald) does an excellent job of moving the ball up the floor quickly. We're capable of keeping pressure on teams from all three positions. The only thing we have to work on is being consistent."

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