December 15, 1979
Could it be? Could it possibly be? Could Chris Ford have made three more three-pointers, and could the third one have come with time running out, a 25- foot running onehand banker high off the glass on an in-bounds play? Could Chris Ford have pulled out an implausible 97-94 victory for the Celtics over the Bucks, a triumph they did not deserve by virtue of their atrocious game- long play? The answer to all these questions is Y-E-S.
The Celtics had blown an 11-point lead with 10:04 remaining by scoring just one field goal in the next 8:02. It wasn't until Dave Cowens, at that moment a 3-for-19 shooter who had missed all 10 second-half attempts, canned a jumper to pull them within two at 90-88 with 2:02 remaining that the Celtics broke the basket drought.
The climactic situation had come about when Ford sank two foul shots with 25 seconds left to tie the game at 94-94, and Brian Winters missed a long jumper for Milwaukee. The ball was knocked out of bounds and awarded to Boston with three seconds left. Naturally, the Celtics called time out.
Cedric Maxwell (27 points) threw the ball in and Ford advanced along the right sideline. With about one second left, he left fly with a long runner. The ball hit the glass and dropped plainly through as the traditional weekly Celtic on-court celebration took place.
Neither coach could have been especially pleased about his team's play during a dismal first half. When the 24 minutes were complete, the Celtics had a 51-45 lead, but you can bet your autographed picture of Connie Simmons that Bill Fitch wasn't nominating any of his players for the Hall of Fame.
For openers, the Celtics did not get one basket on the fast break during the entire half. All they had to show for a half of play were three free throws, one by Nate Archibald and two by Cedric Maxwell, the first-half high scorer with 15 points. They only misfired or threw the ball away six times, which indicates how well the Bucks defensed the break.
So how did Boston manage to accumulate its lead? Simple. No matter what Boston did, the Bucks were able to do it worse. A Boston turnover would be followed by a Milwaukee shot bouncing over the backboard, an offensive foul, or some such abomination. The Bucks were truly wretched in this half, so trailing by six really wasn't so bad from their standpoint.
The Celtics stood around as Milwaukee jumped into a 6-0 lead in the game's first 49 seconds, but the home team regrouped and took a lead at 15-14 on a nice driving three-point play by Maxwell. This came in the midst of a modest 8-0 run covering 2:22, and for the rest of the period the teams would take turns seeing who could set the game of basketball back further. For the record, it was 28-21, Boston, after one period, the Bucks having scored just seven points in the final 8:26 and still trailing only by seven. Great game, huh?
Boston was forced to move into a 15-point (40-25) lead 3:38 into the second period, as the Milwaukee malaise continued. Finally, an 8-0 Bucks' run got them back into the game. The Celtics stopped yawning long enough to move back ahead by 14 (47-33) with 4:37 remaining, but true to the spirit of this first half of terrible play, they never scored another basket, settling for a pair of free throws each by Don Chaney and Jeff Judkins.
The only thing the Celtics did well during the first half was pass. They continued in the spirit of Wednesday's impressive triumph over New Jersey, wherein they gave the fans a suitable imitation of their October selves. They came out overpassing again last night in half-court situations, but they were neither handling the ball very well in general nor making good long passes on fast breaks. An example of the mutual mistreatment of the basketball: In the first period the two teams came dangerously close to posting a combined 2-1 ratio of field goals attempted (38) to turnovers (18). This is just plain bad basketball.
About the only consistent individual bright spot for Boston was Maxwell, who moved well without the ball to ring up his point total. Larry Bird had one brief flurry when he dropped in successive bombs, the first from the deep left corner and the second from far out on the right wing, and he did pass well (what else is new?), but he was injured with 2:53 left in the half, at a time when Boston could have used his offense. Kent Benson had blocked a Bird shot and, in so doing, apparently kicked Bird.
The Bucks could not be said to have been led by anyone. They just kind of stumbled along until the Celtics finally succeeded in falling to their level of play. By all rights, they should have reset the scoreboard to 0-0 and started the third quarter from that point.