December 15, 1979
Nothing to it, really. Just bang, whack and smack with the Bucks for 47 minutes and 57 seconds. Then take the ball out of bounds at midcourt and get it to Chris (The Mad Bomber) Ford so he can bounce the ball a couple of times and let fly with a 25-foot running one-hander which banks in cleanly at the buzzer to pull out a 97-94 Celtic victory. Doesn't every team beat Milwaukee that way?
What's that? It couldn't have happened, you say? Chris Ford had already hit at least one three-pointer in 11 straight games? You say there is no way he could have been the hero again, that having defeated Atlanta, Denver and Detroit with three-pointers means he had already used up his quota of ICBM heroics until at least 1987?
Guess again. Whatever it is that Kathy Ford is feeding her husband may soon become the Celtics' diet staple.
How off the wall was this game-winning shot? Hey, Don Nelson, you tell them: "I'd say he'd make two out of a hundred of those running, leaning whatever it was. When things go bad, you end up in that two percentile, I guess. And when they're hot, that's the way the breaks happen." Incidentally, Nellie was reasonably coherent for the coach of an essentially good team which had just lost its sixth game in a row, and second to Boston in a week. Maybe it's because, as Brian Winters said, "We got back to where we want to be tonight."
Of course, where they really want to be is in the victory column, and that Boston got there first - and took a one-game lead over Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division - was the result of many factors, of which Ford's astounding shot was merely one. There was, for example, the matter of Boston's end-of-the-game defense.
With 1:34 remaining, Milwaukee was holding a 92-90 lead after Nate Archibald snaked in a beautiful righthanded drive. Extreme Celtic defensive pressure trapped Quinn Buckner along the right baseline, and he wisely called time out with seven seconds remaining on the shot clock. When play resumed, Dave Cowens absolutely swallowed up a flu-ridden Kent Benson ("the kind of pressure only Cowens can apply" - Nelson), forcing a weak pass underneath which was picked off by Larry Bird. The latter wound up driving for a missed dunk, but he was fouled. Bird sank both and the game was tied at 92-92 with 54 seconds left.
A curious Celtic press ("initiated by someone out on the floor," said Bill Fitch) was broken, and Winters stuck in a corner jumper on the transition. There were 47 seconds left. Now it was Milwaukee's turn to apply pressure, and only a fortuitous toot sent Ford to the line on a drive two seconds away from a 24-second violation. He made both shots, and the game was tied for the fourth time in the final 4:30.
Milwaukee eschewed a timeout, electing to push the ball upcourt. The Bucks worked it until Winters made his move on Ford. But Cowens switched off, meaning that the peerless Milwaukee shooter had to loft his shot over four hands. The ball hit off the rim and was knocked out of bounds. To their dying day the Bucks will swear it last touched Bird, but the ball was awarded to Boston.
"Too bad," sighed Nelson, "an error has to help decide this game. I'd like the ball with three seconds left underneath our own basket."
In truth, the teams had done much to stoke the old "If- You've-Seen-The-Last -Two-Minutes-You've-Seen-It-All" furnace. Though hard- fought, the game was very poorly executed. No amount of coaching platitudes can alter the fact that the first period - indeed the entire first half - was a mutual artistic flop. Hey, these two clubs practically worked in a turnover (18 combined) for every two shots (38) in Period One, and it wasn't because of the defense, either.
Boston grabbed its first lead at 15-14 on a driving three-pointer by Cedric Maxwell (27 points, matching a season high), and expanded it to as many as 15 in the second quarter (40-25), 13 in the third quarter (76-63) and 11 in the final period (82-71). Milwaukee stayed within range mainly due to the efforts of the estimable Marques Johnson (30), and while the Celtics were going eight minutes (10:04 to 2:09) without a field goal in the final period, the visitors forged ahead at 86-84 on a patented Johnson dunk from a Quinn Buckner lob pass. They would build the lead to 90-86 (2:26 left), but Cowens, who had missed all 10 second-half shots and who was 3-19 at the time, started the Celtics on their way back with the second biggest hoop of the night, an 18-footer from the left side.
The biggest basket, of course, was Ford's, and he deserves the final word. "I knew it wasn't going in straight," he said, "but it hit the glass and went "be-shoing' off the glass. I don't know, how do you describe it?"
Bill Fitch knows. Just call it "23 and 7." That'll do.