December 17, 1979
CELTICS SAVE BEST FOR LAST
The look was one of envy. Phil Jackson, the Nets' assistant coach, understood what the transformation of the Celtics really means. He knows the feeling very well.
"We had it when I was with the Knicks," said Jackson, attempting to explain just how the Celtics had somehow accomplished the impossible and somehow had pulled out a 115-112 victory over New Jersey last night.
"It's a feeling that no matter what happens, if the game is within six points in the final two minutes, you're going to win.
"We used to say You can have the first 46. The last two minutes in a close game belong to us.' People don't understand how many games are won in that period. Why do you think that it sometimes takes a half hour to play it. We (the Nets) are a young team. The Celtics have veterans who have been there. They control the three-second area and leave you nothing but jump shots. You don't win in the last two minutes on jump shots."
Truer words were never spoken, especially when you consider that last night the Celtics won their third straight last-minute thriller, second in a row on the road, and more and more are displaying the kind of confidence that comes only from winning,
"We truly believe," said Chris Ford, one of the miracle workers whose three-point goal with 1:23 left in overtime started the Celtics on a rally that carried them from a five-point deficit (112-105) to the win. "You can call it confidence. But we really believe we're in every game until the final buzzer has sounded. We were down five points and we knew we had to make it up in a hurry. I wasn't looking for a three-pointer. Tiny made a steal and I just stepped back over the other side of the line."
Last night the Celtics were more than just a team in first place in the Atlantic Division. They have now won five in a row, the last three of which have come on the road, and they were a nine-man unit led by a coach in Bill Fitch who acted as if were were playing chess - moving his bishops and knights and yet adding a rook whenever he felt the need. Whatever the situation, he had the right five men on the floor.
"It wasn't a question of the best five men," said Fitch. "I had the best five men for the situation."
In the final two minutes of both regulation and overtime, Fitch interchanged guards and forwards similiar to Dean Smith of North Carolina, working a two-platoon system. Tiny Archibald, Chris Ford and Larry Bird were on the floor each time the Celtics went on offense. Gerald Henderson, Don Chaney or M.L. Carr were in there for defense.
"We played three games in three nights," said Fitch, "and so did the Nets. But they chose to go with fewers players (eight) then we did, and I think the strength of our bench paid off. They played much better against us than last Wednesday in Boston, and Mike Newlin was fantastic. It was quite a show."
But one-man shows seldom win basketball games, Fitch added.
"The things you work on in training camp pay off for you on a night like this. It's back to the two-minute drill. You don't have many time outs. You have to move players in and out. But we went out and earned what we got tonight."
The Nets, of course, might argue that they deserved to win. They got a brilliant 52-point effort from Newlin, high in the NBA this year. But, at the end, it was Newlin who wound up as the goat. He had the ball stolen from him with five seconds left in regulation, and the Celtics turned that into two game-tying free throws by Carr. At the end of the overtime, Newlin was the prime shooter and the Celtics defensed him perfectly.
First the steal. Henderson made it when the Nets were trying to kill the final seven seconds. He stripped the ball away and tipped it to Cedric Maxwell. One pass later, Carr had the ball and a controversial foul which netted him two free throws.
"All I know is that we were behind and we had to get the ball some kind of way," said Henderson. The situation didn't look good, but luckily he (Newlin) put the ball on the floor. There were men open underneath the basket but he put the ball on the floor. That's the only way we could have gotten it,"
The Celtics had outside shooting. Ford's third three-pointer of the night had indeed turned the tide in the overtime and brought the Celtics to within two points at 112-110. But it was a thrust up the middle by Archibald with 36 seconds left that put the nail in the coffin for the Nets, who simply forgot about his ability to move into high gear in an instant.
"But I saw an opening," said Archibald, "and I just took it. Everybody else had been contributing, but I hadn't had a very good night until then. I got a step and went for the layup or a foul. I didn't think the ball was going to go through because they have shot blockers and I had to put it up so high on the glass, but I wound up with the basket and a foul.
"Newlin got his two points, but you can't worry about that. Somebody is always going to hurt you. We got hurt Friday night and Saturday night by one player but everybody else did their job and we won the game. That's all that counts."
The Celtics continue to show that they are more of a team that anyone is willing to give them credit for. "It all goes back to what this team is made of," said Carr. "It has a tremendous amount of character. We believe in each other. We believe."