December 29, 1979
All things considered, the Celtics could have been a lot worse off than a 61-52 halftime deficit.
They had fallen behind by as many as 13 points (50-37), 52-39) before a run of eight straight got them within four points. And they even were four down with the ball when Rick Robey missed a fast-break flip and then compounded the felony by committing a loose-ball foul on the rebound. The Lakers took full advantage of this turn of events by boosting the lead back to the halftime spread behind five late points by Jim Chones.
Larry Bird really didn't get himself involved in the offense until the seven-minute mark of the second quarter, but he rallied to score nine points in the final five minutes.
A run of eight straight pints in the span of 1:19 turned the game around a bit in the first quarter and rescued the Lakers from a 21-16 deficit. The Celtics had been operating decently, until LA got into a fast-break thing after Abdul-Jabbar had fed a cutting Wilkes for a pretty layup.
Chris Ford made sure his three-point binge would continue by connecting on a corner bomb in the first minute of play, the first of two he would hit en route to a 10-point opening quarter.
The key man for LA was neither Johnson nor Kareem, but Norm Nixon, whom the Celtics have not been able to contain since he entered the league two seasons ago. He did practically whatever he wanted offensively, from taking long fallaways to sticking in nice drives down the lane.
LA interim coach Paul Westhead started Kareem on Cedric Maxwell, but it really didn't seem to affect the latter, who battled underneath for 11 first- quarter rebounds and 7 points.
One of the sources of Bird's problems was the excellent defense of Wilkes, a superb two-way player. He simply discouraged the rookie from getting the ball, and it wasn't until Don Ford replaced Wilkes for a spell that Bird got untracked.
A very big factor in the game was the Boston foul situation. Bird and Maxwell had relatively quick third personals, and in the second quarter the Celtics committed five before LA was assessed one. But the officiating of Bob Rakel - can you believe traveling 3000 miles and getting Rakel twice in a row? - and Hue Hollins was impartially spotty. The Celtics basically earned what they got in this department.
The situation hardly improved for the Celtics at the beginning of the third quarter. The first group still really had nothing going offensively, and LA seized the opportunity to expand the lead to 14 (71-57) before Fitch called a momentum-stopping time out with 8:45 left in the quarter.
LA's offensive might was evident in the first half stats. Only the Magic Man failed to shoot at least 50 percent. Chones was 5 for 5, Wilkes 6 for 11, Nixon 6 for 9 and Abdul-Jabbar, 2 for 4. The Lakers really weren't even running much. They were just exploiting Boston in the half court, from inside and out, and a big factor was Abdul-Jabbar, who has never passed better.
As the quarter progressed, the Celtics started unravelling. They were actually losing their unit poise for the first time this season, taking horrible shots and acting as if erasing a 15-point deficit with 18 minutes to go was a task that had to be accomplished in two or three trips downcourt. The Lakers, while reasonably impressive, hardly had that championship look, but the Celtics made them look golden.