December 28, 1979
CELTICS COME OUT SMOKIN' IN WEST
Time was when the Celtics were as concerned with laying out their wardrobes and planning their excursions to night spots when they headed to the West Coast. But this bunch of sober citizens has apparently come out here to work.
"Ain't no play out here," smiled a relaxed Dave Cowens. "The weather is nice, and you can enjoy it until you walk into the gym. Then it's time to work."
And nobody worked harder, or better, last night than the captain. He dropped in 13 of 20 shots and keyed a superb defensive effort as the Celtics began a five-game road trip by laying a 118-97 hurtin' on the San Diego Clippers. About the only thing wrong with the game was that Cowens had to play a little more (37 minutes) than anyone would have liked, what with a ballyhooed game in Los Angeles tonight and another tomorrow in Oakland. But the redhead was obviously refreshed after his four-day hiatus and wasn't as concerned as everyone else about his workload.
A sellout crowd of 13,841 - not only the first Clipper sellout of the season, but also the only crowd in five figures - can now bear witness to the rather startling difference in playing style between the Celtics and their erstwhile cousins. The Celtics are supposed to be the team composed of unselfish people who would rather pass than shoot, while the Clippers are said to be made up of one-on-one players who don't so much play together as they coexist. For once the prevailing mythology was proven to be accurate.
For proof all you need do is consult the stat sheet, which reveals that the Celtics had assists on 32 of 53 baskets. The Clippers had a hard-to- believe 11 assists on their 37 baskets. For the Celtics, who have gotten used to ball movement as a way of life, that Clipper total was stupefying.
"Oh, God," said Cedric Maxwell, "is that how many they had? That's not the passingest team."
Said Don Chaney: "That's amazing, man. That's gunning them up."
Added Larry Bird: "You ain't gonna win too many games like that. When they were working the ball is when they were in the game."
The Clippers were definitely in this game for 27 minutes. The Celtics had seen a one-time 14-point (40-26) lead dwindle to three at 62-59 when Fitch called a time out. "The message? The message was Get breaking. Remember that we've got a lot of runners and a lot of people who haven't played yet. And, if we don't have the break, execute the plays right.' "
His team came out and immediately pulled a Doug Henning, making the game disappear in the next 4:23 with an 18-4 run that included seven fast-break points, the last three coming on a wide-open-plant-your-feet-take-a-deep- breath-count-the-seams-and-whisper-a- little-prayer-for-the-hostages fast break, left corner set shot by Chris Ford.
"I must have had five seconds by myself," Ford marveled. That swisher (his second three-pointer on a fast break in the game) made it 80-63, Boston. The Clippers would never come closer than 14 points again, as the Celtics drove the mail home behind a 10-point fourth quarter by Jeff Judkins.
Fitch was happy with his team's play ("The team defense was probably the best thing we had"), and he was quite charitable. "The game was in our favor from the standpoint of rest," he said. "We were the rested team. I told our guys that we had come 3000 miles to be the rested team, so let's take advantage of it."
The Clippers had played the night before in Seattle, which is not exactly next door. "I think we played very opportunistically on defense," Fitch continued. "We deflected a lot of passes (especially in the third quarter, when the Clippers turned it over 10 times for 20 Celtic points), and that goes back to what we said about a tired club."
The Celtics had prepared well for this game. They had enjoyed some good workouts, including a beneficial practice yesterday morning. That was followed by a film session in Fitch's room. They are very proud of their record (now 28-8), and that pride was reflected in their impressive play.
Let's put it this way. The Celtic fans (and there were a surprising number of them) were thrilled. The Clipper fans were impressed. The trip is off to a helluva start.