November 23, 1980
They'll probably think it was a misprint in Butte or Battle Creek when they see this score, but there was nothing fluky about it. Cleveland moved into an early lead and twice answered the Celtics when the Green and White appeared to be imposing their will on the game.
The most significant Celtic incursion came in the third quarter. Two quick baskets by the otherwise woeful Larry Bird had brought the Celtics within a point at 62-61 with 10:41 to play in the quarter. The Celtics, who had trailed by 16 in the second period, undoubtedly figured that the Cavs would fold the tent at this point and slink off with defeat No. 16.
But this was Cleveland's night, as the next basket would prove. Boston had opened the second half by forcing a 24-second violation, and now it was a few seconds away from doing it again. Instead, Kenny Carr, a very big man with 22 points, snaked in a Bird-like underhand scoop an instant before the buzzer. And when Bird missed a turnaround, Carr responded with a low post hook to restore the Cleveland advantage to five at 66-61.
The haughty Celtics didn't know it, but they would never get closer than six again. And when they did, at 81-75, the Cavs ran off six straight points as they took an 87-77 lead into the final quarter.
Boston could not get the margin past 10 in the final quarter, and by the midway point, the Celtics were a beaten, disorganized team.
The key Cavaliers on this big occasion were Randy Smith, with 27, Carr, with his 22, Mike Mitchell, with 21, and sub guard Roger Phegley, whose fourth-quarter marksmanship insured that the Celtics would not come back.
The loss ended a Celtic winning streak at six straight.
Chris Ford fired the ultimate home run ball - a four-point shot - as the Celtics came from 16 points down early in the second quarter to just five back (62-57) at intermission.
Cleveland was in possession of a 62-50 lead with 52 seconds remaining in the half, but the Celtics managed to score an amazing seven points on their final two possessions. First the ever-improving Robert Parish picked off an Eric Fernsten miss and re-deposited the ball with an artful left hand flip, drawing a foul in the process. Then a Cleveland miss set up one last Boston offensive thrust.
Tiny Archibald spotted Ford alone on the left flank, and last year's three-point terror swished a bomb as Richard Washington foolishly ran him over in a vain attempt to block the shot. Ford, who last year missed a similar opportunity against Denver by blowing the free throw, picked himself up and dropped this one through to send the Celtics into the locker room in a better frame of mind.
The Cavaliers had dominated the first half after breaking a 10-10 tie with Bill Laimbeer's layup. Boston may have been taking the 6-15 Cavs too lightly, or they may simply have been unable to cope with Bill Musselman's one-two punch of Smith (20 in the first half of his 700th consecutive game) and Mitchell (15), who evenly divided 24 of Cleveland's 36 first-quarter points. The Celtics trailed by 10 at the quarter, and they deserved their fate.
Down by a 42-26 score with 11:01 left in the half, the Celtics gradually got themselves back into the game, twice coming within seven (46-39, 48-41) as Bill Fitch employed the weird frontcourt combination of Fernsten, Kevin McHale and Parish (17 in the first half). Fernsten replaced the ice-cold Bird with the Cavs leading by a 42-30 score, and Fernsten did a creditable job at both ends.
It appeared as if Boston was getting straightened outmidway through the second quarter when the Celtics got within seven, but Cleveland came back, starting with an amazing right baseline fallaway three-point play (the conventional kind) by the estimable Mr. Smith. The Cavs fought their way to another 13-point (61-48) lead with 1:43 to play, only to find their lead sliced by back-to-back killing sequences of three and four points at a crack as the period ended.