January 4, 1981
FRIDAY NIGHT GAME BIRD'S SHOOTING SLUMP HITS BOTTOM
It would not be fair to the Golden State Warriors if Friday night's 121-106 triumph over the Celtics were remembered only as The Night The Birdman Fired Blanks.
But you can be sure that's what's going to happen.
The stat sheet just didn't seem right. Larry Bird, in 37 minutes of playing time, had shot 0 for 9 from the floor. Included in there were about eight bricks and a blocked shot. He air-balled one from the right corner. He had them bouncing high off the back rim. He simply had no touch at all.
Coming the night after a 4-for-17 performance in San Diego, a night in which Bird misfired on his last nine attempts from the floor, it means that in 86 minutes and 31 seconds of playing time, dating back to a three-pointer he sank with 2:31 left in Thursday's first period, Bird has gone scoreless from the floor. Is it any wonder, therefore, that the Celtics came very close to losing in San Diego, and that they were unable to defeat Golden State, which is a better team than the Clippers?
Lord only knows what will transpire tonight (WBZ, 10 p.m.) when the Celtics end this six-game trip in the treacherous Memorial Coliseum. Any more of these Bird bricks and the season's first two-game losing streak will be a lock.
"It was just the two worst nights back-to-back of my career," Bird explained. "I got a lot of rest on Friday because I was really drained following the San Diego game. I thought I had a better release against Golden State, but I just didn't have the touch I usually have. I do think I'll try shooting from closer to the basket against Portland."
Even with Bird suffering through his historic 0-fer, the Celtics had a chance to win the game. When Robert Parish (24) smashed home a stuff with 4:44 to play, the Celtics, who had trailed by 13 (90-77) entering the fourth period, and who had been making a habit out of strong fourth-period road performances, were right in it at 100-96.
"If someone had told me that Bird would be scoreless and we'd be down four with 4 1/2 to play, I'd have liked our chances," admitted Bill Fitch.
But Boston, which was handed innumerable victory chances by the Clippers the night before, would get no further. The Celtics could neither avoid fouls (or, to be precise, things that the unfathomable Bob Rakel and rookie counterpart Bill Simmons thought were fouls), nor could they make a big shot. Three free throws preceded a lights-out followup stuff by rookie Larry Smith, leaving the Celtics, who could get only a Parish turnaround in the interim, trailing by a 107-98 score with 2:32 left.
As usual, Fitch could not fault the Boston effort. But the offense has not been coming easy for two games now, and it has more root causes than simply Bird's sudden shooting slump. Tiny Archibald has had only seven assists in the last two games, for example, and his main job is to generate some offense.
Nobody ever said this was a super team, and its 12-game winning streak was a superb accomplishment. Fitch gladly admits he would have loved a 4-2 road trip, and a victory tonight will constitute a 5-1 jaunt. Keep in mind, however, that the final game is always very tough on these trips, and that Portland has been, along with Boston, one of the NBA's two hottest teams over past three weeks. Winning in the Coliseum will not be easy.
As for the Warriors, they hardly had time to savor an excellent victory. Twenty-four hours after beating Boston, they had to contend with Philadelphia. Just for posterity, let this be said: Bird's 0-fer will not soon be forgotten, but it wasn't the only story of the evening. The Warriors are a young team possibly heading for great things.