With Cowens Out and Robey Injured, C's Fall to Wes Unseld and Bullets

January 26, 1980

These are grim times in Celtic land. First, Dave Cowens went down Tuesday night while he was enjoying one of his finer games of the season. And last evening the Celtics may have lost another center. With big men falling like British heavyweights, the fact that the Celtics lost the game seemed secondary. The Washington Bullets withstood a dramatic comeback bid launched by a Boston kamikaze unit comprised of five substitutes to record a 118-107 triumph over the home team. But the major story after the game was the revelation that Rick Robey, who had replaced the injured Cowens at center, had popped a groin muscle in the pregame warmup. He labored through 32 minutes of play, but he was simply no match for Wesley Unseld, who outrebounded him, 19-4, and outscored him, 17-8.

"I did it in the warmup," Robey said. "Can you believe it? I've never had anything like this in my life, so I can't tell you how it will affect me."

The next Celtic game will take place tomorrow at the Garden when the San Diego Clippers, anchored by Swen Nater, come to town. Cowens won't play, and now there is more than a slight possibility that Robey won't either. "There are," said Bill Fitch, "two dumb' injuries, the foot and the groin. If Rick has really pulled one, he sure won't be worth much Sunday."

This was a bizarre game whose highlight came during a span of 5:24, extending from the 3:24 mark of the third period until the 10 minute juncture of the fourth quarter. It was during this time that Fitch, unhappy with the atrocious defensive play of his starting unit, replaced them with a second unit consisting of Eric Fernsten, M.L. Carr, Don Chaney, Gerald Henderson and Jeff Judkins. The Celtics, who had trailed by as many as 18 (59-41) and who had pulled within four (71-67) earlier in the period, then were down by 12 (82-70) and were suffering from an advanced case of Detroit Piston disease.

Fitch's obvious instructions to his new unit were to press, press and press. They fell behind by 16 (88-72), but in the final 1:14 they got their little act together, forcing the suddenly jittery Bullets into no fewer than four turnovers in that brief period of time, two of them coming on five-second inbounds violations. A Judkins drive following his own midcourt theft of an outlet pass sent the Celtics into the final period trailing by a manageable eight points at 88-80.

Fitch left the unit out there to start the final period and they sent the crowd into delirium by causing a third five-second inbounds violation before turning a 92-84 deficit over to the starters two minutes into the period. They exited to a standing ovation and the respect of their opponents.

"Nobody has been able to full-court man-to-man press us all year," admitted Washington mentor Dick Motta. "I thought the first violation was called a little quick, and after that we may have started to panic a bit."

"There was no place I could go," admired Kevin Grevey. "They cut off the first pass and it seemed like we would cut once and then stand around."

The first team did manage to come within two at 92-90 on a pair of Nate Archibald fast-break free throws, but after reaching that state at 7:57 they died once again, failing to score a field goal for the next 5:32 while being outscored, 15-2. The chief assassin was Roger Phegley (16 points on 8-for-9 shooting), who scored eight quickies after those Tiny foul shots, sandwiching two pairs of hoops around a killing three-point inbounds shot by troublesome Bob Dandridge (25).

The Celtics had led by early margins of 14-6 and 17-10, but Washington assumed control of the game by scoring 11 field goals in the final 6:14 of the period, nine of them coming on shots from 17 feet and beyond (the Bullets shot an astounding 16 for 21 in the period), and the other two being rumbling three-point moves to the hoop by Unseld. The catchup game was on.

"The established five was given an opportunity to win a game after the other people got them back," said Fitch, "and it wasn't their night to get it done. I think you saw tonight why we won 36 games, because our guys worked very hard. I'm proud of them, but I'll be even prouder if they can win on Sunday."

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