January 14, 1980
majestic basketball game deserves a more fitting climax than a
questionable call that places a man on the foul line with the score tied
and three seconds remaining - for being fouled on the passoff.
yet the fact that it was two foul shots by Norm Nixon, and not, say, a
sweeping hook by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or an up-fake jumper by Jamaal
Wilkes (or even one of Nixon's artful drives) that decided yesterday's
Celtic-Laker extravaganza hardly diminished the impact of this superb
contest. It's just that it would have been nice to end the proceedings
But you pays your money and you takes what
you get in this league, and what the 15,320 hoop worshipers got at the
Garden yesterday was a spectacular second-half performance by the Lakers. They injected themselves into the game with a memorable run of 21 unanswered points in the third quarter, then outlasted the Celtics
in a dramatic final period of play to earn a 100-98 triumph on the
aforementioned foul shots by Nixon, who, according to referee Jack
Madden, was slapped by Nate Archibald while trying to divest himself of
When the media horde descended upon the Celtic
locker room, Bill Fitch was engaging in self-flagellation, torturng
himself by running the taped replay of the game's final minute. "There's
no way that was a foul," lamented Fitch. "The man has both hands at his
sides and they call a foul. This one will be hard to digest."
The indigestion had begun to set in back in the first half, when the Celtics
somehow managed to shoot a dazzling 63 percent from the floor and
accumulate nothing better than a 62-51 halftime lead. Such occurrences
are almost invariably omens of imminent disaster in the NBA, and in the
third quarter the tidal wave struck. For once Chris Ford stuck in a
20-footer from the left at 10:07 to give the Celtics a 67-53 lead, the Celtics would go 7:46 without scoring again.
the time Archibald (13 points, 10 assists) broke the drought with a
banker from the lane, LA had ripped off 21 of the most eye-popping
points the old edifice has ever seen - especially by an opponent.
During this stretch, the Lakers
of Paul Westhead were nothing less than a two-way basketball machine.
They were overplaying, helping out, switching, harassing and just
generally dominating the Celtics on defense, and when the ball turned over, they were throwing in shots guaranteed to win any H-O-R-S-E game ever staged.
defense triggered it," said Westhead, "but when it's going like that
it's a reciprocal thing between the offense and the defense." The
particular individual defensive contribution of note was submitted by
young Michael Cooper, who affixed himself to Larry Bird like the stamp on an envelope. Bird
had started off the game by throwing in three great shots, and he was 6
for 6 at the half. "Michael did an outstanding job of denying Larry the
ball," explained Westhead. "We have a lot of respect for Larry, and I
told Michael that if Bird
was going to score, it would be on a back-cut. Sometimes players are
afraid to overplay that much because they're afraid they'll get beaten,
but the other players promised him they'd help out, and I told him I'd
take responsibility for any back-door baskets Bird got."
went 0 for 2 in that fateful third quarter. "He had some shot
opportunities," countered Fitch, "but he didn't take them. Nobody can
stop Larry one on one." At any rate, a mind-blowing turnaround by Jim
Chones (15 valuable bench points) gave LA a lead at 69-67 (its first
since 2-0), and the Lakers would lead for the next five minutes before a Dave Cowens fast-break basket restored the Celtics' lead at 80-79 with 10:05 to play.
touched off a brief flurry of lead-swapping before a Chones basket gave
LA an 83-82 lead. It was tied as late as 91-all (4:09 left), before LA
ran off seven straight (including one on an ill-advised Fitch technical
at 93-91). But the Celtics
gave it one last shot, coming from that 98-91 state of affairs with
2:17 left to tie the game at 98 apiece on a spectacular fast- break
basket by Cedric Maxwell with 21 seconds to play.
remained, however, was a wait until the Archibald foul, a call disputed
by Boston, but a call that could not change the fact that Madden and Ed
Rush had worked a great ballgame. The Celtics
were out of timeouts (Fitch had called three in the third period during
the LA blitz), and still Cowens got off a makeable 20-footer that hit
the rim as the buzzer sounded.
Only a hopeless Celtic fanatic would deny the Lakers credit. For Magic
Johnson had limped his way through 21 unproductive minutes (with what
was laughingly referred to as a "groin pull"), and they had still banked
a tough road victory. Hell, even Kareem looked excited when it was