Celtics Cruise

January 10, 1980


It simply might have gone down (and still may) in Celtic annals as just Another Night In The Life of a First-Place Team. The Celtics survived a third- period scare (during which a 16-point halftime lead shrank to one) to wind up blowing out the undermanned Knicks, 112-95. But that wasn't the major story at the Garden last night.

The problem is Larry Bird, who entered the game with a sprained ankle and who left it with an injury to his right hand. Bird somehow managed to jam the knuckle at the base of his right index finger during the second-half warmups, and it rendered him quite ineffective (by his standards, since "ineffective" is hardly a synonym for "useless") during the second half. Bird was taken to University Hospital for X-rays, which means that Bill Fitch, Red Auerbach and the rest of the Celtic family can stage a breath-holding contest.

"I don't think I'll sleep much tonight," said Fitch. "I'll want to know what those pictures show. I might be looking through the want ads by 2 a.m." However, team physician Dr. Thomas Silva, though concerned, was not alarmed. "I really don't think it's that serious," he said. Surely, there are hundreds of thousands in New England (and elsewhere) who hope he's right.

Even with Bird limited to 27 minutes - good for eight points, eight rebounds and four assists, including a very big pass to Rick Robey when the Celtics were answering that Knick surge - the Celtics had enough to hold off the visitors, who had severe manpower problems. Neither Knick starting forward even made the trip to Boston. Joe Meriweather has the flu, and Toby Knight chose to be with his wife, who was in labor with their first child. And before the night was finished, Knick coach Red Holzman also had lost one of his guards - Earl Monroe sustained a shoulder injury in the third period and was en route to New York before the game even was completed. So don't bother to sing any of your sad songs to Holzman, because he doesn't want to hear them.

He probably doesn't want to think about the way his team disintegrated in the stretch of 8:19 after reducing a 61-45 halftime deficit to a 73-72 Boston edge with 1:39 remaining in the third period. In that relatively short period of time, the Celtics outscored the visitors, 28-7, to assume a 101-79 lead and assure themselves of their 17th home triumph in 18 decisions and, more important in this context, the first in a series of seven consecutive home games.

There certainly was no advance notice that the Celtics, whose third-period effort was described by Fitch as "sad," were about to blow away the Knicks. An aroused New York defense, keyed by the quick hands of guard Michael Ray Richardson, was disrupting the Celtic offense, forcing it farther and farther outside and raising the posssibility that Boston was considering employment of a set play which began in Charlestown. The Knicks are well-known for their yoyoing during a game, and they appeared to be in peak form when a fast-break layup by Hollis Copeland made it 73-72.

But the Celtics scored the final six points of the period, as Chris Ford sank two foul shots, Robey took that gorgeous right-to-left fast-break feed from the ever-dangerous Mr. Bird and, following an air-balled three-point attempt by Richardson, Robey capped the little spurt with a followup dunk.

Nobody knew it, but New York's offense essentially was finished for the evening. The Celtics expanded that seven-point (79-72) three-quarter lead to 14 (88-74) in the first 3:39 of the final period, with captain Dave Cowens (14 points, 12 rebounds and 173 grunts) the prime mover. This was a very conspicuos game for Cowens, who numbered seven offensive rebounds among his 12 retrieves and who provided the team with the type of inside presence a good team needs at both ends.

The other key offensive men for Boston were Tiny Archibald (20 points on 9-for-14 shooting), who ran away from the sulking Ray Williams for 10 first- quarter points, and M.L. Carr, who gave the club a needed lift with 18 points and seven rebounds. Gerald Henderson's 12 bench points didn't hurt the cause, either.

And so there is nothing for the Celtics to do but sit and wait for Bird's X-ray results. "If they come out all right," said Fitch, "then this will have been a pretty good evening." Otherwise . . . well, looks like a Bloody Mary breakfast.

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