December 13, 1979
They turned it on. They turned it off. They turned it on. They turned it off. But the Boston Celtics, as much as they may have aggravated coach Bill Fitch, were always in control last night as they defeated the New Jersey Nets, 116-102, before 9145 at the Garden.
The second smallest crowd of the season watched a thoroughly enjoyable first period before settling back to watch the Celtics play a basketball variation of the old wallt-on-a-string trick. On three occasions after zooming to a 34-17 lead in the first quarter, the Celtics allowed the visitors to think they were back in the game. And on each occasion the Celtics just went out and blew the Nets away.
The key spurt came after the Nets had closed to a 75-71 state with 2:27 remaining in the third period. Larry Bird (21) went one-on-one for a 13-foot leaner, Dave (MVP) Cowens dropped in two free throws and, following an Ed Jordan banker, the amazing Chris Ford bombarded the nets for the first of two successive three-point field goals (he would later add a third as he increased his streak to 11 straight games with three-pointers) . Ford's second bomb and a powerful three-point followup play by Bird meant that the Celtics had outscored New Jersey, 13-4, in the final 2:27 to take an 88-75 lead after three periods.
There was little suspense in the fourth quarter, as the closest New Jersey could come was 11 points. The Celtics failed to capitalize fully on their most imaginative period of basketball in over a month and wound up holding a slim 58-53 lead at the half.
Boston had parlayed some outstanding rebounding, passing and shooting into such first-period leads as 30-14 and 34-17, but it was unable to hold the lead in the face of some strong performances by such New Jersey subs as Robert Smith, Rich Kelley, Cliff Robinson and Winford Boynes. The Nets sliced into the lead twice, reducing the first-period margin to seven at 36-29 and again coming back in the second period when they changed a 46-35 game with 7:41 remaining in the half into a 50-49 affair 3:26 later.
The first period was a spectacular crowd pleaser, with Boston ripping off 17 fast-break points involving the type of clever passing which had raised so much attention during the first few weeks of the season. The Celtics were executing the long pass to perfection, and they were making the one extra pass to the trailer or late cutting man, with the result that New Jersey was in danger of being closed out before the game was eight minutes old. Kevin Loughery was forced into momentum-stopping timeouts at 15-6 and 30-14, the latter juncture coming on the heels underneath for a lefthanded shovel shot; (2) a subsequent in-bounds steal and flying stuff by Cedric Maxwell.
Ford was a central figure in some nice plays, the big one being a long pass to a streaking Maxwell for what could only be described as Boston's answer to Ron Jaworski-to-Harold Carmichael. Max gathered the pass in over the heads of two smaller defenders and laid the ball in to give the Celtics a 34-17.
New Jersey first began to get back in the ballgame when Loughery substituted three men at that 30-14 timeout. He brought in Smith, Boynes and Kelley, and Smith was an immediate spark, scoring seven points in the remaining 4:30 of the period to become New Jersey's leading scorer in the first period. Before the half was over, Boynes would have a little six-point run, as would Robinson, and Kelley would make his contributions, as well.
Much has been said about Boston's bench woes lately, but for a while last evening it appeared that things had turned around. A quintet of Rick Robey, M. L. Carr, Cowens, Gerald Henderson and Chaney managed to play well enough in a 4-minute stint at the beginning of the second period to turn over a 46-36 lead with 7:17 left in the half to some regulars. However, the Celtic effort peaked right there, as New Jersey rode the alternating offensive spurts of Robinson.