6.15.2017

Wallet-on-a-String Trick Back in Use

December 13, 1979

They must have played this game, oh, 700 times during the '60s. The Old Celtics used to tease opponents like this all the time, blowing a team out early and then employing the old wallet-on-a-string trick during the rest of the game before finally reeling in the old billfold in the final period.

And yet it was not boring in any way, and not just because New Jersey three times got somewhat back into the game. The reason is that in certain spurts the Celtics appeared to have recaptured the magic that had so enthralled Garden patrons back in October and early November. The fact is that this 116-102 triumph over the Nets was a reasonably high artistic achievement.

Take, for example, the first period. Kevin Loughery, coach of the Nets, certainly would if he could. He had to sit and watch the Celtics defend, rebound, run and pass their way to glittering leads of 30-14 (after 7:30) and 34-17 (with just under three minutes remaining), and even though New Jersey would scrap back within one (50-49, 52-51) and four (75-71) points later, Loughery's team never was able to extricate itself fully from that first- period hole.

The Nets gave it a good shot, though, but they were done in with a 13-4 Boston run in the final 2:27 of the third period, a run highlighted by back- to-back three-point field goals by (yes, him again) Chris Ford, aka the Little Ol' Game Breaker. Ford's second bomberoo gave the suddenly revived Celtics a 10-point lead at 85-75, and when efficient Larry Bird (21 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists and 8-for-14 shooting) powered in for a three-point followup, the Celtics had a comfortable 88-75 lead to sustain them in the final period.

Further discussion of this game without mention of its dominant personality would be an egregious faux pas, so let us pause to salute The Captain, Dave Cowens. His stats make for good enough reading (24 points, 10 rebounds), but the sheet fails to convey the majesty of his performance, a display so awesome and so much in keeping with the old Cowens tradition that both Loughery and assistant Bob MacKinnon were wondering if they had not stumbled into a 1974 playoff game by mistake. Cowens was an absolute snarling, flailing, whaling, maniacal SOB out there. It was as if a Boston defeat would mean that the entire city of Boston would have to answer to him.

"That's the best I've seen him in years," lauded MacKinnon. "He did things he never did last year, such as block a dunk shot, drive twice to the basket righthanded and really go on the floor for loose balls." It was a typical Cowens dive, in fact, which had set up Ford for his second third-period three-pointer. Cowens went into a pile and rolled up flipping the ball to Nate Archibald. Archibald, in turn, sent the ball to Ford on the left wing, and Christopher Longshot bombed home his 24th three-pointer of the season. It was a definite back-breaking shot, as Loughery would later attest.

Among the other pleasant happenings was the rediscovery of Gerald Henderson, who when last seen was sitting not on the bench but in downtown Topsfield. Fitch called upon his rookie guard in the first period (after not using him at all against Milwaukee), and the youngster responded with 12 points and some aggressive all-around play. "Take away four errors," said Fitch, "and he had a perfect game." Take away 35 pounds and Liz Taylor is still a beauty queen, too, but Fitch really was pleased with the kid.

New Jersey (having just scored eight straight points) was still as close as 99-88 with 7:02 left, largely due to the strong bench efforts of rookie Cliff Robinson (20) and second-year man Winford Boynes (16), both of whom worked over the offensive boards, an area also mined well by Rich Kelley. But Fitch called a timeout to remind his troops about the Battle of Pontiac, not to mention Truman over Dewey. When play resumed, the Celtics went to work. Bird threw in a 20-footer. Archibald fed Rick Robey (don't ask how, because nobody knows) for a second-chance layup. Cowens returned at 103-90 and settled things for good with a foul-line jumper and a righthanded rumble-in from the high post which made it 107-92 with 4:34 left. It was time to call in the dogs and set the table.

And when it was over, Fitch was announcing that there would be no practice today, and that he was basically content. "I've got to be happy," he said. Savor those words, boys. You may not hear them again until Washington's Birthday.

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