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1.24.2008

1986 Cs Beat Sixers, Move to 33-8

Cs Beat Sixers

Closer to home, the Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers staged a midseason, midwinter classic. Dare we call it Super?

This had to be the highlight of Super Bowl brunches from Waterville Valley to Big Sur.

As stuffed bears dangled from the Garden balconies, the legends of basketball danced a 48-minute symphony on the parquet floor of the archaic train station. Thanks to the magic of CBS, folks who thought Bill Walton disappeared with Patty Hearst discovered that the big Redhead is thriving in Celtic green.

With Kevin McHale absent (sore Achilles' tendon), Walton scored 19 points with 13 rebounds in 25 minutes as the Celtics defeated the 76ers, 105-103. Larry Bird added 14 rebounds and a troika of stake-driving three-pointers in his 28-point day, and folks named Scott Wedman (16) and David Thirdkill also contributed heavily.

Before we get to the Wild Man of Borneo -- Charles Barkley -- let the record show that Boston has beaten Philly three times in four tries and leads the Sixers by 5 1/2 games with 41 left. Overall, the Celts have won eight straight and 12 of 13, including impressive victories over the Lakers and 76ers in a five-day span.

Philly came to town with four straight wins and a 17-2 record in the last two months. The Sixers hoped to exploit McHale's absence and reenter the laughable Atlantic Division first-place chase.

Despite a heartbreaking defeat, the inimitable Barkley remained unconvinced.

After barreling his way to 26 points and a career-high 21 rebounds, Barkley said, "I'll stick to my original statement. I don't think they can beat us, and if you are intelligent, you saw the same thing today. They cannot beat us. They cannot beat us. The only problem we have is mental. We gave the game away. I honestly think they know they can't beat us."

1986 Barkley's comments raised some eyebrows in the Celtics' locker room.

"I don't know how many times we got to beat them to prove it," said Danny Ainge. "We beat 'em today without Kevin, the player on our team who probably gives them the most problems. Just tell him to keep yapping, that's all."

Robert Parish (five blocks) added, "I'm tired of hearing about Charles Barkley. He's taking over (Cedric) Maxwell's role in the Eastern Conference -- all mouth. I think it's probably good for their team because they have to go out and back that up, which they did not do today. We'll see what he has to say when we go to Philadelphia."

Wedman (16 points), suddenly playing like the All-Star he was a decade ago, started in place of McHale and scored 10 in the first quarter as the Celts squeaked to a 29-27 lead. Boston led by seven earlier in the period, but Barkley brought the Sixers back.

The second quarter was a groaner. The Celts scored only five field goals and shot 38 percent, while Philadelphia shot 37 percent. The Celts led, 51-50, at intermission.

Memories were created after halftime. Maurice Cheeks (22 points, 8 assists) led a 5-minute, 20-4 Sixer run, and the visitors ran to a 74-61 lead.

Bird reentered the game and went on one of his Death Wish Vigilante rampages. He started with two free throws, then chuckled with the rest of America as Barkley missed a dunk. The ball bounced off the back of the rim and sailed toward the Bruins' 1972 Stanley Cup flag.

Then Walton tapped in two Celtic misses and stole a Cheeks pass. Bird followed with a crowd-detonating three-pointer. It was 76-70 and Sixer coach Matt Guokas wanted a timeout. We should mention that Thirdkill (18 minutes) was doing a nice job on Julius Erving (13 points, 3 rebounds) at this juncture.

After the pause, Bird rebounded a Moses Malone miss (he shot 3-16) and set up Ainge for a jumper. Another Bird three-pointer cut it to 76-75 and forced another Philly timeout.

Before the quarter was over, Walton hit on a turnaround banker and a hook over Malone. Then came the clincher. Bird scrambled for a loose ball after Malone missed a second straight free throw and nailed a 35-foot buzzer-beater to send the Celts into the fourth with an 82-78 lead. Bedlam. Don't underestimate the psychological impact of Bird's bomb. It is significant that each of his three-pointers was followed by a timeout or a break between quarters.

The final period was no less spectacular. The Celts trailed, 99-96, with 3:55 left but held Philadelphia without a basket the rest of the way.

Walton played up front with Parish for the final 6:49 and scored over Barkley to cut it to 99-98 with three minutes left. Then Barkley missed another dunk. This one catapulted toward midcourt.

Both teams missed several opportnities before Parish blocked a Malone shot and Ainge found Bird with a crosscourt fastbreak feed for a layup. Bird was fouled and made the free throw to give the Celts a 101-99 lead with a minute left.

Malone (5 of 10 from the line) made a free throw with 0:40 showing but missed the second. Walton rebounded, was fouled and made two to give the Celts a 103-100 lead with 33 seconds left. Cheeks was fouled driving to the basket and made both to cut it to one with 29 seconds left.

As the shot clock wound down, Bird was forced to fire a bomb. He missed, but Walton flew in from the left wing and snatched the most important rebound of the game. He fed to Dennis Johnson who was fouled with three seconds left. DJ made both to seal the victory.

"When it (Bird's shot) left his hand, it didn't look good to me," said Walton. "I was on the far side of the court. The shot ended up going in and out and I jumped up and got it and saw DJ and dumped it over to him."

"In our last seven possessions we had four turnovers and three power moves that were blocked," said Guokas. "Give them credit. They played tough defense inside."

Barkley wouldn't give credit.

"We just gave the game away down the stretch," moaned Philadelphia's Refrigerator.

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