1981-82 Boston Celtics
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The new One Game At A Time 76ers. "Our new philosophy is to set short range goals," said Julius Erving.
Judging by the Sixers' 14-2 record, the new philosophy is working. It should. The Sixers have been practicing it for years, blowing championships One Season At A Time.
Since Erving joined them in 1976 the Sixers have pioneered insidious methods in not winning championships. One Season At A Time. They have lost twice in the finals, twice in the Eastern finals, and once in the Eastern semifinals. Most recently the Sixers lost a remarkable seven game series to the Celtics after leading, three games to one.
This defeat did not anguish the Sixers, as outsiders might have imagined. They have either pleasant memories of the series or none at all, no doubt the result of some repressive defense mechanism. The lone manifestation of defeat was a philosophical rethinking. It is as if Albert Camus had bought the team instead of Harold Katz.
"Last year we decided to win the championship and that we couldn't be satisfied with anything less than a championship," said Erving. "Winning became routine and losing became catastrophic. Now, our record is secondary to how we are playing, how we are using people and what the general feeling is. Because that's what really has to react to another team in a series. At times you have to be structured and at times you gotta . . . just play basketball. Our team is at the point now where we can make snap decisions as to when to play basketball or go by the book. We didn't do that too well last year in the last two games against Boston."
The visible changes in the One Game At A Time Sixers are minimal. Bobby Jones, the consummate sixth man, is now a starter and Caldwell Jones is coming off the bench. Both play 24 to 30 minutes. Franklin Edwards, the first round draft choice and lone rookie, has hardly played. Katz, the weight loss mogul, has replaced Fitz Dixon in the owner's box.
The strengths are still Erving and the deep bench. Erving is off to a phenomenal start on ageless legs and was named NBA player for the month of November. Darryl Dawkins is also off to a good start, playing with unusual consistency, although a hyperextended knee has kept him out of the last two games and may limit his availability tonight. Without Dawkins, the Sixers could not bang inside with San Antonio Wednesday night and suffered their second loss as a result. The Sixers also exhibited their old habit of relying too heavily on Erving for offense.
In one third quarter sequence, Erving triggered a fast break, grabbed two offensive rebounds, took three shots and scored on the third while being fouled. His brilliance ignited the Spectrum crowd, but Erving's virtuouso did not cause as much comment in the press box as did Lionel Hollins thrusting his fist into the air after the bucket. The Sixers, you see, are not emotional people.
"I think you could say we're an unemotional team," said Bobby Jones. "We've all got other lives to lead. We've all got outside interests. The nature of this team is to take the games one at a time and forget about the past. We're not talking about it, I know that. The only people putting emphasis on what happened last year is the media."
Not all of the Sixers have forgotten the Celtic series. Prodded, Steve Mix will say, "It was a super series. I've been in a lot of series with Boston and they've all been a lot of fun."
Ollie Johnson, a reserve forward, remembers the magnificent thunder that was the Garden faithful.
"That was the greatest crowd I have ever experienced," said Johnson. "College, pro, anywhere. A lot of people were accusing us of screaming at each other. But the only way we could make ourselves heard was to scream at each other.
"I think it was the best series in history. It wasn't even the finals. Can you imagine if it was the finals? That would have taken it up another level. I can't imagine. Guys were playing so intensely. Like nothing I ever experienced. Time seemed to stand still.
"I wasn't playing but after each game I was as tired as if I'd played."
If the Sixers seem to lack a certain natural vindictiveness for what the Celtics did to them, it may be because they have come to accept almost as enough.
"When you go to the Final Four as we have a number of times you've accomplished something," said Mix. "It's a letdown when you lose but it's a helluva feat to get there. We haven't won the Big One but we do have the best record in the league over the last five years. That's self gratifying. It's just that the Big One has eluded us. Look at Minnesota (Vikings). For years they were known as chokers because they couldn't win the Big One. We've been there a number of times. You get that far and you don't feel like chokers. Especially when you go 62 20. That's a helluva feat."
"We've heard choker' before," said Erving. "We don't view ourselves that way. We view ourselves as a very fine team. We've been the most successful team in total record over the last five years. Certainly everybody shoots for us as though we were NBA champions even though we never won anything. And that makes it tough."
Beneath the surface the Sixers may feel as much as the rest of us, may perhaps be capable of a spark of anger. Speaking of the Celtics Wednesday night, Erving uncharacteristically said, "We don't like Boston. We don't care for them too much. We'd like to go in and beat them."
When surprised Philadelphia reporters pressed Erving on his remark, he backed off. "We have a rivalry with them. It helps if you don't like them. It hurts if you like them. That's collectively, not individually."
Later, after showering, Erving was asked if his remark was not out of character.
"I was diplomatic," he said. "I cleaned it up."
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