10.27.2008

Celtics Down Sixers in Athens-Sparta I

Green Takes Half-Game Lead over Doc Erving and Co
1981-82 Boston Celtics


Just call it a basic Churchill game. You know: blood, toil, tears and sweat. The whole bit.

It took work for the Celtics to defeat the 76ers last night, because the Philadelphians simply wouldn't give Boston the satisfaction of a blowout. The 76ers spent the last 43 minutes of the 111-103 Celtics ' triumph coming from behind.

Philly trailed by as many as 15 (65-50), without the ball, but it meant nothing. After coming within one (94-93) with 5:42 left, they dropped to a nine-point deficit (102-93) two and a half minutes later.

And yet the Celtics would need a clutch 21-foot looping jumper by Robert Parish with 41 seconds remaining to seal the victory. The 76ers were like an application of pine tar the Celtics just couldn't manage to wash off.

The game wasn't pretty by any standards, but it contained enough of the ingredients that generally characterize a Boston-Philadelphia confrontation to avoid any comparisons with Cleveland vs. Utah on St. Patrick's Day. After all, it is difficult for a game in which Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Robert Parish, Maurice Cheeks, Cedric Maxwell and Bobby Jones are participating to be a total mess.

But what makes Boston Boston and Philly Philly is the fact that, having named six quality performers sprinkled among the squad representatives, it doesn't mention all the worthy athletes.

The fact is that Boston wouldn't have won this game without the play of Tiny Archibald and Kevin McHale. Philadelphia, meanwhile, wouldn't have been in the game longer than 10 minutes were it not for Andrew Toney.

Archibald exchanged his 1981 playmaker's hat for his vintage 1973 shooting fedora in the second half, connecting on seven of seven from the floor at a time when the Celtics offense had apparently gone the PATCO route.

McHale, as is his wont, compressed 8 of his 18 points into the fourth period, six of them coming in a key run of eight unanswered points that provided the Celtics with a 102-93 lead with 3:13 left.

As for Toney, he had 24 points in 22 minutes before fouling out with 16 seconds remaining. He was as unfathomable as ever, continually sticking that jumper in the nostrils of defenders, one of whom was - how about this? - Larry Bird, Boy Swingman.

The basic impression gleaned from this game was that the Celtics should have cruised. They assumed control in the first period. After falling behind by an early 14-6 score, Boston went to work, grabbing the lead for the first time at 20-19 on the second Chris Ford three-point bomberoo in as many possessions.

Billy Cunningham must have gone to bed cursing that hokey rule, because in addition to those two, Ford had still another first-period trifecta (thus giving him an unforgettable 3-2-11 first period box score), while Larry Bird swished a fourth downtowner early in period two.

Throw in a dazzling Cedric Maxwell three-point drive (after swiping a Dr. J. dribble in the forecourt), and Boston just assaulted the visitors with big scoring plays in the first half, en route to a 63-50 lead.

When Parish swished a foul-line jumper 1:14 into the second half, the lead swelled to 65-50. Then came a key possession. Taking advantage of a Sixer miss, the Celtics swooped down for a fast-break basket that would boost the lead to 17. But Maxwell missed a layup, Ford clanked a hurried, shove-it- right-down-their-throats three-point follow-up and Maxwell missed a casual jump hook.

Lionel Hollins scored for Philly. Bird, who had 19 of his 25 in the first half, threw up a quick jumper and the Sixers ripped off a fast break. And another. And another. And, yes, following a Maurice Cheeks steal, another. That made it 10 straight in 2:06.

This is where Archibald started firing away, taking, as The Doc explained, "some shots you'd like him to take." But they all went in, off-balance, as two were, or not. At the end of three it was 82-76, Boston, and it was all thanks to Tiny.

Bird saw over eight minutes of guard duty in the final period, not only because it created a tough match-up (Hollins, for the most part), but also because it gave the Celtics safety in numbers on the glass. However, with 5:42 the lead was down to one (94-93) for the second time in the period following an Erving drive.

Enter McHale. A lane turnaround - swish. Another low post turnaround - swish. Archibald drifted away from a Rick Robey pick and canned a jumper to make the run six straight, whereupon Philly called time. Bird promptly stole the inbounds, and Robey lofted a perfect pass to the basket for a graceful McHale guide-in.

And yet Philly still had enough life remaining to make it interesting, closing to 106-103 with 1:06 to play before Parish broke their heart with his big jump shot, a play that began with seven seconds left on the 24 after the ball was knocked out of bounds. Can you imagine winning on a 21-foot jumper by a 7-footer two decades ago?

Oh, yeah. The Celtics are in first by half a game. That's the only appropriate margin separating these two titans.

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