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8.17.2009

1982 ECFs: Celtics 1, Sixers 2

Eastern Conference Finals 1981-82 Boston Celtics

If any NBA player has his spot on the basketball court, it is Cedric Maxwell. And that spot is underneath the basket. And that is precisely the irony of yesterday's final five seconds at the Spectrum.

Time hung still, frozen between Maxwell's first open layup, next his second try and finally his third attempt to tie the Celtics' game with the 76ers. Never mind that Maxwell was bammed and banged on the second and third tries because, as Maxwell said, "all is fair in love and war in the final 10 seconds of an NBA game."

No, what is shocking is that Maxwell missed from 3 feet out, because that is precisely his area ("I just closed my eyes when he got the ball," said Sixer coach Billy Cunningham). Maxwell may slither and Maxwell may slide - no brute force here, just an uncanny knack to find an open shot - but Maxwell scores from the paint. Almost always.

But yesterday . . . Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final with the Sixers had been war - Tiny Archibald out with a dislocated shoulder, the blood from Danny Ainge's mouth stopped with six stitches, Rick Robey with four stitches in his shoulder. The Celtics had been down by 14, but now, with 21 seconds left and Philly up by a thin two, 99-97, Kevin McHale blocked Julius Erving's runner, Maxwell went flying over the left sideline after the loose ball and tapped it back to Ainge, and Ainge sent Larry Bird off on a break.

"I didn't want to call a timeout," said Bird. "I just wanted to keep on going; we ended up with four opportunities, and I'll take that any time."

So Bird never stopped to call time and, with 10 seconds left, fired a 22- footer from the right. "I wasn't looking for a three-pointer," said Bird, who shot from a foot inside the three-point line. "I just wanted to take a shot because we had everybody on the boards."

Bird's shot was long, and Maxwell hauled in the rebound. "We didn't want to foul him because we knew three points could beat us," said the 76ers' Caldwell Jones. So Maxwell had almost an open layup for his first shot. "I felt I could make the first one," said Maxwell, "and I felt I could shoot it softly, but I put it up too soft."

The ball rolled in and out, but again Maxwell pulled down the rebound. "I was thinking of really sticking in there," said Philly's Maurice Cheeks, who was behind Maxwell, "but I didn't really have too much choice because I didn't want to foul him."

So Maxwell again went up with the ball, but this time Erving went up with him, "and I noticed he had to hesitate a little before he shot," said Erving. "That's because Caldwell was there, and I think the only reason I was able to do what I did was because Maxwell was aware that Caldwell was there."

So Maxwell pumped and then went up with his second layup, but this time Erving blocked the ball. Again the ball came to Maxwell, and a third time he was ready to shoot. But as Maxwell was just about to shoot, Cheeks ("I figured I had to stick it in there because he was going to make one of those if he kept shooting") grabbed for the ball and stripped it from Maxwell.

The buzzer went off as Cheeks dribbled out of the pack, Cunningham opened his eyes and Erving was amazed. "I was aware it was a two-point game," said Erving, "but it really surprised me when Maurice came out with the ball that the buzzer went off."

Boston coach Bill Fitch was so dumbfounded at the end that he held his pose - kneeling on a towel in front of the bench - for nearly a minute. Many of the Celtics couldn't move, and Maxwell was so shocked and disgusted with himself that he remained laid out on the floor under the basket - his spot - for long, long seconds.

"I made a mistake and I did something that was really dumb," sad Maxwell. "Either you're a hero or you're Charley Brown, and today I played a Charley Brown role."

Maxwell went on and on, explaining how he always likes to find himself "in a critical juncture of a game where I either have a shot to tie it or a shot to win or I foul somebody or somebody fouls me and I win the game or vice versa. At the end, when I was on the floor, I couldn't believe I'd missed the shot."

Still he went on, explaining his lowest moment. "At that moment, I felt death, like there was a death in the family," said Maxwell. "It felt like death."

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