8.17.2009

Ghosts of Celtics' Past Knock on Sixers' Door

Eastern Conference Finals
1981-82 Boston Celtics

The bodies talked about the Celtics' double teaming, the Celtics' aggressive defense, the Celtics' rebounding and the Celtics' blowout win last night. But the ghosts . . . the bodies couldn't ignore the ghosts of Series Past.

The 76ers were asked the same question - the 1981 Question - in many different inferences, innuendos and inflections, all of them loaded. If the Sixers' 114-85 wipeout loss to the Celtics last night was long to endure, the next two days of answering questions about their losing a 3-1 lead last year promise to be longer. Old ghosts never die, let alone fade away.

So each of the bodies had his answer for the ghosts. "I won't be thinking of it," said Julius Erving. "I thought it would be very difficult ending this thing in five games but I know it won't go seven."

Darryl Dawkins looked upon the past as history. "I don't think we should get down or start worrying or anything," said Dawkins. "Last year is history; that happened last year, 365 days ago - 365 and one-quarter days ago. We just got to beat them Friday and I'm not trying to be cocky or conceited or anything but we just got to beat them Friday night."

Bobby Jones felt the ghosts hover more over the media than the 76ers. "It's obviously disappointing to us to lose," said Jones. "But it doesn't sit on our minds year after year like I think people want it to sound like it does. We felt like we wanted to end it tonight but we didn't; I feel like Friday is our best chance."

In truth, the Sixers lost last night to a team which was defensively brilliant, from the double teaming of Andrew Toney (6 of 20 from the field) that caused his every shot to be earned, from a decisive mismatch on the boards (64-49 for Boston), to a brutal, aggressive, physical defense. From the first period, when 7-foot Robert Parish stripped Toney of his dribble, to the third quarter at 84-60, when Kevin McHale stuffed Toney's jumper and Parish rejected Jones' rebound on the next shot, the Celtics tapped out chorus after chorus of "let's get physical."

"I felt we came out tight," said Maurice Cheeks, "and they came out aggressive and they took control of the game from the start. It was an uphill climb from there on in and we never got there. Tonight we didn't do anything; we didn't hit the boards, we didn't shoot, we didn't get it up court. Like I said, we came out tight, realizing how much we wanted it, and they came out loose, figuring they had nothing to lose."

"If anything was the key," said coach Billy Cunningham, "I thought it was their defense. They did an excellent job on the defensive end of the court and I assure you that we will come back, as Bill Fitch said they would play physically, we will respond Friday night and play physically. We will come out and play a very aggressive game Friday."

The Celtics' double teaming of Toney was such a problem, said Cunningham, "because we just didn't move the ball well as a team. We weren't moving the ball crisply and when we did have opportunity shots, we didn't make them . . . We came up here to win it in five but I know to beat Boston four in a row would have been quite a chore."

Toney, meanwhile, said he was expecting the Celtics to double team him after Sunday's unstoppable 39 points "and that's why I was holding the ball and trying to find an open man," said the guard. "I figured they was going to come and double team, but tonight I just didn't convert my shots. They weren't no more physical tonight than they was the other games."

And Toney said he would feel no pressure from hovering ghosts of Series past. "We know what we have to do when we go out there Friday night," he said, "and I think that's what we're going to do."

But the chant that arose, like a jungle cry, from the 15,320 Garden fans late in the fourth quarter - "See You Sunday, See You Sunday" - was the first stark reminder of The Ghost the Sixers will have to crush once and for all, tomorrow night or Sunday. For Philadelphia, the ghost will be buried only with the Celtics' death.

"That's fine," said Cunningham when asked his reaction to the chant. "That's fans talking . . . fans and writers."

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