Celtics Fall to 55-16
1981-82 Boston Celtics
Robert Parish knew it was going to be one of those days long before it started.
"In the locker room," said the Celtics giant center, "I knew it then. We were too relaxed. It wasn't the same as you normally have for a Celtics-76ers game. "All streaks end and I thought Philly might be a club capable of doing it. But I didn't expect them to beat us as badly as this."
For every dream there is a corresponding nightmare. Last week the dream was the Celtics keeping their streak alive by crushing the 76ers on their home court. Yesterday, the nightmare became a reality as Philadelphia rolled to an embarrassing 116-98 romp over Boston before a sellout crowd of 15,320 at the Garden and a national television audience. Bill Fitch knew it, too. No one had to tell him that the 76ers are most dangerous when you think you have them down. He doesn't believe in nightmares, but may have one after he sees how poorly his troops really played yesterday.
"I don't have nightmares like that," said Fitch. "When I have dreams, and I see girls, they are all Ten'. I wake up thinking this team is going to win every game. In fact, some days I wonder why we have lost 16. "There is really nothing to feel all that bad about. They beat us. They outplayed us. They outhustled us. They are a very good basketball team. We're not going to make any excuses. The game ball belongs to Philadelphia." When the initial shock had worn off late yesterday afternoon, the Celtics began to smile. Sure, it was embarrassing that their 18-game winning streak had to end in a blowout to arch-rival Philadelphia. But an hour after the loss, almost everybody was looking ahead to the next one.
The tone changed from one of embarrassment to one of respect. After all, this is the same 76ers club that has made the Celtics sweat out compiling the best record in the NBA the last two weeks, and they deserved a little praise. "Defensively," said Fitch, "they did an excellent job. It was a well conceived defense, and it worked. They showed a lot of the pride we like to call Celtics Pride. We'd beaten them pretty badly in Philadelphia. They came back and stuck it in our ear on our floor. They should be proud of that."
The 76ers, in fact, were proud of the fact that things finally went right in a stretch of games where they were beginning to doubt their ability to stop the Celtics' march to an NBA title. "I can't really tell you exactly what we did," said 76ers coach Billy Cunningham. "You know in our series, each team always has to make an adjustment. It's just that everything came together at the right time. We need this type of game to remind us we're a good team."
Cunningham didn't really have to say all that much. It was obvious the 76ers did not want Robert Parish to get 37 points and 21 rebounds as he had a week ago. They wanted to do something about the Celtics inside game, which had been awesome. They hoped that Larry Bird might have an off day shooting, and mostly they wanted to win the battle in the trenches, which meant that both Caldwell Jones and Darryl Dawkins had to take up more space than they had in recent games.
"That's what happened today," said Bobby Jones, the 76ers defensive whiz. "It was a combination of things, really. We were swarming and helping each other out. Dawkins came out and played the best game since he's been back. We had a good flow going and were hitting our shots. "We'd lost big leads in losing to New Jersey and Detroit. We also lost a big lead before coming back to beat Cleveland. We're a club that plays in spurts, and lately we haven't had all that many good spurts. But we did today and we were consistent for 48 minutes."
While savoring his game plan, Cunningham did agree with Jones' assessment. Boston never really recovered from a 26-15 start. The 76ers were ready for every run, and the magic that had been the winning streak began to vanish. "We played about as well as you can play against the Celtics. Today we made the extra pass that we haven't been making and it usually found somebody open. We shut down their break, and made them play a half court game. That's the only chance you have against the team."
The 76ers got their chance yesterday, and didn't fail. Parish hit only 7 of 16 shots. "I knew they were going to do something after I burned them for 37 last week," said Parish. Bird said he was frustrated not only by his shots missing, but seeing players like Kevin McHale, Cedric Maxwell, M. L. Carr and Gerry Henderson miss shots that would normally be a piece of cake. The Celtics wound up shooting 41 percent (36 of 87), but they never had the command that had become a trademark of the streak.
"It was really one of those days," said Bird. "It's hard to believe we were missing some of the shots, especially those close to the basket. But it happens like that and there is nothing you can do about it."