December 24, 1979
THE DOCTAH WAS OPERATING
This is what the NBA had in mind when it adopted the new imbalanced league schedule. Packed buildings, which would otherwise be half-empty arenas. The birth of match-ups. The establishment of personal duels. The chance for immediate retribution. The restoration of competition. In short, the injection of emotion into a sport often accused of being mechanical. This is what it wanted, and, if the Celtics and the 76ers are a valid example, this is what it is getting.
Last Wednesday night, the Celtics trampled the 76ers by a 112-89 score before a sold-out Boston Garden. It was a rare midweek Garden sellout, and it attracted the largest press coverage of any nonplayoff game in Celtic history. And on Saturday evening, the two ancient rivals resumed hostilities before a Spectrum crowd that was three times larger (18,011) than the gathering that saw the Sixers play the Houston Rockets the night before.
This time, a fired-up 76er team shot 65 percent from the floor and defeated the Celtics by a 126-113 score. The joint was jumpin', and the Doctor was operating (37 points on 17-for-25 shooting). "I wish we played Boston 12 times," gushed Julius Erving.
Bill Fitch groused about his team's penchant for self-destruction. "We didn't give ourselves a chance to win in the last 5:51," he said. "I've had teams with five rookies play better than that. It burns you, but these are the areas (turnovers) that have bothered us all year."
But the Celtic coach left the Spectrum knowing that his team had played far from its best game against a 76er team that played well, this despite the fact the Celtics were within 4 (109-105) with 5:03 to go.
"The 76ers played great," Fitch said, "but we only had one guy, Rick Robey, exceed his normal output in terms of execution and effort. When we were still in it, our guards played horribly. I had Tiny (Archibald) out, and we suffered. I put him back in, but he was too tired and played terribly."
Billy Cunningham wasn't all that unimpressed with Archibald. "I don't know what we're going to do with Archibald," he said. "He must have found the Fountain of Youth."
Cunningham had to like the play of his own Darryl Dawkins (10 for 13, 23 points), rookie guard Clint Richardson (9 for 12, 18 points) and, of course, the efforts of Erving, whose performance gave him 76 points in two games.
The Doctor is just happy to be in the best health of his recent career. "It's nice to have the green light and be healthy at the same time," he said. "It's been a gradual process. Earlier in the year, I couldn't have played this well back to back." But a strenuous offseason therapy program, which included work on everything from his quadriceps to his ankles, has rejuvenated Erving.
It was a fine evening of basketball, and not a wasted one for Boston. "We learned some things tonight about ourselves, Philadelphia and the league," said Fitch. And the league learned that restoring such intense rivalries was the best thing it has done lately.