November 3, 1980
So what's changed with the Celtics and 76ers? Essentially nothing.
Neither team could win a regular-season game in the other guy's gym last year, and what the 76ers did on Saturday night was reaffirm that concept with a 117-113 overtime triumph at the Spectrum. And although there may be a few new faces involved (Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Andrew Toney), the spirit of this great rivalry remains.
"There is something special when these two teams meet," declared 76er forward Bobby Jones. "You could tell by the effort. From the start, both teams played hard. Even if we were not playing well, we were playing hard. For us, it's just the name Celtics,' the history involved. That adds to it."
Darryl Dawkins, whose beautiful follow-up of a Doug Collins miss created the overtime, said that little had changed for him, with or without Dave Cowens around. "They haven't lost anything," he said. "Cowens was a good player, but McHale is good, Parish is good and (Rick) Robey is good. I know all those guys can play."
One thing that, fortunately, has not changed is the general extraterrestrial level of play attained by Julius Erving and Larry Bird when these two clubs meet. This pair constituted the starting forward duo on last season's All-Pro team, and the crowd of 13,716, plus the television audiences of both cities, knew why after watching their mutual display of basketball brilliance. The Doc erupted for 45 points, his NBA career high (he had scored 63 in a four-overtime ABA affair), and he continually came up with baskets that the 76ers simply had to have. Bird, who had not been playing much real Larry Bird basketball in his first nine games, picked this showcase for a 36- point, 21-rebound (a personal high) display that included 23 points in the second half and OT.
On the surface, it would appear that the Celtics could be chastised for "blowing" a 13-point lead as they entered the fourth quarter. But Bill Fitch would not approve use of that term. "I don't look at that 13-point lead as anything blown," he said. "From the standpoint of the foul-line situation (a 58-28 Sixer edge in free-throw attempts, but a lot of it warranted) and the lineups we had to play down the stretch (as four Celtics fouled out), we did well. With all that going against us, we still had our chances to win the game. Even Philadelphia's No. 1 fan would have to admit that they got every possible break."
Well, Billy Cunningham might well qualify as Philly's No. 1 fan, and he couldn't agree totally with Fitch's assessment, since his team was forced to play the last 26 minutes of the game without floor leader Maurice Cheeks, who had left the game because of a sprained ankle with the Celtics holding a 61-60 lead. "It's rather obvious," said Cunningham, "that when Maurice isn't in there, we miss him."
The fact remains that the 6-4 Celtics are not 9-1, perhaps even 10-0, thanks to inattention to certain minor details. Their four losses have been by six, four, two and four points, the last two coming in overtimes that never should have happened. Lapses at the end of periods (like turning nine-point leads into two or three with a one-minute screw-up drill) and the occasional inability to run an offensive play or block out on the boards at crucial moments have given foes unwarranted opportunities to get back into games or score key baskets.
It can really be argued that the Celtics have yet to be beaten, that they have beaten themselves four times. When they stop hurting themselves, they can start to enjoy life a bit more in this unforgiving league.
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