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Celtics Move into First Place
January 29, 1981
When it was all over, when the Celtics had somehow survived their own self-destruct instincts in the final two minutes, when the final moment of drama in this grueling struggle between basketball's two best teams was finally history, the Celtics had a new, and comfortable, Atlantic Division address: first place.
They got there by virtue of a thrilling, chilling, put-your-hands-over- your- eyes 104-101 triumph over the proud Philadelphia 76ers last night before 15,320 at Boston Garden. And so with a 43-9 record, the Celtics now own an .827 percentage. The 76ers are left to stew in their 44-10, .815 juices.
The final nails were driven home by Robert Parish, who hit two pressure free throws with nine seconds to go, and Chris Ford, who knocked the ball away from Andrew Toney with four seconds to play. But Celtic heroes in this memorable affair were legion, and among them were:
- Tiny Archibald, who had 18 points and 10 assists, and who pushed the ball up well and got the Celtics into their offense all night long.
- Cedric Maxwell, whose stats were not overwhelming, but who may have played one of his hardest games ever.
- Larry Bird, who had 24 points, and who played the final three periods after sustaining a painful hip injury.
- The Rook. When nutcracking time arrived (the Celtics had entered the final period leading by an 81-77 score), McHale was immense, throwing in seven points and blocking two shots as Boston built the 90-83 lead it lived off for the duration of the game.
Philly answered with 34 points by the estimable Julius Erving. The Sixers, who stayed alive with some strong bench combinations (including Ollie Johnson and Clint Richardson), stayed in this one to the end, coming within one at 102-101 on a spectacular second-chance, lefthanded banker by Bobby Jones with 16 seconds left. But Parish was fouled by Jones on the subsequent possession, and the Big Fella calmly swished a pair of free throws that clinched the game.
In what was largely a sparring match in the form of the opening rounds of a heavyweight title fight, the Celtics moved to a shaky 52-48 halftime advantage.
The Celtics led for all but a brief moment during the first half, but the home team was never able to establish any kind of superiority over the 76ers. Bird, who would leave the game with 1:31 remaining in the first period after sustaining a hip injury, connected on his first five shots as the Celtics moved to slim early margins of 16-12 and 20-16. But the game's other demigod, Dr. Julius Erving, also had come to play, scoring 10 of his team's first 18 points.
The Bird injury came when Larry moved over to help out Parish on a thundering Darryl Dawkins drive. Dawkins wound up kicking Bird accidentally in the hip, but it took the Celtics' bench almost a minute to recognize Bird's injury. Bird went to the locker room, returning to the game in the second quarter with 7:42 remaining and the Celtics in possession of a 38-34 lead.
The Celtics were not especially sharp in the opening period, as they made good on only 4 of 10 fast-break attempts and surrendered 10 points to the Sixers on eight costly turnovers. But the Celtics did play good half-court defense, for the most part, and they were able to make the 76ers work for the rest of their points.
The man who boosted the Celtics into what little daylight they had in the first half (leads of 31-24 and 38-31) was Parish. Operating against the slimmer Caldwell Jones at the outset of the second period, Parish hit seven quick points, mixing his turnaround with one spectacular drive.
The half ended on a minor controversy, as it appeared to the partisan Boston crowd that Bird had been fouled by Dawkins while launching a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer. But no call was forthcoming and the Celtics had to settle for a four-point lead.
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