Make that 25 of 26, as C's Dump Atlantic Rival Sixers

January 29, 1981


Next week, after a rematch in Philadelphia, it may be a different story. But, for now, the challenge has been met. The Celtics have conquered the 76ers and have climbed to the top of the ladder in the NBA's Atlantic Division.

"I think we're both pretty good basketball teams," said Julius Erving, whose 35 points weren't enough to prevent the Celtics from accomplishing their 104-101 victory last night, which was their 13th in a row and 25th in the last 26 games.

"We've both got talent and depth coming off the bench. I think the big difference in the Celtics now is they are a complete team. Center, forwards and guards," added Erving.

"The big guy in the middle (Robert Parish) makes them complete. He takes the game right to our big guy (Darryl Dawkins) and we've got to respond in kind. Darryl does a lot of things for us, and we're a team that depends a lot on timing and rhythm on offense and defense. But Parish gives Boston the inside thrust they didn't have last year, and Darryl will have to take it to him inside like he did to us," said Erving.

It probably didn't matter to the 15,320 at the Garden that the game was decided by a turnover by a rookie guard and a botched-up play in the closing seconds. That's not the stuff upon which classic contests are built.

Yet there was enough to stir up a week of controversy and speculation about the two best teams in the NBA. The Celtics showed that their new found winning ways are no fluke. They won with basically the same weapons that pulverized the Dallas Mavericks, Utah Jazz and Cleveland Cavs. It was probably the single most encouraging development of the night.

"Why not?" said Celtic rookie Kevin McHale, whose 13 points off the bench only begin to tell of his contribution. "We're a team and, basically, we've won like this all year. We play hard and then we come on strong in the third and fourth quarters. That's why I like being out there. The fourth quarter is where the fun begins.

"We do the things we do the best. Then when the game is on the line, we go inside to Robert. That's the way we've beaten teams all year."

The 76ers did not play a bad game. The Doctah did his thing, adding 10 rebounds and six assists to his repertoire of slick passes and delicious dunks. Even though Andrew Toney wound up losing the ball at the end, one could not find much wrong with the Philadelphia guards or veteran Bobby Jones, whom Bill Fitch calls the most versatile veteran coming off the bench in the NBA.

Philadelphia had 27 fast-break points to 20 for Boston. But there was more to the game than that, according to Erving.

"The thing I think hurt the most was that we were tentative. We didn't go at the Celtics the way we should have. In other words, we gave them too much respect," said Erving.

"We have to get the ball in low. We don't want to take a lot of perimeter shots. But the Celtics were dropping a guard and a forward into the middle and forced us outside."

Also, Erving didn't expect the harassment by Cedric Maxwell or the spirited play of McHale. In the closing minutes, the 76ers elected to go to other shooters instead of their veteran star. And that is what the Celtics hoped for.

"I think both Kevin and I did a good job on Julius," said Maxwell. "We wanted to force the 76ers into putting the ball into the hands of other players, which is what they had to do. Kevin was great while he was in there, and I was fresh at the end."

McHale was an intimidator, even though the stat sheet showed him with only one blocked shot.

"Before the game, I was excited about playing against Dr. Chapstick, but once it started, all I was thinking about was his moves and his various skills," said McHale. "I walked away thinking that between Max and I we did a good job. Then I saw he had 35 points. Now I know why they called this a team game."

There was no question that this was a game of quality teams. For three quarters, the Celtics did the same things that had enabled them to pull away with ease from lesser foes.

But the 76ers are too good to overpower. The Celtics won by using all of their team skills, and particularly their newly acquired knowledge of how to pull games out at the wire.

After Parish hit two free throws with nine seconds left to give the Celtics a three-point margin, 104-101, the 76ers had a chance to set up a three-point play. But Philadelphia lost four seconds when Toney was fouled while dribbling by Larry Bird, who realized the Celtics had one to waste. Tight defense by guards Chris Ford and Gerald Henderson created the final turnover by Bobby Jones. The options were there, but Philadelphia never got to them.

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