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SLOPPY CELTICS BOW TO SIXERS
February 5, 1981
What this game proved, beyond all resonable doubt, was that, on any given Wednesday night, even the two best teams can screw up an NBA game as much as Detroit and Dallas.
Like, ugh. Like, yuk. Like, forget the individual loyalties of the paying customer - how could any of the sellout Spectrum crowd of 18,276 be excoriated if he or she chose never to darken the doorway of an NBA arena again?
OK, let's at least acknowledge the outcome. The Philadelphia 76ers, led by Julius Erving (33), Maurice Cheeks (14 points, 12 assists), Ollie Johnson (16 points in 25 bench minutes) and, most of all, Caldwell Jones (20 rebounds, 15 points and every defensive assignment imaginable in 48 exhausting minutes) defeated the Celtics, 107-104, last night to a) extend their Atlantic Division lead to two games and b) give the Celtics two consecutive defeats for the first time all season.
Before this mess of a game was mercifully concluded, there were 66 fouls called, 88 free throws shot and five players banished to the pines via the disqualification route. At no point did referees Joe Gushue and Mike Mathis allow a game tempo to be established. Players on both sides simply did not know how much to contest shots, how hard they could touch an offensive player and how aggressively they could rebound.
"In the four years I've been coaching here," said Billy Cunningham, "this was the toughest game I've ever had to coach with regard to foul trouble." As a consequence, the invaluble Jones (Caldwell, that is) had to go the route. Darryl Dawkins fouled out with six points and five rebounds in just 16 minutes of play. Bobby Jones compiled a truly astounding stat line, shooting 0-for-3 and scoring two points in 20 minutes of play. No wonder CJ ("He's just a pro who comes to play every night" - Cunningham) had to play the entire 48.
It wasn't a whole lot better on the other side of the floor. Robert Parish was rendered impotent by three quick fouls, eventually fouling out in 21 minutes of playing time. Kevin McHale, a major reason why the Celtics weren't blown out onto I-95, fouled out in 22 minutes. And so on.
One more thing should be said, however. Everyone wanted to hang the officials for their interpretation of the game. They did call things tightly, but this was definitely not an easy game to work. Gushue and Mathis didn't throw up the bricks that resulted in the misses that resulted in the plethora of loose ball fouls. They also didn't do a lot of the other abominable things that the players, mostly the Celtics, did, to desecrate the sport of basketball at premium prices.
It is entirely possible that nobody really knew what the hell really happened out on the Spectrum floor last night. The game was so sloppy and bumpy, for so many reasons, that no flow, no tempo was ever established. How weird a Celtic game is must have been when three of the four capable players the visitors had were McHale, Gerald Henderson and Rick Robey. The fourth was Tiny Archibald (22 points, 11 assists).
The Celtics deserve credit for extricating themselves from a bad first- half hole (such as a 37-25 second period deficit) and taking some third- period leads behind the sensational play of McHale (16 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks) and Henderson (16 points on 7-for-10 shooting in a rediscovery of his September-October exhibition form). The Celtics actually led, 70-68, with 4:52 left in the third period before being outscored, 18-8, before the buzzer. As a perfect reflection of the quality of this game, eight of those 18 Sixer points came on the foul line.
The Celtic troubles had started right from the tapoff. Boston shot 5 for 21 in the opening period, a disastrous quarter lowlighted by one stretch in which Philly intercepted directly or deflected into turnovers three Boston passes out of one batch of four possessions, each givewaay leading to a fast- break basket.
Even though Boston would enjoy some third-period success and would still be within two (95-93) with 5:01 left and four (99-95) with 3:47 to play, it was those early sins that weighed most heavily on their consciences, not any late miscues. For the record, the game was slowly pulled out of Boston's grasp at 99-95 when Erving was awarded a goaltend on a missed dunk (ridiculous as it sounds, it really happened) and Caldwell was sprung for a dunk by Bobby Jones at the 2:06 mark. That made it 103-95, Philly, and with McHale already gone (5:17) and Bird hobbled by his bad leg, the Celtics had no comeback punch.
It will get worse before it gets better, gang. The Celtics are in Milwaukee tonight (Ch. 4, 8 p.m.), and with a hurtin' Bird and Indiana coming in on Friday, the streak has a chance to be extended even farther.
Just don't worry much about what happened in the Spectrum, however. Nobody will be throwing any ticker tape parades for the home team after that performance, either.
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