Yup, Sixers Blow 3-1 Lead Two Years in a Row

Celtics 3, Sixers 3
Eastern Conference Finals
1981-82 Boston Celtics

Oh, to be a scalper on Causeway street tomorrow. A ticket to Game 7 will be the monetary equivalent of a flight to Hawaii.

The Celtics have done it again, folks.

They have pulled a Bela Lugosi for the second year in a row, climbing out of the half-shut coffin by virtue of last night's startling 88-75 triumph over the 76ers, a game in which the Sixers not only didn't even live up to their nickname but also established a new standard in basketball futility by making just seven baskets in 34 second- half tries. And two of those were goaltends.

There will be a Game 7 tomorrow (3:30 p.m., Ch. 7, WRKO) for many reasons, the following being but a few:

- Because the Celtics, trailing by 67-61 with 9:46 remaining and not once having savored a lead all evening, ripped off 12 unanswered points in the next three minutes as the 76ers were alternating between hoisting up outside bricks, getting shots blocked or turning the ball over.

- Because the Boston bench outscored its 76er counterparts, 33-10.

- Because the Celtics' guard contingent of Gerry Henderson, Danny Ainge and M.L. Carr was better than the Philly quartet of Maurice Cheeks, Andrew Toney, Clint Richardson and Lionel Hollins.

- Because the Celtics got calls they needed in the fourth period from referees Jack Madden and Jake O'Donnell.

- Because the Celtics never ever stop believing in themselves and their system of play.

Philly had every reasonable opportunity to win this game. The Sixers responded to their fired-up crowd (even if it was a sad facsimile of the Wednesday night Boston Garden cheering) of 18,364 by moving out to a 25-10 first-period lead, that being the first of three occasions that the Sixers tried to land a knockout punch on the Celtics' chin. But if the Sixers were a heavyweight, their name would have been Alex Miteff. And if the Celtics were a heavyweight, their name would have been Muhammad Ali. Let's face it, folks. The Sixers can jab, but they obviously can't punch.

And so when the adrenaline (or first) period was over, the Sixer lead was just 26-20. Boston had survived. The basketball game began in the second period after all the hoopla had died down. Boston came out of that with a tie, as the likes of Ainge (despite his poor shooting), Rick Robey, Kevin McHale and, most of all, Chris Ford (a valuable eight-point contributor) enabled Boston to enter the locker room down by six at 48-42.

Sixer backers, mindful of last year's collapse, began to moan in the third period as their team couldn't even put a Boston team, in the midst of one 0- for-14 shooting drought, down for the count. At 57-all (the game's third tie) Boston went into its own offensive stupor, going the next 8:11 with but one field goal.

But the Celtics were very much in the game anyway. A Julius Erving invention of an inside three-pointer had given Philly a 67-61 lead with 9:46 left, at which point came a TV timeout. McHale (17 points, eight rebounds) started the push with two free throws emanating from an offensive rebound of a Bird miss. A Bird swatted tap-in was followed by two Henderson fast-break free throws and the game was tied at 67.

Parish now stepped forward in true MVP fashion, twice swishing turnarounds. Time out, Philadelphia. The Sixers still had no offense, as Toney (a dreadful 1-for-11 shooter, and that a layup) hit the side of the backboard from the left corner to start a Boston fast break capped by a soaring Bird layup. That made it 73-67 with 6:46 left and capped the first key push.

The Celtics had to win the game one more time, for a rash of free throws brought the Sixers back within one at 74-73 with 4:28 left. But the Celtics didn't crack. Henderson calmly took an Ainge around-the-horn feed and dropped in a key 15-footer. Parish sent back a Cheeks shot, and after Bird back-tapped a Parish miss, Ainge, at that moment a 1-for-11 marksman himself, stuck in an aw-let-'im-have-it 18-footer from the right for a very big basket.

A break followed when Parish got away with raking Bobby Jones for a turnover, and it proved costly when Henderson connected on a Nelsonian up-and- in left-corner jumper. Then Gerry turned into Mr. Opportunistic, picking off a weak Cheeks-to-Hollins pass. That possession resulted in a McHale 15- foot turnaround (degree of difficulty: 2.2). It was now 82-73, Boston, with 2:13 to play, and it was o-v-e-r.

The Sixer offensive numbers (the 21-percent second-half shooting, the 11- point final period and the 27-point second half) border on the incomprehensible, but the memories of the atrocious shots, the unthinking passing and the all-around shoddy clutch play will be even more indelible, as will the echoes of the boos which rang down from the stands in the final two minutes.

It all adds up to one thing. The Celtics will be playing the game they want tomorrow on the good old parquet floor.

And, uh, one more thing.

See you Sunday.

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