C's Beat Philly in OT

Celtics Improve to 61-17
1981-82 Boston Celtics

Bill Fitch could barely conceal his smile when the game was over. The players did not bother to hide their obvious glee. Beating the 76ers in overtime without Robert Parish, and after trailing by 15 points in the second quarter - remember last year? - was obviously the Celtics' idea of an Easter Sunday afternoon very well spent.

Nobody really knew for sure what to expect when these ancient rivals met before a Spectrum crowd of 17,582 and a national television audience, especially when it was made known before the game that the magnificent Parish would be given the afternoon off in order to rest a very battered 7-foot body.

What transpired was a tripleheader, the first game being a Philadelphia clinic, the second a Celtics showcase and the final one a torrid, emotional confrontation that lived up to the high standards of the NBA's best rivalry. And when it was over, the Celtics had utilized their superior rebounding to pull out a 110-109 OT victory.

It was entirely appropriate that the game-winning basket was a tap-in by Larry Bird, since control of the glass was the major area of Boston dominance during the long afternoon. The routine tap-in of a Gerry Henderson miss held up as both clubs failed to score on their final two possessions, Philly's last chance being an Andrew Toney in-and-outer with three seconds left that was banged around until the final buzzer.

Bird's follow-up gave the Celts 21 points on second shots to the Sixers' four, and that disparity was very aggravating indeed to losing coach Billy Cunningham. "It doesn't take a genius to understand why we lost the game and they won," he declared. "The amount of offensive rebound opportunities they had, especially in the second half and down the stretch, was very tough to overcome. This has been our problem for many years, and if we don't correct it, we will have a hard time getting out of the mini-series."

The Sixers might have won in regulation had Kevin McHale (20 points, 12 rebounds, 6 blocks) not tapped in his own miss with 41 seconds left to create the 99-99 score that held up till that buzzer. They might have carried a more substantial lead than 13 (58-45) into the locker room at the half had they not yielded follow-up points to McHale (a baseline jumper) and Bird (two fouls) within 30 seconds late in the second quarter. They also might have fared better in the OT had Bird not turned a deflected McHale jumper into a clock- beating three-point swisher by the revived Chris Ford.

What had started out as a potential rout when the Sixers jumped into a 12-2 lead against the sluggish Celtics eventually turned into a Boston-Philly classic. The rocket Sixer start, a blitzkrieg that featured eight fast break- oriented points out of their first 12, was so impressive that it awoke the slumbering Celtics, many of whom spoke later of a deep desire to avoid "being embarrassed on national TV."

With Julius Erving scoring 18 of his game-high 31 points in the second quarter, the 76ers met the first of two major Boston challenges with a blast that provided them with five 15-point second-quarter leads, the last at 58-43 with 57 seconds left in the half. But the Celtics came out of the second-half chute snarling, and when Cedric Maxwell began doing his wiggly inside thing, the game began to turn.

Max, an 0-for-1 first-half shooter, got going in the third quarter, depositing 17 points on an assortment of fast break layups, follow-ups and jump hooks that had the Spectrum crowd buzzing. The Celtics claimed their first lead at 78-77 on two Danny Ainge foul shots before settling for an 81-81 three-quarter story.

Period four was a great piece of NBA theater as first Boston (twice leading by three with the ball, the second time at 89-86) and then Philly (leading, 99-95, with 1:31 left) had temporary control of the game. Needing two scores to force an OT, the Celtics went to work. Bird sank two second- chance free throws after his own miss at 1:16, and after Henderson rebounded a Toney miss, McHale came through with a second tap of a missed Henderson leaner. Regulation ended with a mad corner scramble for the rebound of a Bird bomb from the right.

Boston actually blew a five-point lead (108-103) with 2:18 remaining in the OT, falling behind at 109-108 when Maurice Cheeks stole a pass and went all the way for two at the 1:18 mark. That's when Bird tapped in another Henderson miss for the final go-ahead basket.

Henderson could have been a goat when he pulled in a Bird air ball with three seconds left on the 24 and went back out instead of throwing one up, thus returning the ball to Philly with six seconds to play via a 24-second violation. However, Toney missed a final 17-foot chance to win the game, and thus victory No. 61, and the Philly season's series, was Boston's.

Suffice it to say that this Celtics team was not exactly last in line when the hearts were given out.

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