Sixers in Limbo without Moses

1983-84 Boston Celtics
Celtics 102, Sixers 98

Record 34-9

January 26, 1984

It was like trying to break the sound barrier in a balloon. Moses Malone, the 76ers' human pneumatic drill, was in Philadelphia last night. As a result, his teammates were in limbo, headed directly for oblivion. While Malone nursed a sprained left ankle suffered in New York 24 hours earlier, the Sixers attempted to compensate for the 23 points, 13.6 rebounds and incalculable intimidation that they'd left home with him.

Not surprisingly, they'd have had as much success playing in Boston Harbor as they did in Boston Garden. After absorbing a 102-98 loss to the Celtics, the Sixers staggered into the All-Star break at the bottom of a five-game canyon that now separates them from their Atlantic Division archenemies. When it was over, coach Billy Cunningham looked forlornly at the 6-foot- 10, 255-pound void in the middle of his frontcourt and assessed the absence of Malone thusly: "The guy's been MVP two of the last three years. I think that answers the question of how much we missed him in itself."

For elaboration, all one had to do was consider the plight of Malone's replacements, Clemon Johnson and Marc Iavaroni. Johnson and Iavaroni are serviceable role players, but their primary role is not to play much. They were up against Robert Parish, the heir to Malone as the starting East center in the All-Star game. Call an ambulance. Johnson and Iavaroni were two lemmings against Parish, who profited from this gross mismatch to the tune of 24 points and 13 rebounds. Meanwhile, Johnson could muster only six points and eight rebounds in 39 minutes, almost twice as much playing time as his normal workday. Iavaroni was worth nine points and six rebounds in 21 minutes, most of them spent at power forward.

"I was trying to keep the ball out of (Parish's) hands, to front him, because he had 4 or 5 inches on me," said Johnson, who is in fact only 2 inches shorter than Parish but is dwarfed by the Boston center in talent. "When you've got a 220-pound power forward like myself playing backup center," said Iavaroni, "it leaves you with a lack of depth." And without a prayer. The chasm at center was graphically evident in the final quarter, when Boston obliterated an 88-87 deficit with a 14-5 run that Philly never dented. During the final 12 minutes, the Sixers hit only 3 of 19 field goals; when Malone is around to smother the boards, they usually don't miss 16 shots in a game, let alone a quarter.

"The difference was down the stretch," said Julius Erving, the other half of the Sixers franchise. "That's his bread-and-butter time. Having him on the boards and on offense means a lot. We could've used his muscle. That's his time of the game." Last night it was the Sixers' time to fold.

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