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Up There Where The Air Is Rare
Alexander Wolff
March 04, 1985
Flying high above the rest of the NBA, old rivals Boston and Philly are on a playoff collision course
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March 04, 1985

Up There Where The Air Is Rare

Flying high above the rest of the NBA, old rivals Boston and Philly are on a playoff collision course

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THE CELTS VS. THE SIXERS: TALE OF THE TAPE FOR TWO NBA HEAVYWEIGHTS

'79-80

'80-81

'81-82

'82-83

'83-84

'84-85

TOTALS

BOSTON vs. PHILADELPHIA

4-7

7-6

7-6

3-3

2-4

2-2

25-28

BOST. vs. REST
PHIL. vs. REST

62-18
64-25

67-19
64-20

63-18
64-26

55-28
74-15

75-24
50-31

44-10
43-10

366-117
359-127

BIRD vs. ERVING (PTS./REBS.)

23.9/11.6 29.1/8.3

25.0/12.8 24.2/6.8

19.5/13.1 22.1/7.3

22.4/13.6 22.4/6.8

23.7/11.8 23.2/5.8

32.5/8.0 13.5/4.0

23.5/12.2 23.5/6.9

PARISH vs. MALONE (PTS./REBS.)

16.4/11.4
27.0/15.8

19.7/13.0
20.7/14.3

11.3/8.8
28.8/15.8

15.5/10.9
26.0/15.4

MAXWELL vs. BARKLEY (PTS./REBS.)

14.0/5.8
18.0/8.5

14.0/5.8
18.0/8.5

AINGE vs. CHEEKS (PTS./ASSTS.)

5.2/2.7
12.1/7.6

8.6/3.0
12.8/8.2

4.0/1.8
14.4/4.8

8.5/7.8
15.0/5.8

6.2/3.4
13.2/6.8

D. JOHNSON vs. TONEY (PTS./ASSTS.)

10.5/4.5
20.0/5.3

18.7/7.7
14.0/7.7

11.9/5.0
16.2/5.5

McHALE vs. B. JONES (PTS/REBS.)

9.1/3.5
13.1/5.0

15.6/7.9
13.5/5.3

15.4/6.6
7.6/4.8

16.0/5.5
11.5/6.5

15.3/6.8
7.8/3.3

13.4/5.9
11.8/5.1

BOSTON BENCH vs. PHIL. BENCH (PTS./REBS.)

25.4/9.3
29.7/10.1

22.9/10.8
31.3/12.5

35.3/14.8
29.2/5.8

38.3/14.3
27.2/15.5

25.5/10.8
26.0/14.5

26.0/9.0
30.0/12.3

28.4/11.8
29.3/13.3

JONES vs. CUNNINGHAM

2-4

2-2

4-6

JONES vs. REST
CUNN. vs. REST


64-25


64-20


64-26


74-15

75-24
50-31

44-10
43-10

119-34
359-127

A lot of little unlikelihoods have cropped up among the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers this season. First, their two purists became pugilists. Then one of those purists overruled his coach in the last seconds of a close game. That same player, who no one thought could possibly improve, actually has gotten better. A lousy shooter became a good shooter, a good shooter a better shooter and a terrific shooter a reluctant one. And a rookie described the toughest veteran on his team as "ugly"—and got away with it.

All of which should make us more appreciative of how a large likelihood—that the Atlantic Division's two preeminent powers would outstrip everyone else in the NBA—has come about. After Sunday's 113-100 defeat of the Indiana Pacers, the Celtics were 46-12 and seemingly unfazed by a recent spate of injuries that threatened their torrid pace. "Yeah, torrid," says Boston's Kevin McHale, "torrid enough to lead by half a game." Indeed, there were the Sixers, just behind the Celtics with a 45-12 mark. Like a couple of telecommunications satellites, Philly and Boston are in high orbit over' the Atlantic—and the Pacific, for that matter. "They seem," says Chicago Bull forward Orlando Woolridge, "to have moved into their own league."

Each team has done it in its own style. Coach K.C. Jones's Celtics, with their rec-hall looseness, are called the K.C.A.C.

"Hi!" McHale said to a little girl with a Cabbage Patch doll as he boarded a plane recently. "What's her name?"

"Doreen Belinda," the girl replied.

"Did you know," McHale told her, "that if I smash Doreen Belinda's head in, you could get an Official Cabbage Patch Doll Death Certificate?"

Boston has fed off that kind of good-natured ruthlessness all season as it seeks to become the first NBA titlist to repeat in 16 years. Celtic M.L. Carr, who regularly talks trash to opponents, can't understand why his filibusters are objects of scorn around the league. To Carr, "woofing" is nothing more than a matter of, well, "articulating" goals. "We just tell you about it while we do it," Carr says. "It isn't meant negatively. If you tell someone you'll do something, you're challenging yourself to do it."

The Sixers, on the other hand, are so dour and tight-lipped in their mission that coach Billy Cunningham has been called Captain Queeg. "There's no way the Knicks should score that many points off us," scolded Philly's Julius Erving, whose early-season fisticuffs with Boston's Larry Bird have long been forgotten, after the 76ers beat New York 131-129 just after the All-Star break. "This game shows we've got a long way to go."

In their four meetings thus far, Boston and Philadelphia have both won twice: In 16 quarters of competition, the Celts have out-scored the Sixers by a grand total of six points. No wonder the two are in a virtually certifiable Official Cabbage Patch Doll Dead Heat. The winner probably won't be settled until the Eastern Conference finals, where the two teams seem sure to meet.

Of course, the 76ers will win then because they have their pride to recoup. After exiting so ignominiously last season, at the hands of the New Jersey Nets in the first round of the playoffs, Philly, which waltzed to the league title in 1983, will have it in for any team standing in its way. Boston, by contrast, must beat the NBA's champs-don't-repeat jinx.

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