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THE WEARIN' DOWN O' THE GREEN
John Papanek
May 04, 1981
The 76ers floored the Celtics at Boston Garden and went on to take a 3-1 lead in the East
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May 04, 1981

The Wearin' Down O' The Green

The 76ers floored the Celtics at Boston Garden and went on to take a 3-1 lead in the East

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Erving was the first to arrive in the Sixers' dressing room, looking refreshed. "Two nights in my own bed," he said. "Just what the doctor ordered." What Cunningham ordered turned out to be just as important, and it accounted for the smug look on Erving's face. Surprise! The Doctor would be The Defender this night. He draped his long arms and body all over Bird, absolutely denying him the ball and making him work for virtually every one of his points. This definitely wasn't an easy night for Bird. And that made everything fall into place defensively for Philadelphia. Instead of having to chase Bird around the perimeter, Caldwell Jones lay back in the pit, where he collared 14 rebounds and blocked five shots. He and Dawkins stopped Boston's inside game cold, contributing to Parish's missing 13 of 14 shots and limiting him to just eight rebounds. "I wouldn't say that this was one of my worst games," said Parish. "I'd say it was the worst."

Philadelphia outrebounded Boston 50-48 and outscored the Celtics 27-17 on fast breaks to win 110-100. It was a reversal of Game 2: Philadelphia got out fast, thanks to an 11-0 run in the first period, opened an 18-point lead and then pulled away again after Boston got to within six in the fourth period. Erving scored 22 points, and there were 19 more from Toney—"I still say he's not the guy who'll beat us," said Fitch—16 each from a running Bobby Jones and a shooting Hollins and 15 from a ferocious Dawkins, who said he prefers the later games of a series "because [the refs] let us do a lot of bumpin' 'n' bangin'."

Erving chortled because he was singled out for defensive, rather than offensive, excellence. "Usually when people bring up my defense they criticize it," he said.

Meanwhile, Fitch was looking around his locker room saying, "This team has to get somebody who can put the ball in the basket besides Larry Bird." If he spotted someone, he didn't point him out.

"All I know," said Bird, "is that if we can't win in Philadelphia, we don't deserve to be NBA champions."

And in the first half of Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, also in the Spectrum, the Celtics looked as if they couldn't win in a schoolyard. Meanwhile, Philadelphia came out smoking, making 58% of its first-half field-goal attempts, passing with exceptional timing and accuracy, blocking nine Celtic shots and zooming to an 11-point lead early in the second quarter. Bird, again played by Erving, missed seven of his eight first-half shots, though his 11 rebounds were nearly half of Boston's total. One stretch epitomized Bird's frustration and, in a larger sense, symbolized the Celtics' apparent Philadelphia jinx. Bird had two shots blocked by Erving; he committed a lazy man's foul on Bobby Jones; he turned the ball over on traveling and five-second violations; and then, wrestling for a defensive rebound, he was flung ignominiously to the floor and was left there to watch helplessly while the indefatigable Toney sped off for a fast-break dunk.

It was another blowout, or so it seemed, until Ford suddenly got his outside shot warm. Bird shook loose from his slump and Parish came out of hiding in the third period. Boston scored 11 straight points in one span, shot 67% for the quarter and cut an 18-point deficit to one. Said a confounded Cunningham afterward, "You go in at halftime and tell them how well they played in the first half, tell them what they have to do to maintain their lead, and then they almost blow it."

The fourth period probably decided the series, and that quarter came down to the last minute. After Archibald had broken away with a Parish rebound to cut the Sixers' lead to 107-105, Philadelphia gave the ball away on a 24-second violation; but with a chance to tie the game with 36 seconds left, Parish missed a 12-footer. Twenty seconds later Bobby Jones missed an eight-footer. Maxwell got the rebound for Boston and pitched it to Archibald as Jones went for the steal. Archibald never saw Fitch call for a timeout. Instead he pushed the ball to midcourt and launched a pass that looked as if it would hit Bird perfectly on his flight to the basket. But at the last moment Bobby Jones came soaring in like a free safety to make a game-saving interception.

Jones' play left everyone amazed. "That's why I call him White Lightning," said Dawkins, who calls himself Chocolate Thunder.

White Lightning himself could barely describe his feat. "This is the way I remember it," said Jones. "I was trying to get the ball out of Maxwell's hands after the rebound, then all of a sudden it's back in my hands." It was that simple, except that all of a sudden Jones had covered 94 feet of basketball court. "I guess I just ran back and spotted Bird when I was at midcourt," said Jones. "I never saw the ball until it was in my hands."

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