Both Toney and Erving were off and running, scoring 16 and nine points, respectively, in the first half, which ended 52-49 Philadelphia. But even when the Sixers got the first six points after intermission there was still the feeling that the Celtics would make a big move.
It came with 7:43 left in the third period, the 76ers up 64-54. Larry Bird hit a bank shot from the lane, then a pair of free throws. After a block by Parish, Bird fed Carr for a layup. Two more Bird free throws made it 64-62 before Toney's jumper ended the Celtics' run.
Then it was Boston's turn to lose composure. After Toney's basket, rookie Danny Ainge, in because Tiny Archibald was out with a dislocated shoulder, threw the ball away trying to hit Cedric Maxwell on a fast break. Cheeks converted the turnover into a basket, and Ainge again turned the ball over—on a no-look pass to Carr. When Mike Bantom scored a layup off an offensive rebound for a 70-62 Sixer lead, Fitch called a time out to lay into Ainge.
"Don't blow the whole thing for us," he moaned. "All you have to do is bring the ball upcourt. Somewhere down the line we have to start playing smart."
"He does that all the time," Ainge said later. "That might have cost us the game, but if I had to do it all over again I think I would have thrown the same passes. They might be called rookie plays, but I don't think they were dumb."
Maybe not, but the importance of the plays wasn't lost on Philadelphia. "They always come on strong in the third quarter," Cheeks said. "If you can contain that, you can get 'em. That helped."
The Celtics switched Bird to guard in order to slow Toney down on offense by making him work harder on defense, but, as Cheeks said, "When Toney gets unconscious it really doesn't matter what anybody does."
The crowd gave the soon-to-be-ex-champs a standing ovation with 1:06 left. Forty-five seconds later there was a new chant: "Beat L.A., beat L.A."
"That was nice," Erving said. "But it wasn't as loud as 'See you Sunday,' was it?"
No, but so much had changed since Games 5 and 6. "We were a different team today," said Cheeks. "We played like we were possessed." But not by The Ghosts of Celtics Past.