In Boston, What’s Up Front Counts : Celtics Take a 1-0 Series Lead Over the Well-Rested 76ers

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

If any National Basketball Assn. team knows the book on the Boston Celtics, it’s the Philadelphia 76ers.

This is the fourth time in last six years the Atlantic Division rivals have met in the playoffs. During that time, the 76ers’ game plan has varied little.

To contain the Celtics, the defense has to pitch its tents in the paint, prevent Boston’s inside players from getting the ball close to the basket and force its guards to shoot from the perimeter.

No offense to the guards, Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge, but they usually provide exactly that. No offense.


Unfortunately for the 76ers, knowing how to beat the Celtics and doing it often are two different things.

The Celtics threw the book at them Sunday at Boston Garden in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals, getting 77 points from their frontline of Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and Larry Bird in a 108-93 victory.

McHale had 28 points, Parish 26 and Bird 23.

Philadelphia’s frontline starters--Moses Malone, Julius Erving and Bobby Jones--and the tub sub, Charles Barkley, combined for only 43 points.


Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham was at a loss for an explanation, other than to say, “We haven’t had much luck in this building on Mother’s Day.”

In Game 1 of the 1982 Eastern finals, the most recent time these two teams met in the playoffs, the Celtics beat the 76ers here by 40 points in the Mother’s Day Massacre.

Cunningham might feel better when he recalls that his team rebounded from that loss to win Game 2 at Boston Garden and take the series in seven games.

Game 2 of this best-of-seven series is here Tuesday night.

On the other hand, Cunningham can’t be too optimistic considering that the Celtics should be well rested for the second game, which certainly wasn’t the case before this one.

If ever a situation were ready made for the 76ers, this was it.

While the 76ers were idle last week after eliminating Milwaukee in four games, the Celtics were involved in a six-game series with the Pistons that didn’t end until Friday night in Detroit.

They flew home Saturday morning and, with no rest for the weary, worked out in the afternoon.


“It was just enough to get our minds off Detroit and on Philadelphia,” Boston Coach K.C. Jones said.

To return to Boston Garden less than 24 hours later and win a playoff game against a team as accomplished as the 76ers would have been a lot to expect of the Celtics even if they were healthy.

But to beat the 76ers with Cedric Maxwell playing only eight minutes because of his recuperating knee and Bird off his game because of bones chips in his right elbow is little short of astounding.

Asked how the Celtics had been able to revive themselves in time for the game, Jones said, “We had no choice. When the lights go on, the show starts.”

The victory was thorough.

The Celtics had more rebounds (41-39) and fewer turnovers (15-21). They also played better defense. The 76ers shot 44.4% from the field to 48.3% for the Celtics.

As rebounding and defense are considered the categories where effort makes the most difference, the numbers say that the Celtics wanted this one more.

But this game also was won on the chalkboard, where Jones is making more out of less.


Oddly enough, the 76ers might be more hurt by Maxwell’s injury than the Celtics.

When Maxwell, 6-8, starts at power forward, the 76ers aren’t caught in a mismatch with either Bobby Jones, 6-9, or Barkley, 6-6, guarding him.

But when McHale, 6-10, starts at power forward, he has a 20-pound advantage over Jones, who is playing with a bad knee, and a 4-inch advantage over Barkley.

This game was in the third quarter before the 76ers found an answer to McHale, who made seven of his first eight shots from the field and had 22 points at halftime.

The answer was the 6-10, 255-pound Malone, who limited McHale to six shots and one field goal in the second half.

But with Malone on McHale, either Jones or Barkley or backup center Clemon Johnson, 6-10, had to contend with the 7- 1/2 Parish.

After holding his own against Malone in the first half with 10 points, Parish made his 16-point second-half performance look easy, because it was.

“When I looked over there once, Barkley and Maurice Cheeks were double-teaming Robert,” McHale said. “Cheeks would have to stand on Barkley’s shoulders to look the Chief in the eyes.”

Since Malone had his hands full with McHale, Parish also had a big game rebounding with 13, 7 on the offensive end.

At the other end of the floor is where Parish earned his raves, limiting Malone to 19 points--7 of 16 from the field--and 2 offensive rebounds. Parish also blocked four shots.

Philadelphia’s most effective rebounder was Barkley, who had 12. But he was in foul trouble most of the second half and couldn’t be as aggressive as usual.

The 76ers wouldn’t have been in the game without the outside shooting of Cheeks, who had 19 of his 27 points in the first half.

But his backcourt partner, Andrew Toney, was strangely silent throughout much of the first three quarters. Known as the Boston Strangler for the way he scores against the Celtics, he took only two shots in the first half.

One theory was that Johnson wouldn’t give him his shots. After all, the Celtics traded for Johnson last year so they would have someone to guard Toney. But Johnson refused to take credit.

“The shots were there,” he said. “But he wasn’t taking them.”

Toney began to look more like himself in the fourth quarter, scoring eight points to finish with 16. His jump shot with 5:21 remaining brought the 76ers within three, 82-79.

That’s when Bird--remember him?--took over.

Even though he claims the pain in his elbow doesn’t bother him, it’s obvious he’s not the same player he was earlier this season.

But he’s still the man when the game is on the line. Eight of his 14 second-half points Sunday came in the final five minutes.

The Celtics were ahead by five when Bird rebounded a miss by Julius Erving, who had plenty of those in a miserable 5-for-18 shooting day. The outlet pass went to Johnson, who botched the fast break. But Bird recovered an errant pass and laid it in.

Bird then altered a Barkley shot, which was blocked by Ainge to create another scoring opportunity, which was completed by a Bird jump shot. That gave the Celtics a nine-point lead with 3:40 remaining.

Erving countered with a jump shot at 3:22, but that was the 76ers’ final field goal. They were able to take only three more shots as the Celtics turned a close game into a 15-point victory.

It wasn’t a massacre, but the 76ers got the point.

Playoff Notes Philadelphia’s Moses Malone and Boston’s Robert Parish, two of the NBA’s best centers, will be joined in the Atlantic Division next season by Patrick Ewing. After the Knicks won the right to draft Ewing in the lottery Sunday, neither Malone nor Parish had any comment. In fact, neither talked to the press about anything. Boston forward Kevin McHale, however, had plenty to say about the lottery. “It was rigged,” he said. “That’s rigged with a double G. If the envelope wasn’t hermetically sealed in a mayonnaise jar, I don’t trust it.” He added: “Just joking guys.” . . . Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham said the Celtics were short of depth because of Cedric Maxwell’s knee injury in the regular season but not so much in the playoffs. “There are so many TV timeouts in these games that you can get by with less players,” he said.