After Philadelphia scored only 93 points against Boston in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference championship series Sunday, 76er forward Julius Erving came to the defense of the offense.
After all, he pointed out, Philadelphia averaged almost 20 points more than that during the regular season and 16 more during the playoffs. He said the 76ers would score more in Game 2 Tuesday night at Boston Garden.
For what it’s worth, he was right.
You can count the difference in their point production on one hand, the one the 76ers seem to have tied behind their backs when shooting the basketball.
Again failing to reach triple figures, the 76ers lost this one, 106-98. That allows the Celtics to take a 2-0 lead into Game 3 Saturday at Philadelphia, also the site of Sunday’s Game 4.
Afterward, the 76ers spoke bravely of a resurrection. But never has a team in a Boston-Philadelphia series come from 0-2 to win. In fact, no team has ever come from 0-2 against the Celtics to win.
If history were the only thing the 76ers had to overcome, they might have a chance.
But the Celtics also have the game’s best clutch player, Larry Bird, who made one big play after another Tuesday night in the fourth quarter, when he scored 13 of his 24 points.
Most of his fourth-quarter points came after he turned his right ankle, which added injury to injury. He has been playing for several weeks with bone chips in his right elbow.
On the frontline with Bird are 7-0 1/2 center Robert Parish and 6-10 forward Kevin McHale. After those two combined for 54 points in Game 1, the 76ers limited McHale to 22 and Parish 13 Tuesday night.
But, between them, they had 27 rebounds, 16 for Parish as he again outrebounded the NBA’s best rebounder, Moses Malone.
Then, there are Boston’s guards, Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge, who aren’t supposed to be able to win games with their offense. But while the 76ers were mugging Parish and McHale in the second half, Johnson had 10 points in the third quarter, and Ainge had eight in the fourth. Johnson finished with 22, Ainge with 16.
All of that said, Boston won this game with its defense.
After making only 36 of 81 field goal attempts (44.4%) in Game 1, the 76ers made only 40 of 88 (45.4%) Tuesday night.
The Celtics’ defense was particularly effective in the third quarter, which began with them trailing by six. They were behind by 13 at one point in the second quarter.
But the 76ers went more than four minutes without scoring a field goal early in the third quarter, allowing the Celtics to regain the lead. Then, the 76ers went the final 3:57 of the third quarter without a field goal as the Celtics extended their lead to eight. The 76ers never again were closer than four.
The 76ers complimented Boston’s defense but also accepted some of the blame. First in line was guard Andrew Toney, who made 3 of 17 shots.
Toney is known as the Boston Strangler for the way he usually lights up the scoreboard against the Celtics, but, Tuesday night, Tony Curtis could have done a better job shooting.
Asked if he had ever played a worse game, Toney said: “I can’t think of one.”
He added: “I was terrible. If I had made half my shots, we would have won.”
Of course, the reason the Celtics traded for Dennis Johnson, a defensive specialist, last year was so that Toney would have these kind of nights against the Celtics.
But Toney said D.J.'s defense, as good as it is, wasn’t the reason for this disaster.
“I had the same shots I usually take, but they weren’t falling,” he said. “If I had the same shots over again, I’d take them.”
D.J. pleaded innocent.
“I didn’t do anything,” he said. “All you can do against Andrew Toney is hope he has a bad shooting night, which he did.”
After Sunday’s loss, Toney was criticized for taking only two shots in the first half. Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham told him he had to assert himself more offensively for the 76ers to have a chance. Now, Cunningham probably doesn’t know what to tell him.
Erving said he will try to think of something.
“I’m going to get into his head in the next couple of days,” Erving said. “We need him and we want him.”
Erving knows something about poor shooting after making only 5 of 18 shots in Game 1. Tuesday night, he made 8 of 13 and finished with 22 points.
But Malone was the only other player who was effective offensively, scoring 20 points. He also had 13 rebounds.
“We controlled the game for the first half,” Erving said. “But in the third quarter, we coughed it up.
“We had opportunity, after opportunity, after opportunity. We didn’t come this far to be invisible for 12 minutes.
“We were just walking the ball up the floor. We couldn’t get anything in the transition game. We tried to play a half-court power game. They were getting the ball to the spots they wanted and getting points.
“Our lead disappeared, and we didn’t offer much resistance.”
That about summed it up.
On the bright side for the 76ers, they also played excellent defense. The Celtics made only 37 of 87 shots from the field (42.5%), although their aggressiveness on offense gave them a significant edge at the free throw line. They made 32 of 37 free throws to 18 of 24 for the 76ers.
In Game 1, the 76ers were unable to find defensive matches for Parish and McHale. With double-team help from the guards, the 76ers were much more effective in limiting the Celtics’ big men Tuesday night.
But in the second half, Parish and McHale began dumping the ball back outside to Johnson, Ainge and Bird, who had open shots.
“We weren’t hesitating to shoot,” Johnson said.
What does a team do on defense against the Celtics when the guards are shooting well, Johnson was asked.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m glad it’s not my problem.”
Eastern Notes Celtics Coach K.C. Jones said the team won’t know until today the extent of Larry Bird’s ankle injury, which he suffered early in the fourth quarter. He continued to play. “He may be hurting tomorrow,” Jones said . . . Kevin McHale said Bird has been playing with a lot more pain than he will admit because of the bone chips in his right elbow. “Larry was all over the place in the second half, getting rebounds and scrapping, even though his elbow was killing him. He won’t say anything, but it was really bothering him.” . . . The Celtics are not taunting the 76ers, as they did Cleveland and Detroit in previous playoff series. “This team is like ours,” Bird said. “If you get them mad, they just come back at you harder. Detroit and Cleveland, you can talk about, but you can’t talk about these guys.” . . . A fan in a Richard Nixon mask paraded around Boston Garden with a sign that read: “Only Moses Gets Away With More Than I Did.” Moses Malone hasn’t fouled out of a game since 1978 . . . For the second straight game, Malone and McHale got into a brief scuffle.