So, I just finished watching Game 7 of the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals between two of the greatest teams of their era, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics. The 76ers had blown a 3 games to 1 advantage in the 1981 conference finals, and were on the verge of doing the same thing this time. However, the 76ers rallied, came together, and beat the Celtics in Boston Garden by the score of 120-106. A few observations from the game:
- The player of the game, according the CBS, was Julius Erving, which, to be kind, was an interesting choice. Erving played well, scoring 29 points and provided excellent help defense, but at no point in the game did he seem like the best player on the court. That would be Andrew Toney, who scored 34 points and was the main man responsible for putting the game out of reach. Toney scored 14 points in the first quarter, seemed to struggle for the next quarter and a half, and all of a sudden as the Celtics cut their deficit to 2, Toney caught fire, making jumper after jumper no matter what the Celtics tried to do to stop him. The C's threw M.L. Carr, Gerald Henderson, Danny Ainge, and even Larry Bird at Toney, but no man was able to stop the onslaught of Toney. No wonder they called Toney the "Boston Strangler"
- The 76ers had a huge backcourt edge in this game, not only because of Andrew Toney, but also because of point guard Maurice Cheeks. Cheeks did a masterful job of running the Sixers offense, finding the open man often (11 assists) and driving into the lane seemingly at will. None of the Celtics guards were quick enough to handle Cheeks. At one point Cheeks blew by M.L. Carr so quickly that Carr barely had enough time to turn around and watch Cheeks lay the ball in. The only Celtics guard that had a chance of guarding Cheeks was Henderson, but he was in foul trouble for most of the game, and therefore, the Celtics were forced to sit Henderson for large portions of the game.
- I do wonder, however, if things would have different if Celtics' point guard Tiny Archibald didn't hurt his shoulder in Game 3 of the series. Heck, I think things would definitely be different if Archibald was in there. He was quick enough to keep up with Cheeks, and more importantly, Archibald would have done a much better job of running the Celts' offense, which looked out-of-sync without their floor leader. From what I saw, Henderson, Carr, and Ainge are not traditional point guards, and while Larry Bird possessed great floor vision and excellent passing skills, it's not the same as having Archibald, who could handle the ball, find the open man, and hit an open jumper if need be. Maybe I'm overstating Archibald's talents, but I believe the Celtics would have won the series had Archibald not messed up his shoulder.
- The 76ers had the backcourt advantage, but the Celtics were definitely stronger on the frontcourt. Of course, when you have three guys who would eventually be in the Hall of Fame in the frontcourt, you're going to have an advantage against anybody, but I digress. However, Bird did not have a particularly good game, and, quite frankly, they didn't play McHale enough. McHale was the best player on the court in the first half, and the 76ers had no answer for him. After all, Caldwell Jones was on Robert Parish, and Bobby Jones had to guard Bird, so that left McHale with Mike Bantom, Dr. J, and Darryl Dawkins guarding him for the majority of the game. For some reason, McHale did not play the entire third quarter, even as the Sixers were pulling away, coach Bill Fitch left McHale on the bench. I think that's a slight mistake on Fitch's part.
- Darryl Dawkins was pretty lousy in this game, he had no chance against Parish or McHale, he wasn't much of a rebounder and generally made the 76ers a worse team when he was on the court. At least Caldwell Jones, the 76ers starting center, could provide rebounding and some defense, although he was out of his element if Parish drew him out of the paint, which Parish did often. No wonder the 76ers traded for Moses Malone after the season.
- I was impressed, however, with the way Bobby Jones played. He scored when the 76ers needed him to, got key rebounds, hustled for every loose ball, and while he didn't shut down Larry Bird, he did at least keep contain Bird. To me, both Jones and Maurice Cheeks have been a little overlooked as the years pass by, because both of those guys were excellent players, and yet you hardly hear anything about them.
- As I said earlier, the Celtics backcourt was over-matched. Danny Ainge had his moments, but he also committed two absolutely stupid turnovers in the third quarter which led to the Sixers going on a run that would eventually put the game out of reach. As for M.L. Carr and Chris Ford, well, they brought very little to the table, at least for this game.
- Watching Julius Erving on a fast break is one of the most majestic things in the history of sports. He soared to the basket like a eagle and made every dunk look effortless. He had a couple of dunks in this game, and it was something else, let me tell you.
- The coverage of this game was provided by CBS, and they had an annoying tendency to cut away to each team's head coach, or to the fans, while the ball is being moved around in the post. They missed a couple of made shots because the director decided that the audience just had to see Bill Fitch chewing on his towel, or some fan with a stupid hat. Way to go, CBS of 27 years ago.
- As for the commentary, Dick Stockton still had his fastball at this point, so he was good. The color anaylst, Bill Russell, had some insightful things to say, but often times sounded as if he had never done television in his whole life. I mean, he wasn't annoying, but there were times where he would struggle with what to say next and stammer around for a few seconds before making a point that was somewhat obvious. At least he was better than Rick Barry and Isiah Thomas, and did remain neutral throughout, despite his obvious connections to the Boston Celtics organization.
- I must admit, I had never heard of Mike Bantom before today, and I like to think of myself as somewhat of a basketball expert. Apparently he made the All-Rookie team in 1973-74. Who knew? He played a good bit in this game, I think he only scored once, but did a good job on the glass when he was in. This ended up being Bantom's last season, so he missed out on the Sixers' title in 1983.
Overall, this was a fun game to watch, although no where near as memorable as these two teams' Game 7 from the year before. Of course, the Lakers went on to beat the 76ers in the NBA Finals, but at least the 76ers beat there arch-rival to get there and exorcised some demons from 1981. Towards the end of the game, the 76ers were very jubilant, and the Celtics fans chanted "Beat L.A" as the game wrapped up. I thought that was pretty cool of the fans to do that.