A few hours after his team had blown another NBA playoff game to the Boston Celtics Friday night, 76er coach Gene Shue was eating a roast beef sandwich in a downtown Boston restaurant when a transplanted Philadelphian walked over to his table.
"Coach," the young man said, "I live in Boston now and all I hear about is this Celtic pride." Shue replied: "Well, they can keep their pride because we've got the home court."
And so, this wildly entertaining series between two teams with vastly differing styles of play comes down to seventh and deciding game here Sunday.
The contest will be the first of a CBS doubleheader and can be seen in Washington ton WTOP-TV-9 at 1:30 p.m. The winner will meet either Washington or Houston for the Eastern Conference championship starting next week.
Other Sunday playoff games are Portland at Denver, with the Trail Blazers holding a 3-1 advantage, and Los Angeles at Golden State (3:45 p.m., WTOP-TV-9), with the Leaders [TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]
The Celtic-76ers series has had something for everyone. The basketball has been exquisite at times, yet also extremely rough and tumble. The officiating has been spotty, at best, and the verbal exchanges between the principal combatants have been nasty.
Jo Jo White has said the 76ers don't play defense and proved it in game No. 6 with 40 points. Dave Cowens, the Celtic center and the man-mountain Darryl Dawkins, his counterpart on the 76ers have jawed at each other in the newspapers.
Havlicek openly criticized his coach, Tom Heinsohn, for unwise substitutions in game No. 5, and Celtic general manager Red Auerback even got into the act when he delivered a fiery speech to his team before the last contest.
Auerback told his team the other day, "If we win the sixth game, anything can happen in a final game, no matter where they play it."
Heinsohn elaborated after Friday night's Boston victory. "It's our team game against a one-and-one game," he said. "If we play with the same intensity we had tonight Friday. I'll go with our gang even if the game is on Mars."
Heinsohn also has history on his side. The Celtics have been involved in 12 seven-game playoff series, and have won 11 of them.
No one knows what to make of the 76ers, including Shue. He thought his team should have been able to win in Boston Friday and, in fact, believes they should have won the series in five games.
But, on any given night, no one really knows which 76er team will show up - the one-on-one millionaire heroes, or a high-falutin' scoring machine capable of destroying most opponents with talent and firepower.
Shue could have justified suing Julius Erving, The Doctor, for malpractice Friday night. Erving managed only 14 points and three rebounds and admitted when it was over, "By my standards, I was awful."
If Erving has another clunker Sunday, the 76ers as a team - and possibly Shue - will be in deep trouble. Even now, there is talk in Philadelphia that the coach, and possibly general manager Pat Williams, may lose their jobs if the 76er do not win an NBA championship, or at least get to the final round.
But the 76ers have no one to blame but themselves for their predicament. They are loaded with talent but do not play intelligently. They consistently botch up Shue's carefully constructed plays and they take the wildest assortment of shots imaginable at the worst possible times.
Friday night in Boston, they knew Cowens had five fouls on him with 18 minutes left to play, yet they rarely challenged the Celtic center by going to the hoop. Cowens went on to make one critical steal and block a very important shot in the final two minutes. Shue and his players said Cowens was protected by game officials in the final minutes, and perhaps they were somewhat correct. But the 76ers did little to force Cowens into a situation where a foul could not be avoided.
The Celtics, meanwhile, still rely on their standard team-concept approach, led by Cowens, White and Havlicek, the three heroes Friday night.
"I was aggravated after we lost that fifth game because we weren't playing heady basketball," said Cowens. "We were just standing around and we had no movement. We won tonight (Friday) because we played the kind of basketball we used to play. We have to do it in Philadelphia."
Philadelphia forward George McGinnis said, "It should be a great ball game. The team that comes out and is the aggressor will win. I think we'll be that team."