There wasn't anything pretty about the way the Boston Celtics handled the Philadelphia 76ers today, it was effective.

There were no fast breaks to be had as the Celtics, who had to weather several storms, led from beginning to end and evened their Eastern Conference semifinal series at 1-1 with a 96-90 victory at the Boston Garden.

The third and fourth games of the best-of-seven series will be played Wednesday and Friday at the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

"I don't think you're going to see any team in this series play its best." said Boston Coach Bill Fitch. "When you get two headhunters out there, they're going to make each other look bad.Both teams are taking each other out of their offenses and it's becoming a free-lance game.

"They take away our running game, we take away their running game and we both go to the pits and fight it out."

The one thing the 76ers couldn't take away was Larry Bird. The sensational Boston rookie made 15 of 30 shots and scored 31 points, 21 in the first half. He also contributed 12 rebounds and two assists.

It was all Bird for most of the first half and in one stretch he made nine straight shots -- all jumpers from at least 15 feet out.

Bird scored nine of Boston's last 15 point in the first period to bring the Celtics from a 14-14 tie to a 29-22 advantage. He scored 10 more in the first 6 1/2 minutes of the second quarter with a 15-point lead at 47:32.

The 76ers were trying everything to contain Bird. They started with Julius Erving on him and eventually went to Bobby Jones, Steve Mix and even seven-foot Caldwell Jones.

Bird just kept shooting -- and scoring.

"I don't worry about who's on me," Bird said. I always try to play the same way. If I'm open I'm going to take the shot and if I'm not I'm going to pass the basketball."

But the 76ers have perhaps the strongest reserves in basketball and it showed in the final 2:37 of the half.

Pete Maravich had put the Celtics on top, 53-38, with a layup when Mix and Bobby Jones took charge. The reserve Philadelphia forwards led their team on a 12-1 scoring spurt to close out the half and get the 76ers to within four points at 54-50.

Mix had six of those points and Jones four. Darryl Dawkins scored the other two on a pair of free throws.

Six straight points by Dawkins, coming on a 20-footer, a slam dunk and a tap-in over Dave Cowens, tied the score at 62-62 with 6:18 left in the third period. But Rick Robey scored four in a rown and Tiny Archibald drilled a 17-footer to get the Boston lead back to six points.

The Celtics outscored the 76ers, 12-2, over the last 6:18 of the period to take a 10-point lead at 74-64 into a final 12 minutes.

The 76ers didn't score a field goal in that span. The only points they came up with were on two free throws by Lionel Hollins. The 76ers missed their last 11 shots of the quarter and made only five of 20 for the entire period.

Cowens opened the fourth period with a hook to increase Boston's lead to 12 at 76-64, but Bobby Jones, Mix and Henry Bibby scored the next six points to cut the lead down to 76-70.

Another Cowens hook and a Bird 20-footer got the lead back to 10, though, and the Celtics used the clock to their advantage the rest of the game.

They had an 11-point lead with 1:03 to play, but a three-point shot by Bibby helped make it close at the end.

"Everytime they came in with a surge, we countered with one," said Maxwell. "We weren't able to do that in the first game."

Boston lost all three games it played in Philadelphia in the regular season and Archibald said it might be "an impossible dream to win down there. But if we keep executing we should do all right. Individually, Philadelphia probably has the best team in the league, but I think we're better as a team." p