Andrew Toney always has been a problem for the Boston Celtics and today was no exception. M.L. Carr, Chris Ford, Danny Ainge and Larry Bird all tried to stop him, but Toney still scored 39 points to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 119-94 victory before another sellout crowd of 18,364 in the Spectrum, leaving the defending NBA champion Celtics on the brink of playoff elimination.
In dealing the Celtics their worst loss of the season, the 76ers gained a 3-1 advantage in this best-of-seven series, just as they did last season before losing three in a row.
The 76ers can advance to the final against Los Angeles with a victory Wednesday night in Boston. The Celtics, outrebounded 48-32 and outscored on fast-break points 26-10 today, admit they're not playing as well as they were two months ago. And nobody seems to know how to handle Toney, the top scorer against Boston in last year's playoff.
"We couldn't get Toney stopped either by guarding him or by making him guard somebody (Bird)," Boston Coach Bill Fitch said. "If he plays that many minutes (42) he's going to get his points because he has the basketball a lot. Our goal is just to keep him around 20. If we keep him in that area as we did Saturday, we can hold the Sixers under 100."
Toney scored 16 points in Philadelphia's 99-97 victory here Saturday, but said he was determined to be more aggressive and get involved early today.
"I was hesitating Saturday, I was worried about offensive fouls," he said after making 14 of 21 shots and 11 of 12 free throws in his highest-scoring playoff game. "Today I wanted to get going early, to go to the basket and to get in my rhythm."
Toney, a 6-foot-3, second-year guard from Southwestern Louisiana, scored six of his team's first 10 points as Philadelphia took an early lead it held for all but 18 seconds. The 76ers beat Boston for the third straight time after losing by 40 points in the first game.
"When Andrew gets going like that, he feels he can take anyone one on one," said playmaker Maurice Cheeks, who set up Toney for many of his points. "When he penetrates, it opens up things for everybody."
Toney made six of nine shots and had 14 points in the first quarter when the 76ers built a 34-20 advantage, then scored 11 of the last 15 points to gain a 55-48 edge at intermission.
With substitute Kevin McHale scoring 10 points in five minutes, the Celtics pulled even at 44-44, but Toney scored twice and Julius Erving (17 points) added three points as the 76ers pulled away.
Boston still was threatening midway in the third quarter after Bird came out of his shooting slump with four straight shots, closing within 72-67. Then Toney took control.
Two free throws started Toney's nine-point streak in slightly less than three minutes. He followed with a 16-footer, then a base line jumper, two more free throws after driving past Ainge, and one of two fouls shots with 20 seconds left in the quarter to give Philadelphia an 85-71 advantage.
"I tried to keep the ball from him," Ainge said. "But he was just having one of those days when everything he threw up went in. I don't know what I can do differently to stop him."
Toney opened the fourth quarter with three straight jumpers against a totally frustrated Ainge, who committed five fouls and was called for his first technical foul. "I didn't say anything to the official," the rookie said. "I'm not a cusser."
"I don't want to say it's easier to play against any certain player," Toney said about his enormous mismatch against Ainge. "Some days things just seem easier than others."
By the time Ainge was replaced by Bird, Toney had 35 points, the 76ers had an insurmountable 94-79 lead and all the Celtics could hope for was a repeat of last year's remarkable comeback.
The Celtics were without floor leader Nate Archibald, who dislocated his left shoulder Saturday.
Robert Parish, Boston's top scorer in its 4-1 semifinal victory over Washington, sat out the entire fourth quarter for the second game in a row. "For Robert to be effective, our outside people have to score and prevent him from being double-teammed," Fitch said.
"We still feel we have the talent and the capability to win the championship," said Bird, who made only two of eight shots in the first half, but had six of eight after intermission to finish with 17 points, one fewer than Parish.
"It was a humiliating experience because the crowd was standing and cheering on every basket," the all-star forward admitted. "But we'll be back, no doubt about it."