Although the Philadelphia 76ers are trying their best not to let the memory of last season overwhelm them, the script is all too familiar.
Tonight's 88-75 victory by the Boston Celtics evened their Eastern Conference final playoff series at 3-3 after the Sixers held a 3-1 advantage. The Sixers squandered a 3-1 lead to the Celtics in the same situation last year; Boston won the seventh game at home and went on to become the National Basketball Association champions.
Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham said he is "so tired of hearing about last year, I don't know what to do," but some of his players say it is in the backs of their minds and could have an effect on Game 7 Sunday in Boston.
"The choke label is back in our faces again," said guard Maurice Cheeks, "and the only way to get it away is to win a game. But if it does happen again and we lose this series, then I guess that's just what was meant to be."
Julius Erving, who led the 76ers with 24 points, said tonight's defeat "hurts, because it would have been great to win it here and now we have to go up to Boston and to win there again will be tough."
The reason the Sixers didn't win tonight was because they rewrote the NBA record book in a negative way. They scored only 27 points in the second half, the lowest output in a playoff game since the league adopted the 24-second clock in 1954. The Sixers tied another record by scoring 11 points in the fourth quarter.
They made three of 19 shots in the fourth period and seven of 34 in the second half, and two of those baskets were on goal tending calls.
Andrew Toney, their leading scorer in the series with an average of more than 20 points a game, made one of 11 shots and scored three points.
"All of a sudden our offense just stopped," said Bobby Jones. "It was partly their defense, but a lot of it was our standing around. It wasn't out of laziness, it was just a question of not knowing where to go. There always seemed to be three Celtics standing where we wanted to be.
"Everything just shut down," Jones added. "I've never been in a game like that before. We were very hesitant. We would make too many passes or hold the ball too long and the 24-second clock would run down and we'd have to force up a shot."
In one stretch in the third quarter, Philadelphia turned over the ball six times in eight possessions. In the fourth period, the 76ers missed every type of shot imaginable, from layups to 20-footers, and got only one offensive rebound. For the game they were outrebounded, 59-40.
"They packed their defense in so tight, we couldn't even get a hand on a rebound," said Jones.
"This game is unpredictable and that's why it's beautiful," said Erving. "Sometimes two-footers don't go and 25-footers do. Tonight, nothing went for us."
The 76ers had no complaints about their defense, as they limited the Celtics to 40 percent shooting.
"We played good defense, we just couldn't put the ball in," said Caldwell Jones.
"If we go up there Sunday and play the same kind of defense we did tonight and get any type of offense, we'll do all right," said Erving.
"It seems like everyone is saying it's all over now, but it isn't," Caldwell Jones said. "We still have one more shot.