Moments after they had blundered away the biggest game of their season, the Boston Celtics could hardly wait to sing the praises of Dr. J.
"You have to give Philly credit because they just came out and beat us, and a lot of that is due to the Doctor (Julius Erving)," said M.L. Carr. "He set the tone for what it was all about. He came out loose and confident and they followed his lead. It was almost like he cast a spell on them."
Erving didn't score until 7:12 remained in the second quarter of today's 120-106 Philadelphia victory at Boston Garden, which gave the Sixers the Eastern Conference final series, four games to three, but he finished with 29 points, four rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocked shots.
Andrew Toney was the game's leading scorer with 34 points, but Boston Coach Bill Fitch said he expected a performance close to that from the guard.
Toney missed 10 of 11 shots in Game 6 Friday night.
"He was just hot today," said Danny Ainge.
Carr, who guarded Toney much of the game, said the difference between today and Game 6 was that Toney didn't hold the ball this time. "He did something with it as soon as he got it."
That was usually shoot it.
"It was Doc who did us in," Fitch said. "He kept hitting that outside shot. I can think of four times he made those long jumpers when we were letting him have that shot and saying, 'You can't make that.' That demoralized us."
"The Doctor rose to the occasion the one time they really needed him," said Cedric Maxwell. "They came out loose, not like there was a monkey on their back."
"As much as the fans have gotten down on that team, called them chokers and everything else, I hope they finally give them the credit they deserve," said Carr.
After the 76ers moved to an eight-point lead in the second quarter, the Celtics were playing catchup, and the 76ers always seemed to have something in reserve.
"They always say that if you can keep the 76ers in reach, you can beat them," said forward Larry Bird. "But I guess we couldn't keep them within close enough reach."
The first major turning point of the game, according to Fitch, came in the opening seconds of the third period when Gerald Henderson committed what Fitch termed a silly pushing foul against Caldwell Jones, picking up his fourth personal.
"I could have kicked him when he did that," said Fitch. "When we had Tiny (Archibald), Gerald could play that way and some silly fouls didn't hurt us. But we needed him desperately today and his getting those fouls hurt us."
The other turning point, according to Fitch, came after the Celtics had cut a 10-point lead to 64-62, with 6:08 remaining in the period. But the Sixers responded with six straight points as Ainge, a rookie guard, twice threw the ball away, once making a needless blind pass and once with a careless bounce pass.
"We had a lot of no-brainers--stupid passes we shouldn't have thrown," said Fitch. "Overall, we played a poor fundamental game, too. I mean passing, shooting, dribbling--the basic stuff. We just played a bad ball game. Our timing wasn't good at all. I wish we could have saved this kind of performance for next exhibition season.
"I'm proud of our guys as far as their character goes, because they tried as hard as they could, but I'm not too tickled with the way they played. If we had a practice tomorrow, it would be the hardest one we've ever had."
Philadelphia General Manager Pat Williams said he didn't think there was anyone anywhere, "even in Philadelphia, who thought we could win today." But the Celtics disagreed.
"We weren't taking anything for granted," said center Robert Parish, who led Boston with 23 points and 14 rebounds. "We knew it was going to take a hell of a ball game to beat them and we didn't have it, but we have nothing to be ashamed of. We aren't going to hang our heads."
"We played two emotional games in Games 5 and 6 and maybe we were drained and caught up in the emotion of playing the seventh game at home and we started celebrating before we should have," said Maxwell. "All I know for sure is that we didn't play well and we didn't have it at the end. The superior team won."
Asked who he liked in the final between Philadelphia and Los Angeles, Bird said he was rooting for the 76ers, as were the fans in Boston Garden who chanted "Beat L.A." during the last minute of today's game. "The way L.A. is playing, Philly will have to play a great series, but I would like to see Philly win it," he said, "because I'd like to see Doc get his ring. He's a great player and he deserves it. Look what he did to us today."