Boston's chances of catching Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division race are remote, but that didn't affect the Celtics' incentive when they beat the 76ers, 115-110, last night in Boston Garden.
The victory made Boston's record 43-15, but it left the Celtics seven games behind the 76ers, who ended a win streak at 10 games.
Larry Bird, playing with a painful infection on his right foot that kept him out of practice for three days, was the top Boston scorer with 32 points.
"It's always good to beat Philadelphia because they're such a tough team," said Kevin McHale, who had 21 points for the Celtics. "When you do beat them, you always feel good about yourself and your teammates."
The score was tied nine times, and the biggest lead was nine points by Philadelphia early in the first period.
The lead changed hands for the 12th and final time of the second half on an eight-foot jumper by Robert Parish that put Boston ahead, 104-103, with 4:06 to go. That began a seven-point run in which McHale followed with a dunk and Nate Archibald converted a three-point play.
The 76ers cut the lead to 111-110 at 1:09 remaining when Danny Ainge was called for goal tending on a shot by Julius Erving, who finished with 23 points.
Erving then fouled out with 55 seconds remaining, and Bird sank the two foul shots.