The Philadelphia 76ers tried to maintain an aura of cool today in the face of an 0-2 deficit against the Boston Celtics in the NBA Eastern Conference finals.
For Game 3 of the best-of-seven series at the Spectrum Saturday, the 76ers have a little history on their side. Boston, winner of the last two games in its semifinal series against Detroit, hasn't won five consecutive playoff games since 1961. In addition, the Celtics have lost seven of the last eight times they have had to play the third game of a series on the road.
But Philadelphia can't depend on precedent. The 76ers -- the shortest team in the league -- were battered constantly on the inside in Games 1 and 2 by the Celtics, leading to speculation that Coach Billy Cunningham will have to use 6-foot-10 backup center Clemon Johnson at power forward to try to even things out underneath.
Cunningham also expressed concern about the shooting of guard Andrew Toney. There was talk today that Toney, who missed 14 of 17 shots in Game 2, might be replaced in the starting lineup by Clint Richardson, who has shot over 60 percent in the postseason. "We haven't discussed it," said Cunningham. "There is a chance. We've had success starting him in the past."
Richardson doesn't believe the move should be made. "We've been having problems. We don't need more," he said. "Everybody in this room has gone through a shooting slump and this might not even be a slump. It just might be that he hasn't taken the right shots."
Richardson said changing the lineup at this point could be interpreted by Boston as a sign of panic, although that seems doubtful.
Boston forward Larry Bird said after the series opener that if his team won the first two games all the pressure would shift to the 76ers. Today he recanted the observation.
"I don't know about that," he said. "They're going home and they've got two games at the Spectrum. And if they react like we would, they'll probably win them both."
With little else going for them, it is that home-court advantage (Philladelphia beat the Celtics three times at home in the regular season) that the 76ers are counting on. "That's the principal difference right now," said Julius Erving. "You get more out of your players up and down the line at home.
"We haven't yet experienced, in this series, having five guys play well. We've had two, three or four, but when you're playing eight in a rotation, finding five to play well isn't that much to ask."
Besides Toney's shooting slump, perhaps the biggest surprise for Philadelphia has been the way Boston's Robert Parish has outplayed Moses Malone. Parish has averaged nearly 15 rebounds per game against Malone, a relentless performer who has been held to five offensive rebounds in the two games.
"I've seen Robert play some big games, but these are the best he's had on defense," said Bird. "I'm glad we've taken advantage of it because you're not gonna stop Moses for any long period of time."