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The deck was severely stacked against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. They dropped three of the first four games of the Eastern Conference Finals against the rival Philadelphia 76ers. Down 3-1 in the best-of-seven series, Boston needed three straight wins to secure a berth in the 1981 NBA Finals. They did it, aided by a second-quarter announcement and a Cedric Maxwell fight with a fan during a must-win Game 6 in Philly.

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers met in the conference finals three straight times in the early ’80s

In the 1979-80 season, a rookie named Larry Bird took a 29-win Boston Celtics team and turned it into a squad that led the NBA with 61 wins. Despite being the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics were quickly ousted by the Sixers in the Eastern Conference Finals in the first of three straight ECF meetings between the teams.

The following season, it looked as if the Celtics were on their way to another early exit at the hands of the 76ers. After dropping the first game at home, the Celtics lost two of the next three games to find themselves down 3-1 heading into Game 5. In that fifth game, Bird scored 32 points and 11 rebounds. Boston won 111-109 to keep the Celtics alive.

The series went seven, with Boston rallying to pull out a 91-90 victory at home in the series clincher. Five of the seven games were decided by two points or less. Boston won the first of its three championships by defeating the Houston Rockets in six games in the 1981 NBA Finals.

The following season, the Celtics nearly rallied from another 3-1 series deficit to the Sixers in the conference finals. The Sixers, however, came up big in Game 7 at Boston Garden when Andrew Toney put up 34 points as the Sixers exacted revenge with a 120-106 victory.

The Celtics turned things around during Game 6 in 1981, thanks to an announcement and a Maxwell fight


As a Rookie, Larry Bird Was Asked to Write Down How Many Wins He Thought the Boston Celtics Would Have That Season

After the Celtics cut their series deficit to 3-2 during the 1981 postseason, they faced their stiffest challenge. They had to play in a hostile Philadelphia environment with the Sixers seeking to clinch a Finals berth. Boston hadn’t won there in years, and the Sixers were a confident group. According to Cedric Maxwell, the Sixers made a costly mistake in the second quarter. It had nothing to do with the play on the court.

“We were down 13 after the first quarter,” Maxwell wrote in his book If These Walls Could Talk. “Early in the second, legendary Sixers public address announcer Dave Zinkoff announced that, ‘Tickets for the NBA Finals will be available immediately after tonight’s game.’ It was like somebody put a lightning bolt into us. I call it ‘balls to the wall basketball.’ This was for our collective lives.”

Soon after the announcement that seemed to fire up the Celtics players, Maxwell pumped his team up even more.

“Shortly after the ticket announcement, Darryl Dawkins and I were battling for a loose ball, and he knocked me into the stands,” he wrote. “As I headed back toward the court, a Philly fan told me to ‘Get back in the f***ing game.’ I went after him with a flying forearm. Within seconds, our whole team was in the stands.”

Even mild-mannered Celtics center Robert Parish said that fight turned things around.

“It turned out to be a positive, even though nobody endorses going into the stands,” Parish said, via Maxwell’s book. “It turned out to be a positive in terms of our attitude and approach for the series.”

The Celtics rallied for a 100-98 win and then pulled out the one-point win at home in Game 7.

“We couldn’t have been more hated than we were in Philadelphia, and we still won,” Maxwell wrote.