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Boston Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell announced he was the “goat” in 1981. It wasn’t after he was named 1981 NBA Finals MVP when his Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets in six games. He made the comment to reporters during the Eastern Conference Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers.

Maxwell admitted he was the goat after a 105-104 Celtics loss in Game 1 to their Eastern Conference rival. It’s a far cry from what that term means today.

Cedric Maxwell and the Boston Celtics rallied from 3-1 deficit to defeat the 76ers in 1981

Cedric Maxwell goes up to shoot over Bobby Jones of the Philadelphia 76ers during an NBA game circa 1980 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

During the 1980 playoffs, the 76ers made quick work of the Celtics in the conference finals. Philadelphia knocked out Boston in five games to make its way into the NBA Finals. The following year, the Sixers appeared to be on the same path, leading the series 3-1 heading into a Game 5 in Boston.

The Celtics and 76ers found themselves in heated battles during the 1981 conference finals. They were the top two teams in the East, and the winner would have a significant advantage over either opponent they faced out West. The Western Conference Finals featured two teams — the Houston Rockets and the Kansas City Kings — with losing records.

The Sixers looked to close out the deal in Boston. They held a six-point lead with 1:51 remaining, but the C’s outscored the Sixers 8-0 to pull out a 111-109 victory. It went all downhill from there for Philadelphia.

In a series where five of the seven games were decided by two points or less, there wasn’t a whole lot of margin for error. After blowing a golden opportunity in Game 5, the Sixers outdid themselves in Game 6.

Philadelphia held a 17-point lead at home, a place where Boston hadn’t won in the last 11 meetings. The Celtics clawed their way back for a 100-98 victory. In Game 7 in Boston, the Sixers went the final 5:23 without a field goal and saw a seven-point lead turn into a 91-90 loss, giving the Celtics a berth in the 1981 NBA Finals.

Larry Bird led the way with 23 points and 11 rebounds, while Maxwell added 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting.

Maxwell bounced back from a rough start to the series

After losing the series opener at home, the Celtics needed to regroup quickly in Game 2 before heading off to Philadelphia. They did just that.

The Celtics blew out the Sixers 118-99 behind Bird’s 34 points and 16 rebounds. Boston also did it on the defensive end as Maxwell helped shut down Julius Erving, who was held to 12 points on 5-for-14 shooting. Maxwell also had 14 points and eight rebounds in 27 minutes.

That came after he had 10 points and four personal fouls in Game 1. Erving also went for a team-high 25 points.

“I was the goat, in Game 1,” said Maxwell, per Sports Illustrated. “So I knew I needed to make up for it tonight.”

Back then, if you were the goat, it meant you screwed up. It meant you cost your team. It was not the high praise it is today. Maxwell more than made up for his Game 1 issues with a strong rest of the series and then a dominant Finals series, where he averaged 17.7 points and 9.5 rebounds to claim the MVP honors.

In one postseason run, Maxwell went from goat to GOAT.


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