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The underachieving Boston Celtics are no stranger to blowing huge leads. Twice this season alone, they’ve coughed up 19-point cushions in the second half. It’s not just the current Celtics who let big leads slip away. When Larry Bird and Charles Barkley squared off in a key battle for playoff position in 1988, Boston choked big time, and it wound up being a milestone victory for Barkley.

Charles Barkley always struggled against Larry Bird and the Celtics in Boston

Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers talks with Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics during an NBA game on April 18, 1991, at the Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. | Bruce Bennett Studios via Getty Images Studios/Getty Images

It took Barkley four years to finally get a victory over Bird and the Celtics at the Boston Garden. Sir Charles was 0-for-13 (playoffs included) in Boston. That 13th straight loss came on Dec. 20, 1987, and was ugly. Boston won by 37 points, and it seemed Barkley was jinxed in the Garden.

For his first three years in the NBA, Barkley and the Sixers lost all three regular-season meetings against the Celtics on the road. During his rookie year, he faced the Celtics in the postseason, dropping all three in Boston.

The Sixers came close a few times, losing a game by two points during the 1985-86 season and then another by two again the following year. For the most part, the Celtics blew out Barkley and the Sixers on the parquet floor. Six times Boston won by 11 points or more during that stretch.

Then came March 25, 1988. As usual, the Celtics took control, this time building up a 30-point lead. Barkley turned this up a notch in the second half and finally got that elusive win.

Charles Barkley dominated, while Larry Bird had a rough night as the Celtics blew a huge lead

The Philadelphia 76ers and Celtics were battling for the playoff position in late March 1988. The Celtics were hoping to secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference while the Sixers were trying to lock up the final spot. Boston had been to the NBA Finals the last four seasons, but the Detroit Pistons were coming on strong to challenge them for East supremacy.

The game started like many of the other Sixers at Celtics games, with Boston dominating. Boston led 64-37 at halftime. The Celtics led by as many as 30. The Sixers outscored the Celtics 30-20 in the third quarter and then blew them away in the fourth, 30-9.

It was Barkley who took charge in the final 12 minutes, scoring 22 of his 29 points. Bird struggled throughout, finishing with 21 points but missing 21 of his 29 shots from the floor. The Sixers rallied for an improbable 97-93 victory, gaining sole possession of the eighth playoff spot in the process.

“Even if we had lost, it didn’t matter; I was just proud to be a Sixer tonight,” said Barkley, according to United Press International. “I’m glad that whole tribe of monkeys is off my back.”

The Boston Celtics were booed off their home court

The Celtics’ collapse was so bad that their fans showered the players with boos in the final seconds and as they left the court. It was one of the worst home losses in recent memory.

“We were pretty invincible in the first half and pretty much died in the second,” Boston guard Danny Ainge said. “It’s ridiculous and never should have happened.

“It’s pretty embarrassing to come off the court and get booed by your home crowd. But we deserved it. It was just a pitiful effort.”

Although Barkley had his night, his Sixers finished the season 36-46 and failed to hold on to that final playoff spot.

The Celtics won an East-best 57 games but lost to the second-seeded Pistons in six games in the Eastern Conference Finals.


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