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The Boston Celtics faced a familiar foe in the postseason for the third straight year. The Philadelphia 76ers stood between the Celtics and a berth in the NBA Finals, just like they did the previous two seasons.

The Celtics were fresh off a championship in 1981 after rallying from a 3-1 series deficit against the 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals. The teams met again in the ’82 conference finals. According to Larry Bird, a little cockiness and a lot of Caldwell Jones spelled doom for the Celtics.

Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics aimed for a title repeat in 1982

The Boston Celtics hadn’t posted back-to-back championships since 1969, but they had the perfect opportunity in 1982.

The Celtics has just won the first of their three championships of the decade when they knocked off the Houston Rockets in six games in the 1981 NBA Finals. The new-look Celts had given Larry Bird, their young star in his second season, plenty of support with one of their best trades in franchise history.

Boston held the first pick in the 1980 NBA Draft and sent it to the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics also added the No. 13 pick and received veteran center Robert Parish and the third overall pick. With the No. 3 pick, they selected Kevin McHale.

In their first season together, Bird, McHale, and Parish won a championship after leading the Celtics to a 62-20 record under head coach Bill Fitch. A repeat was on the minds of Celtics fans and players after the team improved on its record, finishing 63-19 in the 1981-82 season.

The Celtics were the only team with 60-plus wins that year, finishing five games ahead of the rival Sixers, who posted 58 victories, the second-best total in the NBA. After the Celtics took care of the Washington Bullets in the conference semifinals, the two Eastern Conference powerhouses squared off again.

Bird admitted the Celtics were cocky heading into the ’82 conference finals


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The Celtics were four wins from a return trip to the NBA Finals. The 76ers stood in the way once again, but Bird admitted the team was confident. He even said the Celtics were cocky, especially after they convincingly took care of business at home in Game 1.

Boston cruised to a 121-81 victory as Bird notched a triple-double with 24 points, 15 rebounds, and 10 assists.

“You can imagine how cocky we were feeling after we beat them by 40 in the first game,” Bird wrote in his book Drive: The Story of My Life. “We felt we had everything in order. We didn’t think anybody could beat us.”

Reality struck in Game 2. The 76ers stole homecourt advantage from the Celtics with a 121-113 victory. It was the turning point in the series, showing Philadelphia it could take care of business in Boston. While Andrew Toney led the Sixers with 30 points, Bird said it was Caldwell Jones who took the wind out of Boston’s sails.

“Philly came back and dumped us in the next game,” Bird said. “The guy who really hurt us was Caldwell Jones, who didn’t shoot the ball much as a rule. We left him alone, as we normally did, and he drilled five jumpers in the second half. He just demoralized us. All of a sudden, our cockiness was gone. Philly had knocked us down a peg.”

Jones finished with 22 points on 8-for-15 shooting. He also went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line and pulled down 11 rebounds.

Philadelphia won the next two at home, but the Celtics won Game 5 at home and came back to Philly and pulled out an 88-75 win to send the series back to Boston for a deciding Game 7. That’s when Toney really took charge. He scored 34 points in a 120-106 Sixers victory that sent them to the NBA Finals.