The Philadelphia 76ers had won three in a row and actually thought they were ready to challenge the Boston Celtics for supremacy in the East.
Despite all the injuries that have deprived them of several big men, the 76ers needed only a victory Sunday night at Boston to take over first place in the Atlantic Division.
Instead, they went through their most humiliating experience in more than 20 years. They were so thoroughly beaten that Boston rookie Mark Acres, averaging 3.5 points per game, tied Larry Bird for scoring honors with 19 points.
The Celtics scored the first eight points of the game, had a 39-point lead at halftime and breezed to a 124-87 victory. The third win in a row since losing to the Lakers 10 days ago was the Celtics' biggest margin over the 76ers in a regular season game. The previous biggest margin was 34 points in 1963. The biggest margin ever was 40 points, in a 121-81 playoff victory over the 76ers in 1982.
In their first really impressive performance of the season, the Celtics dominated every department. They shot 73% from the field in the first half, controlled the boards at both ends, blocked shots, stole the ball and forced the inept 76ers into numerous turnovers.
A month ago the 76ers beat the Celtics by 31 points when Bird and Kevin McHale were out with injuries. In recent games, the tremendous play of Charles Barkley had enabled the 76ers to move within a game of the Celtics.
Back at full strength, the Celtics quickly let the 76ers know they were still top dog in the East. They easily nullified and frustrated Barkley. Although he scored 18 points in 27 minutes, Barkley was never a real factor and hobbled off with an ankle injury in the third quarter.
It was so easy that most of the Boston reserves played more minutes than they had in any other game. Acres, a 6-11 center who spent last season in Italy, played 26 minutes and was 7 for 9 from the field.
Until this game it appeared the 76ers had overcome the loss by injuries of 7-footers Tim McCormick and Chris Welp.
The teams meet again Tuesday night at Philadelphia. The 76ers can't really be looking forward to it with confidence, although they took it as just another loss.
"We lost, but it ain't that big a deal," Barkley said. "It's no big deal. They'll come to our place Tuesday night and we'll be ready.
"The bottom line is they manhandled us. There's no sense going berserk over it."
Portland 148, San Antonio 126--After winning only two of their first seven games, it appeared the Trail Blazers were in trouble.
Then, Clyde Drexler decided to take charge. The fifth-year pro from the University of Houston has blossomed into one of the best players in the league.
Drexler scored 25 of his season-high 40 points in the first half at Portland as the Blazers built a 24-point lead, then breezed to their fourth victory in a row. The Blazers are 13-3 since their poor start.
Although Leon Wood sank seven 3-pointers, one off Rick Barry's league record, the Spurs were never in the game.
Phoenix 120, Sacramento 109--Larry Nance scored a career-high 45 points and had 15 rebounds at Sacramento to lead the Suns to victory.
Nance, who was 17 for 25 from the field, had considerable help from center James Edwards. Edwards had 23 points and 12 rebounds as the Suns ended a four-game losing streak.
Cleveland 127, Indiana 116--Brad Daugherty scored 11 points and John Williams 10 in a 38-point third quarter rally at Richfield, Ohio that brought the Cavaliers from behind.
The Pacers built an 11-point first quarter lead and still led, 78-69, midway through the third quarter before Daugherty and Williams went to work.