November 2, 1980
Let us not get carried away. This game was not the re- creation of the Phoenix Triple OT. It was not one of the most artistic representations of basketball ever seen. It might not even rank among the Ten Most Memorable Games of 1980-81, when it's all said and done this season.
However, it was what the NBA would like to think its league is all about. Two ancient rivals, the Athens and Sparta of the NBA (which is strictly at the discretion of the beholder), met in basketball combat for the first time this season. The Chief Athenian and the Chief Spartan (again, this depends on your point of view) chose this occasion to demonstrate why each has adherents who say nobody can play better. Their teammates scratched and clawed and left their guts spilled all over the Spectrum.
The home team won, probably for that reason alone. The Philadelphia 76ers came from 13 points down to open the fourth quarter, gained a tie with nine seconds left in regulation when Darryl Dawkins performed an athletic feat that 6-foot-11 men of a generation ago could only have dreamed of and then rode the ever-dazzling heroics of chief surgeon Dr. Julius Erving to a 117-113 overtime triumph last night before 13,716 and the first regular-season home TV audience in Philadelphia history.
What Dawkins (24 points on 8-for-9 shooting) did was tie the game with nine seconds left in regulation by artfully depositing a Doug Collins miss into the basket with what could only be termed a floating scoop-down. Collins had taken a pass from the double-teamed Erving and thrown up a glorified free throw. The ball spun away from the rim and Dawkins, moving in from the right, went over the pack and steered the ball straight down into the hoop. Even the Bulgarian judge would have given him a 9.8 on the maneuver.
"I was on the other side of the lane, just one step down from the foul line," reflected Dawkins. "That's probably the only time I've ever watched the flight of the ball. I just went up and put it back in. I don't think it was anything spectacular." He may change his mind when he views the tape.
Dawkins' tying basket meant that Larry Bird was doomed to play the 1965 Jerry West role of Noble Loser. For it was the Birdman whose swisher from the deep right corner had given the Celtics a 103-101 lead with 16 seconds to play. Those were points 30 and 31 in what would wind up a scintillating 36- point, 21-rebound (a career high) night, by far his most productive performance of the season.
The problem with Bird's showing was that it was only good for the No. 2 star of the evening. Only the most open-minded of Philadelphia citizens left the Spectrum chirping about The Bird. Instead they left rhapsodizing about the play of Erving, who dumped in 45 points to establish a new personal (NBA) career high and who seemed to make every clutch shot Philadelphia needed in the course of this oft-crazy basketball exercise.
Try these examples: Erving scored Philadelphia's first eight points of the second half to bring his club to a 61-60 deficit after it had been down by nine (55-46) late in the half. Erving dropped in a foul-line jumper and made a spectacular all-the-way swooping drive (something he did three times) to kick off a fourth-quarter Sixer spurt that rescued them from that embarrassing 82-69 three-period deficit. Erving threw in two tough jumpers when the Sixers had fallen down by a 95-90 score with 5:10 left. Finally, it was Erving who scored six consecutive Sixer OT points (corner jumper, swooping drive and one- on-one fadeaway) as Philly moved from a 106-106 tie to a 113-108 lead with 1:35 to play.
The Celtics had a lot to think and/or complain about as they flew home. There was the 29-9 Philly free throws attempted edge in the first half (well- earned by the virtue of (a) an inside game (b) fast breaks and (c) simply being the quicker team*. There were the four foul-outs (Robert Parish, Kevin McHale, Cedric Maxwell and Tiny Archibald). There was the usual quota of suspicious calls, in this case by Earl Strom and rookie Bruce Alexander. And there was Boston's damaging inability to maintain offensive poise at some vital junctures.
Philly, meanwhile, played the final 26:03 without floor leader Maurice Cheeks, who sprained an ankle. They played the game under protest after Strom somehow gave the Celtics an extra five seconds on the shot clock with 1:48 left in regulation despite an obvious 24-second violation.
So the Sixers are up 1-0; that's all.