Bill Walton and the 1976-77 Portland Trailblazers (game 2)
Tue, Oct 26, 1976
The 1977 World Champion Portland Trailblazers came from nowhere. They were 38-44 in 1974-75, Walton's rookie year, then 37-45 in 1975-76. Even in 1976-77, Portland was just 49-33, good for the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference but not exactly a regular-season juggernaut.
One reason the Blazers surprised everyone was their age. Walton and power forward Maurice Lucas were 24. Forward Bob Gross was 23. Guards Lionel Hollins (23) and Johnny Davis (21) rounded out the starting lineup. Not one of them had any playoff experience.
Head Coach Jack Ramsay and assistant coach Jack McKinney were in their first year with the team. Seven of the players -- Maurice Lucas, Corky Calhoun, Dave Twardzik, Herm Gilliam, Robin Jones, Johnny Davis and Wally Walker -- were, too. Two others, Bob Gross and Lionel Hollins, had been rookies with the team the season before. The only veterans were Bill Walton, in his third year; Lloyd Neal, in his fifth; and Larry Steele, in his sixth.
The regular season had been no great shakes, although the team did win a franchise-high 49 games and did qualify for the playoffs for the first time. The team had a tough time on the road, going 14-27. In fact, it lost 10 of its last 14 regular season games away from home. But once the playoffs started it was lights out.
Portland defeated the Bulls 2-1 in the first round, Denver 4-2 in the second round and the Lakers 4-0 in the Western Conference Finals. But then came the NBA Finals against the favored 76ers of Julius Erving and George McGinnis. Philadelphia won only 50 games that year (the Lakers had the league's best record, 53-29; the modern NBA could use parity like that), but the Sixers were considered the emerging dynasty.
It looked like Portland had reached the end of its road after the first two games in Philly -- the Sixers won 107-101, then 107-89. But then the Blazers returned home to what was considered the best home crowd in the league (another Thunder likeness) and blasted the 76ers, 129-107 and 130-98. So then came Game 5 back in Philadelphia. And that's when the series turned and a legendary team was born. The Blazers played phenomenally, took a 22-point lead, fought off Philly in the fourth quarter and won 110-104. Two nights later back in Portland, Walton had 20 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists and eight blocked shots as the Blazers won 109-107 for the championship.
Blazer Maniacs sold out Memorial Coliseum, the first home arena, then into the early weeks in the Rose Garden, for 814 consecutive games, a span of 18 1/2 years. No one else is within 150 games of that. It mattered little that capacity at the Coliseum most of the time was 12,666 -- the support was unquestioned, and it was personal. Epitomizing the community feel of the moment, Walton pedaled his bike to the afternoon World Champship celebration, set it someplace and during his speech to the crowd simply asked that whoever used it next please return it. It was an amazing ride, and we hope our tribute will do it some justice.
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