Calvin Murphy, Rudy Tomjanovich and Mike Newlin are the old gang of the Houston Rockets, the team's nuclear family. Murphy and Tomjanovich have labored for this club for seven years. Newlin for six. None of them has played for any other proteam.
They are the only players on the roster who have been together the last six years, including some seasons of famine before Moses Malone arrived to lead, or launch, the Rockets into the promised land.
And so it was fitting that the Three Musketeers should soar into their first NBA Eastern Conference final together, shooting unconsciously, all for one and one for all. When it got down to take-off time, the Rockets' nuclear family seemed nuclear-powered, not to mention radar-guided.
Playmaker Murphy, sharpshooter Tomjanovich and supersub Newlin were the heart, soul, and artillery of the Rockets when it mattered most, in the torrid final five minutes of yesterday's 103-103 victory over the Washington Bullets at Capital Centre.
They gave a memorable display of presence, confidence, elan, and long-range accuracy, scoring the Rockets' last 17 points from an 89-89 the with 5:25 left, as it would turn out, in the Bullets' season.
Newlin started the spurt with 5:05 left on the clock, arching a kind of leaping set shot from 16 feet that seemed to go at least twice that distance up in the air before swishing to make it 91:89, Houston, and catch-me-if-you-can.
From then on, the Three Musketeers were so hot (nine for nine from the floor) that the Bullets would have been scalded even if they had worn asbestos uniforms.
Newlin was lour for four jumpers from 22.16, and 21 feet and a running hook from nine feet out in the lane, Tomjanovich was also four for four, the last three from 25 feet. Murphy, who scored 40 points as the Rockets took a 3-2 lead in the series at Houston Friday night, was one for one from 16 feet.
"I was off today, so I went to Rudy and Mike," said the 5-foot-10 Murphy, who was drafted out of Niagara in 1970. He was the second-round pick that year. Tomjanovich the first, out of Michigan. They moved with the Rockets from San Diego to Houston for the 1971-72 season, and Newlon joined them that season as a second-round pick from Utah.
"This is what makes us a winning team," Murphy went on. "We have so many guys who can shoot in the clutch, we don't have to depend on any one guy.
"I got 40 the other night, but I was cold today five of 15 from the floors.If I had to get 40 for us to win today we'd have lost big.But Rudy, Mike, Dwight Jones who began the Rocket's 10-for-10 streak with a 12-foot baseline jumper with 5-48 5:48 left they all made big hoops.
"We've always been a good shooting club the seven years I've been here added Murphy. "What we've gained this year is defense and boards. We've built around Moses."
Malone, the 6-10 20-year-old man child in a promisd land arrived from Buffalo in November.
With him, No. 1 draft choice John Lucas, the 6-2 guard from Maryland who blends so well with Murphy and Newlin in a revolving backcourt, and the Three Musketeers, Houston suddenly had itself a contender.
"Moses gave us the scoring and rebounding we needed underneath," said Murphy. "We already had shooters, a bench and a coach (Tom Nissalke) who lest us improvise and take the shoots when we fell we have them. He isn't a dictator who takes away your natural ability."
As befits a jubilant winning locker room, all the Rockets were talking about teamwork, unity, a group effort.
"I would like to take all the credit, but I'm not going to," said Newlin, a 65.200-pound marvel of intensity and hustle who explodes constructively under pressure.
Newlin claims he is motivated not intimidated, by unbearable tension.
"I love it, I feel most relaxed when the pressure is greatest." he said. "It reduces the situation to where you can see the result immediately. You either make the play or you don't."
There was talk around the NBA in January, when the Rockets were in financial trouble and the Boston Celtics needed a guard to replace the injured Charlie Scott, that Newlin was bound for Boston. It seemed possible, because his exuberant style of play fits the Celtie mold perfectly.
"I never thought I was going because, contractually, I have some say," Newlin said yesterday.
"The Celtics are one team I'd consider going to, but really don't want to go anywhere. I love Houston. I have a lot of Rocket in me. Me, Rudy and Calvin have played so long together," concluded the 23-year-old junior member of the Three Musketeers. "I wouldn't know what to do without them.