The Philadelphia 76ers looked like an ordinary team much of the time today but when necessary they turned on the juice to beat the Houston Rockets, 106-97, and take a 2-0 lead in their National Basketball Association Eastern Conference championship playoff series.
"There's no question about it, they just have more talent than we do," a dejected Houston coach Tom Nissalke said at the Spectrum.
"They (the 76ers) are the best team in basketball. "We'll make changes, we have to, but there isn't much we can do. We're slow and that's it. We don't have any smaller, quicker people we can go to starting lineup today, replacing 7-foot Kevin Kunnert with 6-6 Goo Kennedy. It didn't make much difference."
Tempo is the key to this series and the 76ers have controlled it in both games.
John Lucas is responsible for keeping the game at the pace Nissalke wants it - slow - but he has been ineffective.
Lucas is now thoroughly confused, as any rookie would probably be in the same situation.
"We've been intimidated and we've played like it," the 6-4 former Maryland All-America said. "We have to forget who we are playing and just go out and play our game."
Lucas scored only six points in the first game of the series and was limited to two today.
"I'm pressuring myself as to what is a god shot and what isn't." Lucas said. "We just had a lot more confidence in the series against the Bullets. But Washington isn't the team that this team is. If the Bullets were here they'd be in the same trouble we're in."
Nobody was particularly spectacular for the 76ers. Julius Erving was mild. He scored 18 points and had 10 assists, but nary a dunk.
George McGinnis had 12 points in the first quarter and finished with 21, one more than Doug Collins.
The Rockets were led by the irrepressible Calvin Murphy, all 5-9 of him. He finished with 32 points, which came on practically every type of shot imagineable.
The 76ers gradually moved ahead and held a 57-45 lead at halftime.
Murphy and Rudy Tomjanovich put on a shooting clinic in the third period and the Rockets got back in the game - for awhile.
Working against Erving, Tomjanovich made seven of eight shots in the period and Murphy, going against Henry Bibby and Lloyd Free, made six of seven shots as they combined for 28 of the Rockets' 32 third-quarter points.
A 25-footer by Tomjanovich, followed by a driving layup over Erving after a Collins miss, got the Rockets to within two points. Then, after Free threw a pass out of bounds, Mike Newlin drilled in a 15-footer to tie the score at 71-71 with 3:25 left in the period.
Free and Murphy exchanged baskets, but then McGinnis muscled a shot over John Johnson for a three-point play and a three-point Philadelphia lead. Collins stole the from Newlin and fed Steve Mix for a fast-break basket.
Houston came down on a three-on-two fast break, but Murphy's pass was picked off by Collins, who fed Mix for the layup and an 80-73 Philadelphia lead.
"That was the big play," Nissalke said.
Mix came up with a steal in the fourth period, intercepting a Lucas pass that resulted in an easy basket for Darryl Dawkins to cut off what was left of Houston's momentum.
Moses Malone was the big man offensively for the Rockets in the first game with 32 points, but with Caldwell Jones and Dawkins fronting him today, he wasn't a factor offensively. He made only three of 11 shots and looked frustrated much of the time.
The third and fourth games of the best-of-seven series will be in Houston Wednesday and Friday.
"It's up to them (the Rockets) now," said Mix. "If we go down and win just one of those games they're done."
"If we can keep the game in the game in the 90's we'll win,' Lucas said. "I'm going to come out shooting more Wednesday. I've tried not to shoot and pass the ball more these last two games and that didn't work. I'll try something new and if that doesn't work, I'll keep on trying until something works."