The Philadelphia 76ers cast a 6-foot-11 center in a guard's role today and he dribbled them to a 107-101 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers in the first game of the National Basketball Association championship series.
Julius (Dr. J) Erving did his usual damage with 33 points and his Barnum & Bailey moves, and sharp-shooter Doug Collins added 30, but it was a sly move by coach Gene Shue, in using center Caldwell Jones, all 6-11 of him, to bring the ball upcourt that ultimately did in the Trial Blazers.
Part of Portland's strength lies in its ability to apply pressure in the backcourt. It didn't work today.
"We did what we felt we had to do," Shue said. "They'd kill us if we let their guards double team and press us, so we attacked them somewhere else. We took away their pressure by letting our center bring the ball upcourt."
Bill Walton would not go down and pressure Jones in the backcourt, so Jones met little resistance.
"I thought it was a good tactic," Portland coach Jack Ramsay said. "We had nothing to combat it."
Since they didn't get easy baskets through their pressure defense, the Trail Blazers had to work exceptionally hard at the offensive and, and they had trouble there.
They committed an atrocious 34 turnovers that led to 26 Philadelphia points.
Ramsay had no explanation.
"It wasn't the layoff and it was their press - they did press," Ramsay said. "We just turned the ball over. I don't think we took advantage of anything. We were overanxious, and it showed."
Walton, sporting a new short haircut, led Portland with 28 points and grabbed a game-high 20 rebounds, but he had only three assists.
Normally when Walton scores that much, Portland is in trouble because that means the Blazers aren't doing other things very well.
Turnovers and foul trouble were the Blazers' primary hindrances. Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins and Bob Gross all fouled out.
Jones, who scored eight points, fouled out for Philadelphia, but by then had done hisjob.
"I don't work much in the offense, so I might as well help out bringing the ball up," Jones said."I played a little bit of guard in college, you know, so I know what I was doing."
As has been the case with the 76ers whenever their backs are against the wall, they went to the Doctor.
Erving had 10 points in the first quarter, but his total was matched by Gross, the Trail Blazers' small forward who had the unenviable task of facing Erving most of the day.
Gross did everything possible to contain Erving, but as he said, "The (the 76ers) were looking to him much that there wasn't much I can do."
Gross tried to deny Erving the by sometimes and play behind him offers.
"You have to try to fool him in his you are going to play him," Gross said, "but he's so smart that he usually knows the right thing to do."
Neither team was able to pull away until the 76ers outscored the Trail Blazers, 10-2, late in the third period to break away from a 73-73 ties to an 83-75 lead.
Collins, shooting over Hollins, had six of the points in that spurt. He finished with 13 for the quarter and Erving 12 as the 76ers took that eight-point lead into the final quarter.
The lead disminished quickly.
Walton scored six points in the first three minutes of the quarter and Portland went on to outscore Phildelphia, 9-2, and pull within a point, 88-87.
Five staright points by Erving got tthe 76ers another cushion, and they kept it until Portland ran off six straight points, four by Lucas, to cut the gap to 101-99 with 1:40 to play.
Oprtland didn't score again, until only four seconds remained and Philedelphia had won a 107-99 lead.
In the meantime, Darryl Dawkins grabbed a missed Collins shot and was fouled by Lucas. He made both free throwns to give Philadelphia a 103-99 lead.
Then Collins took the ball away from Gilliam and fed Dawkins who was fouled in the backcourt. He made one free throw to increase the lead to five points.
Dawkin then blocked a Larry Steele shot and fed Collins for a 24-footer with 35 seconds left to seal the victory.
The second game of the best-of-seven series will be Thursday at the Spectrum here.