Seven minutes before the end, a dozen fans unfurled a banner that said: "The Blazer Dynasty Has Begun." But victory - and the NBA championship - would, in fact, be in doubt unil the final shot, which made it all the more dramatic.
Nobody in NBA history has won a title in quite the fashion as the Blazers. This was the first year of their existence, after all, that they had won more games than they lost; the coach was fired last year; the two leading scorers were traded; and alleged radical is the quintessential team player.
"And it's even better," Bill Walton said, "because it's the first time all the best people are together. The merger, you know; we're all one league. It's even better than at UCLA, because when we won there not all the best players in the country were involved in the NCAA tournament. Erving and McGinnis had gone pro early."
Is there a lesson here? George McGinnis thought so.
"No matter what happens to me or anyone else," he said, "the 76ers should be proud of ourselves for learning something big in this series. And it was a big lesson - that there is no substitute for concentration and hard work all the time.
"We were a team that had a tendency to cut corners because we had so much talent. But we came out today and we said: 'Hey, there's only one way we're going to beat this team and that's with hard work.'
"And we worked hard."
And came up one basket short, 109-107.
If there were several reasons for Portland going from a 37-45 record to the NBA championship in one year, veteran Larry Steele succinctly described the one overwhelming one: "Bill Walton was healthy."
In six years here, Steele has seen it all, and he saw very early this season that - barring injuries - the Blazers would be an exceptional force.
"It was there the first day of fall camp, at a meeting," he said. "A couple of guys walked in late - and they were immediately fined. It was no big deal - they were four minutes late and I think it cost them $8 - but in his quiet way Jack Ramsay established the discipline we'd needed. And he kept it."
Because he scored so well in the final two games, Bob Gross was considered by those who did the voting as a possibility for most valuable player of the series. The thought lasted only a moment. Gross is a marvelous supporting player, the sort the Bullets always seem to be lacking in the playoffs, but Walton is the reason Portland is dancing in the streets.
And he was acting himself, in fact still swatting away shots of sorts long after the game had ended.
"Hey," he said to Brent Musberger after a post'game interview. "Make sure that stuff about The Grateful Dead gets on their air. They'll all be watching. "It was about that time a young Blazer enthusiast - perched on a chair - became so overcome with emotion that he began pouring champagne onto Walton's head.
Angry, Walton turned and slapped the bottle 10 feet away, against a wall, the way he had done to so many players in the regular season and the playoffs. Still, he was cordial - to the press - and candid.
"This is one of the best wins ever," he said, "but it's not the most exciting game I've played in. That was the second playoff game this year, in Chicago. Why? Because there were 38 lead changes and 22,000 fans going out of their minds, and intense atmosphere and 10 guys playing great."
The Blazers lost.
Today, after becoming the first NBA team to win the championship series in six games after losing the first two, each Blazer had his own special inner glow of satisfaction. Ramsey's probably shone the brightest because he has endured the most, from the taint of a scandal while at St. Joseph's College to leaving coaching for a year because the game was affecting his health to a variety of problems in eight NBA seasons.
"I took a walk around town," he said once after an especially tough loss in Detroit, "and couldn't even get mugged."
After being fired last season by Buffalo, Ramsey molded the sort of team he always dreamed of.
"When you're choosing a career," he said, "you want something which you can do well. I chose basketball because it was what I always wanted to do. I've enjoyed it all - and this is the best moment of all." He did not mind being drenched with champagne.
Midway through the third quarter, Ramsey had seen what most Blazer fans had not - his team gradually slipping into the sort of casual style that could give the 76ers just what they needed to recover from a 12-point deficit.
He called time. But the 76ers cut the lead to eight. He called time again. But Philadelphia kept coming on. In the end, what mattered so much were all the plays that seemed rather incosnequential at the time.
Gross had slipped inside his defender twice and scored on off-balance tipins. Another time, he drove left into the free-throw land and, while being pushed threw up on off-balance shot that slipped in. No foul was called. When the 76ers once cut the lead to four, Corky Calhoun broke free and caught a length-of-the-court pass for an unmolested dunk.
And Johnny Davis once missed a 10-foot jumper from the corner that skipped off the rim. Incredibly, Davis got his own rebound.- on the other side of the floor - and flipped the ball to Walton for a layup.
A longtime Bullet watcher mentioned the play, but Davis did not recall it. That sort of things was common here.