The Philadelphia 76ers were making few excuses for their stunning playoff loss to the Bullets yesterday. Most insisted the seven-day layoff between their playoff games was not a factor. "That," said Doug Collins, "would be a copout."
"Just give the Bullets a lot of credit," added Julius Erving. "The difference was Washington's consistency, their pose and their discipline. They had control of the game the whole time, and those guys can sense they've got a shot now. It's gonna be a real tough series."
To a man, the 76ers believed they had this game under control after Dough Collins' dramatic 21-foot shoot at the buzzer sent the game into overtime and brought many patrons back from the parking lot.
"I don't think there was any way we could lose after that shot," said guard Lloyd Free, who kept his team in contention in the first half with his usual out-of-this-world jump-shooting."
"When Doug made that shot, everybody started jumping around and hugging each other. The guys were emotional and that can take something out of you. We knew in our minds we had the game. But the Bullets stayed cool, so what else can you say?"
Philadelphia seemed to be playing in a fog most of the day. The 76er running game was slowed to a creep, they were dominated on the offensive boards and only fine play from reserves Free and Steve Mix kept them going.
Many in the crowd of 13,706 were streaming out the door when Free missed two free throws - the second one on purpose, he said - with 11 seconds-left in the game. Greg Ballard grabbed the rebound of Free's second miss, was fouled and hit two free throws for Washington for a four point lead with nine seconds remaining.
"But you can't give yp in situations like that," said 76er forward George McGinnis. Darryl Dawkins jammed home an Erving miss with five seconds left and Philadelphia went into a full-court press in hopes of stealing the inbounds pass or forcing a jump ball.
"It worked out perfect," said McGinnis. "I just kept my eye on the ball when it came in, and we got lucky." McGinnis managed to tie up Bullet guard Tom Henderson, batted the jump ball to Collins and "I went crazy when that shot went down."
"I thought we'd do the job on them in the overtime," said McGinnis. "But they did a great job of keeping their composure. They hit the offensive boards and they were the opportunists today. They took full advantage."
"We're going to have to work a lot harder and make them play our game," said Collins, who hit only six of 17 field goal attempts for 12 points far from his regular-season 52 percent shooting and 20-point average.
"They did what they wanted to all day long. The shot I made was great at the time, but it doesn't mean a thing right now. It just gave us five more minutes to play, and we blew it."
Free sat in front of his locker perusing postgame statistics and focussed specifically on the rebounding figures. The Bullets had a 64-57 advantage on the boards, a 25-17 margin in offensive rebounds.
"Once you outerbound our team you've got us" Free said. "If we can't run and have time to set up plays, we're in trouble. That's been our history and now we've got to do something about it.
"It seemed the Bullets had more determination. They went after every rebound, they got all the loose balls. They really wanted it bad, and they got it."
None of the 76ers was about to concede this series to the Bullets after one loss. "I don't think anyone's lost any confidence," McGinnis said. "I don't think this club will die."
"I'm a confident player and I believe in our team," added Erving. "I think we can win the series, sure. We didn't take them lightly. We just didn't play with the emotion or discipline we're used to.
"They didn't play harder than us, they just played better. But I see things that are correctable. We'll be back. It'll just make it harder.