The Philadelphia 76ers were too quick, too deep and too good for the Washington Bullets, speeding to a 112-104 victory at Capital Centre last night to end their best-of-three Eastern Conference first-round playoff in two games.
The Bullets were totally outclassed for most of the game as the 76ers unleashed a devastating fast break that left the breathless Bullets panting and frustrated.
Julius Erving led the winners with 31 points and five assists, flashing true "Dr. J" form.
"I felt sorry for our guards," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "They were coming at them in waves of three on one, four on one and everything all night."
Two unlikely candidates, Larry Wright and John Williamson, sparked the Bullets on a furious fourth-quarter comeback that conjured visions of a miracle for the 18,397 customers.
Williamson scored all 14 of his points in the final quarter and Wright had 10 in the third period, 22 overall, as the Bullets struggled to overcome a 23-point third-quarter deficit.
A pair of Williamson baskets cut the 76er lead to 106-102 with 1:25 left. But after a 24-second violation against the Sixers returned possession to Washington with a minute to play, Williamson got pinned along the sideline by Erving and Lionel Hollins and lost the ball. Erving converted the turnover into a fast-break layup, ending the Bullets' rush, and their season.
"I've never seen Philadelphia any better, especially in the first half," Motta said. "In the four years since Dr. J's been with them, that's the best I've seen them. They got a fast break out of every possible opportunity. We got Caldwell Jones in foul trouble and he's the one who killed us in the first game, so they bring in Bobby Jones and he rips us. It's not fair that they have so many good players.
Bobby Jones led the 76ers on a 10-0 tear at the end of the first quarter and they led, 31-20. Jones had four of those points and another reserve, Henry Bibby, had four.
The 76ers still were up by 11 early in the second period when Jones scored on an incredible shot. He drove from the right side, but as he went up for his shot, Kevin Grevey cut him off and appeared to be in perfect position to block the shot. Jones switched the ball to his left hand and banked it in. Grevey never knew what happened.
Jim Cleamons tried a short jumper over Darryl Dawkins on the Bullets' next possession and Dawkins jumped up and swatted it like a rocket, 10 feet past the midcourt line. Maurice Cheeks caught up to it, coasted in for an uncontested layup and put the 76ers' bulge at 37-22.
Coach Billy Cunningham decided to rest centers Dawkins and Caldwell Jones midway through the second period. He used a three-forward alignment with Bobby Jones, Steve Mix and Erving. They were spectacular.
The Bullets were tiring badly by then and the 76ers cashed in fast break after fast break. Mix and Erving each scored 10 points in the quarter and the Sixers led at the half, 64-46.
In the first half alone, the three Philadelphia reserves who played, Mix, Jones and Henry Bibby, combined for 13-of-19 shooting and 31 points.
The Bullets, bench scored 17 first-half points, 11 by Wright, all in the second quarter.
Erving was the leading scorer in the half with 16 points. The Bullet big men, Hayes and Ballard, had made only five of 21 shots.
Philadelphia opened the third period with five straight points and took a 69-46 lead. The halftime rest just didn't seem to benefit the Bullets much.
Six straight points by Wright at the end of the quarter drew the Bullets within 85-70 going into the final quarter.
A 5-0 76er streak at the start of the third quarter gave them their biggest lead of the night, 69-43. They appeared to ease up a bit the rest of the way and the Bullets were able to close with a rush.
Erving was bothered by a sore knee and was ineffective in the first game of the series at the Spectrum Wednesday.
He was the Doctor of old last night. His swooping moves were unstoppable, and when the Bullets dropped off him, he canned his 18-foot jumpers.
One of Erving's most impressive plays came the first time he got his hands on the ball in the fourth period. He took a pass down low to the right of the basket, and, as he went up to shoot, glided underneath to the left side. He then spun 360 degrees, banking in a reverse layup.
The 76ers outscored the Bullets on fast-break opportunities, 51-16. The Sixers outrebounded the Bullets, 45-40, guards Cheeks and Hollins leading the way with nine and eight, respectively.
"They kept coming up with all the long rebounds and everything," said Grevey, stopped with seven points. "They capitalized on every mistake we made. You have to be at the top of your game to beat them.
"I think we did the best we could against them. They just play good, hard basketball. They take it to you. They don't say a thing. They just play." b
And now, the Bullets just go home.