Julius Erving and Darryl Dawkins scored 30 points each tonight as the Philadelphia 76ers raced from 10 points down at the half to beat Atlanta Hawks, 105-100, and win their best-of-seven NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoff, 4-1.
The 76ers face the Boston Celtics for the conference championship in best-of-seven play beginning Friday night in Boston. The Celtics breezed past Houston in four straight games in their semifinal series.
Erving was his famously graceful self tonight, as he use his finesse to contribute six rebounds, five assists, five blocked shots and three steals to his night's work.
Strength, not finesse, is Dawkins' main game. Dawkins grabbed 11 rebound blocked two shots and assisted on two baskets, and his intimidating presence caused all sorts of problems for the Hawks.
"The way Darryl played in the second half was the key," said Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham. "I don't mean just his offense, either, but his defense, too. He was incredible."
The 76ers scarcely looked inspired in the first half and with Atlanta's John Drew and Eddie Johnson scoring 13 and 15 points, respectively, the Hawks moved to a 53-43 halftime lead.
Philadelphia opened the third period by outscoring the visitors, 16-4, to take a 59-57 lead. Dawkins and Erving provided the spark.
A crashing dunk shot by Dawkins that knocked Atlanta's strongest player, Dan Roundfield, flat on his back, cut the Atlanta lead to 57-52. After two free throws by Maurice Cheeks, dawkins blocked a shot by Drew and set the stage for a three-point play by Erving.
On Atlanta's next possession, Erving blocked Steve Hawes' shot and started break points and a 59-57 Philadelphia lead.
The score was 65-65 when Dawkins showed that he can be just as effective from long range as underneath the baskets. Working against the 6-foot-10 Hawes, Dawkins drilled in an 18-foot shot from the right side and two straight turnaround 18-footers from the left. The six consecutive points created a 71-65 lead.
The 76ers never trailed after that and about then, the capacity crowd of 18,276 in the Spectrum started chanting, "We want Boston. We want Boston."
"We'll get them soon enough," said Dawkins.
"We played like a team tonight. We passed the ball and got it to the open man. That's how we're going to have to play if we're going to win this whole thing."
Dawkins had averaged 11 points in the first four games of this series and said he didn't feel very well before tonight's game. It took him a while "to get into it," he admitted.
"I started feeling better as the game went on," he said. "In the beginning, though, I was just tired. I felt like they tied me to the back of John Wayne's horse and drug me three miles.
"I got going in the second half because the guards and forwards were getting me the ball," Dawkins continued. "I'm a superstitious person, so I'm not going to jinx myself by saying that was my best game or anything like that."
The Hawks got 29 point from forward Drew in his first strong showing of the series. Johnson finished with 21 and Roundfield 18, but with no one to contain Dawkins, the Hawks were in trouble.
Seven-foot center Tree Rollins aggravated a sprained ankle in the first quarter and was ineffective the entire game. The Hawk center fouled out after playing a mere 13 minutes. He never took a shot and had one rebound and one blocked shot.
His backup, Hawes, collected 13 points and seven rebounds but was powerless to keep the 76ers from penetrating.
The first two games of the Philadelphia-Boston series will be at Boston Garden, Friday and Saturday. Games 3 and 4 will be at the Spectrum Wednesay, April 23, and Friday, April 25.