Julius (Dr. J) Erving worked his magic on the Boston Celtics tonight, but the Philadelphia 76ers still needed a big defensive play from Caldwell Jones and Maurice Cheeks in the final seconds to pull out a 99-97 victory at the Spectrum.
The 76ers now lead the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final series, 2-1.
The fourth game will be at the Spectrum Friday night.
Erving scored 22 of his game-high 28 points in the second half and also contributed 11 rebounds, seven assists, five steals and a blocked shot.
It was his eighth straight points in the fourth period that gave the 76ers a seemingly safe 90-76 lead with 6:10 to play.
But the Celtics kept plugging away. Sparked by Larry Bird, M. L. Carr, Tiny Archibald and Pete Maravich, they cut the lead to seven points at 99-92 with 1:26 left.
After an Erving turnover, Maravich scored a layup to make the score 99-94.
Lionel Hollins missed a jumper for the 76ers and Bird drilled a three-point shot with 39 seconds left to cut the advantage to 99-97.
Hollins missed another jumper with 20 seconds left and Carr rebounded for Boston. Carr dribbled to the 10 second line and called timeout with 16 seconds to play.
The Celtics worked the ball around, but as Carr tried to force a pass into Dave Cowens with four seconds left, Caldwell Jones knocked it loose and Cheeks picked it up in a scramble and then dribbled the time away.
Bird was magnificent for the Celtics as he scored 22 points, including three or four three-point shots and added 21 rebounds and four assists. But this game belonged to Erving.
For one of the few times in the career, the Doctor got downright angry on the court and he displayed it "the way I was taught to -- by taking it to the hole."
What angered Erving was the defensive play of Carr.
Early in fourth period, Erving drove for a layup and Carr threw a hip into him, knocking him to the floor. No foul was called.
The next time down the floor, Erving was leading a fast break with the ball and took off from near the top of the key. He jumped almost completely over Carr and swooped in a windmill layup and crashed to the floor in an incredible play.
Erving said he felt Carr threw a hip into him again on that play and told Carr so. Carr didn't like it and official Jake O'Donnel had to step between them.
"I wanted to question him (Carr) on what kind of game he was playing," Erving said. "I didn't want to let it pass.He used his hip on me two plays in a row to knock me off balance, and he did it in the game Sunday, too. I wasn't going to attack him or anything like that. That's not my style. I just didn't want to let it pass without saying anything."
When play resumed, Erving went right at Carr three straight times, scoring on a vicious hook dunk, on a baseline drive ad on a soft 17-foot jumper.
That last basket gave the 76ers their 90-76 lead.
Erving's most spectacular play came near the end of the third period. He had the ball to the left of the basket, 12 feet away. He started to take a jump shot, but Cowens dropped off him. Erving then decided to drive and when both Cowens and Rick Robey jumped out to stop him, he leaped over both of them and threw down a fallaway hook dunk that brought the 18,276 in attendance up and screaming.
The game didn't start out as if it would be very notable for Erving.
"I didn't have my rhythm or anything in the first half," Erving said. "I couldn't do anything offensively and Cedric (Maxwell) was killing me at the other end."
In an attempt to contain Bird, who had 31 points in Sunday's game, Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham put the 7-1 Caldwell Jones on his tonight and put Erving on Maxwell.
Maxwell scored 15 points in the first quarter, but had only two the rest of the game.
Erving made only two of seven shots and had six points at halftime and the 76ers were down, 47-45.
"At halftime I made a reevaluation and decided to play with more reckless abandon and go up strong everytime I had a shot," Erving said. "If it still wasn't there, I would have asked Billy to take me out."
But it was there.
An 18-footer off the glass by Erving tied the score at 51 with 9:40 left in the third period and he put the 76ers ahead to stay with another 18-footer four minutes later.
"We were successful tonight because we were able to turn it into a running game," Erving said. "Once we got the big lead, though, we slowed it down and tried to protect the lead and that let them catch us."