The Philadelphia 76ers already had more than enough slam dunks, j ump shorts and egos needed to become world champions. Now they have added ingredients previous lacking -- teamwork, intelligence and patience -- and the final product is a high efficient basketball team that is steamrolling toward its first NBA title since 1967.
The 76ers are performing with their old flair, but doing it together. As a result they hold a commanding 3-1 advantage over the Boston Celtics in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final, and can advance to the championship round with a victory in the fifth game of the series Sunday at Boston Garden (WDVM-TV-9, 1 p.m.).
Only three teams in the history of the league have won a seven-game series after trailing 3-1. Boston did it against Philadelphia in 1968, Los Angeles against Phoenix in 1970 and Washington against San Antonio last year.
The Lakers, who beat the Seattle SuperSonics, 104-100, Friday night behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 33 points, lead, 2-1, in the Western Conference final. The fourth game of that series will be played Sunday at the University of Washington (WDVM-TV-9, 3:30 p.m.).
Jamaal Wilkes broke out of a shooting slump with 31 points Friday to give the Lakers the outside scoring they had been lacking. The high scoring Sonic guards, Gus Williams, Dennis Johnson and Fred Brown, were on again, but they could not offset Abdul-Jabbar and Wilkes.
The Philadelphia-Boston series was supposed to be another confrontation between the ultimate team, the Celtics, and a band of individuals, the 76ers. The team was suppose to prevail.
It hasn't worked out that way because these 76ers aren't the selfish 76ers of the past. They have been one step ahead of the Celtics, their crisp passing, blistering fast break and shifting, tenacious defense forcing the Celtics to the brink of elimination.
It has been the 76ers who have looked like they enjoy playing with each other and the Celtics who have looked disoriented and overmatched.
"They're confused," 76er guard Henry Bibby said. "They are doing things out of desperation now. They're playing (M.L.) Carr in the back court and at forward the next game. They use (Gerald) Henderson one game and then not at all. They just don't know who they want to play. You have to go with the people who brought you the best record in the league.
"But they're showing other signs of frustration, too. They're starting to talk to us a lot on the floor now. That's something they normally don't do."
"The teams are fairly evenly matched, but we have a slight edge because of our depth at all positions," Julius Erving said. "We've been using more people. Our rotation has been a little more consistent. Theirs has been erratic.
"We've been doing a lot of the same stuff we've been doing through the playoffs and the end of the season. Their style has differed from how they played all year and it's noticeable. "That gives us a slight edge."
The Celtics say they are not about to quit and the 76ers don't expect them to, but Boston has to do something different if it wants this series to continue past Sunday.
"Everyone seems to think that we're playing terrible, yet we're in every game," Boston Coach Bill Fitch said. "And that's why I don't think this thing is over yet. I think we can eliminate defeat if we shoot the ball a little better."
The outside shots aren't falling and with Caldwell Jones and Darryl Dawkins, clogging the middle, the 76ers are not giving up much inside.The Celtics had 15 shots blocked in Friday's 102-90 loss at the Spectrum.
The 76ers missed 21 of 23 shots in the fourth quarter of that game, but made 12 of 16 free throws and did enought on defense to pull out the victory.
"We just aren't doing the things we did during the regular season," said Boston's Larry Bird. "We aren't shooting and we can't get the ball up and down the court. We just aren't playing good and any time we do it seems like they stay with us.
"I don't know if they're planning any better than they did during the season, but they're playing better than us."
The Celtics have received a lot of deserved credit for going from a 29-53 record a year ago to 61-21, best in the league, this season. Boston did it with three basic changes: drafting Bird, trading for Carr and hiring Fitch as coach.
The 76ers made more subtle changes, yet they have worked just as dramatically and resulted in 12 more victories than a year ago. Philadelphia acquired Lionel Hollins for Portland to replace injured Doug Collins as the shooting guard and Bobby Jones has become the sixth man. That enabled the 76ers to put Dawkins into the starting lineup and more Caldwell Jones to forward.
Now everything is clicking. And on those rare occasions when things break down, the 76ers go to the Doctor and he delivers.
Erving is averaging 27.8 points, 8.3 rebounds, 4.3 assists and three steals a game this series. He is the team's spiritual leader as well.
"When your superstar comes to play every game, everybody comes to play," said the assistant coach, Chuck Daley. "Doc's example has meant as much to this team as his 27 points a game."
If the celtics force the series to six games, that game will be played Wednesday at the Spectrum. If a seventh game is necessary, it will be back at Boston Garden Friday.
Regardless of the outcome in Seattle Sunday, game five in the West will be played Wednesday in Los Angeles.