Traffic from Lovetron to the Spectrum apparently was unusually congested today. Forty minutes before tipoff of Game 4 of the NBA finals, Darryl Dawkins was nowhere in sight.
Dawkins said he was with his mother, which would have been a wonderful touch to this special day if Harriet Dawkins had not admitted otherwise. Whatever, Sir Slam did arrive three minutes befor the Sixers sent out an interplanetary search party -- and later whomped the Lakers' chances of turning this series into a rout.
What matters were becoming almost desperate, with the Sixers down by six points early in the third quarter and a frustrated fan waving a sign that said "Let's get serious," Dawkins grabbed the game and stuffed it down the Lakers' throat.
Simply awesome, someone said. In truth, it was both simple and awesome. What had been so troublesome the entire series all of a sudden was easy, child's play for the manchild. And it came with the town's athletic cornerstone -- Julius Erving -- out of the game.
The Doctor could not quite have been sued for malpractice the first three quarters, but this hardly was a banner day in surgery. Of course, Erving did monopolize much of the heroics in the final minutes, in ways both subtle and obvious.
The hidden key for the Sixers, the one they hope will unlock the Laker defense and cause a flood of cross-country points this week, came when they defied one of the most sacred cliches in sports.
Sometimes, the Sixers told themselves, you must avoid what the defense gives you. That flies against what every theory and coach has preached for generations. Score a victory for heresy today.
For Philadelphia to win the NBA title, it must get the ball to Darkins near the basket more than every month or so. This is Tall Ball, after all, and for longer than they would care to admit, the Sixers have been letting midgets determine their destiny.
"We've been playing into their hands," said Henry Bibby. "They want the ball to do to Julius. They want us (the Sixers guards) to shoot jump shots. We can get it inside, if we work just a bit harder, make another pass or so instead of shooting right away."
Surprisingly, this seemed to become easier with Erving on the bench. Four times down the court during that critical third-period spurt, the Sixers slipped the ball to Dawkins. Four times he scored, both delicate and frightening in the process.
And Philadelphia suddenly had a lead it nursed until Bobby Jones stole L.A.'s final chance for victory in the last few seconds. What Dawkins began, Erving ended -- and at an unfamiliar position.
Erving moved from forward to guard most of the final quarter -- and, equally important, moved the ball to Sixers capable of sending it through the hoop. Bibby explained how.
"The Lakers want the ball to go to Julius, because then they'll double-team him and he'll kick it back to one of our guards (himself included). dWe shouldn't want that because Bibby and Lionel Hollins were 21 for 68 going into Game 4 and two for five at halftime).
"We want something other than what they want to give us. He (Erving) has to start looking for his shots. He must create something -- just go. He can't kick it every time."
Mortals are not supposed to be able to do that sort of thing with two defenders on them and another -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar -- waiting for him to soar down the free-throw lane.
"They're not supposed to," Bibby admitted. "But he can do it."
Sometimes, the Sixers would clear out all the way to Camden for Doc to operate. Still, he found a way to glide through the double-team and either over or around Jabbar.He seems human enough, but there must be a switch somewhere that controls a spring in his arm.
How else can certain shots be explained? Twice Erving has attempted seemingly impossible shots, even for him. Saturday's was a drive on Abdul-Jabbar; Today's was a reverse layup from the right baseline.
Each time, that right arm has seemed to grow longer and longer, as if on command, some hidden force were moving it inch by inch from his body until it had just enough space to score.
Part of the reason for Dawkins' effectiveness was the Laker foul situation. Jim Chones had four and Abdul-Jabbar three when the Sixers finally realized the easiest route to victory was the one closest to the basket.
"Kareem will never foul out in this series," meaning the officials would not dare force such a chain on the game's dominant player. "Mark it down."
Neither the Lakers nor Kareem seemed certain today, though the wise move for anyone under 11-foot-6 and 580 pounds is to politely allow Sir Slam a dunk when his mind is set for it. And not to question wy he was almost tardy for a championship game.