The two kings of the NBA's basketball height met at the summit -- two feet above the rim -- with the fifth game of the knotted Championship Series at stake.
With the score tied, 103-103, with 73 seconds to play, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Julius Erving met as the Laker center threw down a slam dunk.
The hoop was good. The Doctor, who had scored 18 points in the fourth quarter and 36 in the game, fouled.
Abdul-Jabbar, who played the entire fourth quarter with a sprained left ankle, finished the three-point play for a 106-103 lead and his 40th point of night.
The Sixers, who now trail, three games to two, had the ball twice more -- Dr. J missing a spin layup, and Henry Bibby stepping out of bounds typing a three-pointer with 22 seconds left.
But that was it. Two final Magic Johnson free throws finished the 108-103 Laker victory.
This game, the best of a magnificent Series so far, was the showcase for Abdul-Jabbar and Erving. The 7-foot-2 Laker who scored 14 points in the last period after returning from the locker room to have his sprain treated, got slightly the better of a game for the basketball ages.
Los Angeles can wrap up its first title since 1972 by winning in Philadelphia Friday night. If the Sixers win that game and even the series, the deciding game would be played Sunday in LA.
These Not Ready for Prime Time Players from Los Angeles and Philadelphia lived up to their previous standards of excellence again, as the Sixers managed a slim 53-50 margin in a first half chocked full to the Forum rafters with spectacular aerial performances.
Abdul-Jabbar established instantly that his 23-point effort on Sunday, and his embarrassing 42 percent shooting in his last two-game weekend in Philly, were a mere oversight.
Abdul-Jabbar scored 20 points in the game's first 20 minutes without missing a shot of any kind. Sky hooks, finger rolls, power drive layups -- he did it all, getting Caldwell Jones in foul trouble (three) and even rejecting two of Darryl Dawkins' inside moves on the defensive end of the floor.
The Laker giant, however, had little support. In the first 11 minutes, the other Angelinos managed just one field goal. Earvin Johnson, in particular, pulled the most difficult of all his Magic acts -- he made himself disappear. The wondrous rookie, who had been averaging 18.3 points and almost 10 rebounds and assists per game, made seven first-half turnovers, while getting just four points.
The Sixers, who equaled their biggest lead of the half on a fastbreak layup in the last instant of the half, had a familiar and explosive game plan: Doc and Dawk.
Erving, not double teamed as much as in previous games, got rolling with two extraterrestrial dunks to start the game, then had a smooth 13 points for the half. Dawkins, who seems to have come of age since being dubbed "Chocolate Pudding" after his poor showing here in Game One, continued to score better than he ever has as a pro, scoring 14 before intermission.
While the 76ers played their normally excellent game -- blocking shots, getting back on defense so quickly that LA only had one fast break off a rebound, and powering inside on offense -- the Lakers played so poorly they were lucky only to be behind by a small margin.
Even Abdul-Jabbar's perfect start, plus an 18-3 first-half advantage in free throw attempts, was not enough to get the Lakers untracked at home, where they had won 31 of their previous 34 games.
Much publicized has been LA's 200-145 edge in rebounding in the first four games -- a trend that continued tonight with a 30-24 Laker first-half advantage. Equally important, however, has been Philadelphia's clear superiority in protecting the basketball and minimizing crazy turnovers (a Laker specialty). Every Laker starter in this series except sensible Jamaal Wilkes has more turnovers than any Sixer. Led by Magic the Lakers took a quick 14-5 edge in blunders by intermission. That does an excellent job of negating LA's offensive rebounding weaponry.
The Sixers made the game's first serious moves toward a significant lead, two Erving baskets making it 59-52. But three drives by little Laker Norm Nixon, known as Savoir Faire (or "Sav" for short) because of his knack for cool and appropriate action, got the hosts running. The Lakers actually took a 69-65 load.
But, the baskets that made it 67-65 with 4:35 left in the third period sent a shudder through this packed house. Abdul-Jabbar spun left and flicked in a lefty finger roll, giving him 26 points on 11 for 12 shooting, plus four free throws.
What Abdul-Jabbar also did, as he stumbled after finishing the off-balance shot, was twist his ankle.
The 7-foot-2 center hobbled to the dressing room moments later, his face, usually so implacable, grimacing with pain.
When you're playing on a bad wheel, offense is easiest (because you know where you want to go). Everything else is misery. And it gets worse as the injury tightens up. So, the Lakers went to Abdul-Jabbar down low while he was close to full strength as he would be!
Abdul-Jabbar hit a hook. Then he hit another. Then he made two free throws, rooting one in with body English and a punch in the air. He had scored six of the Lakers' first seven points of the fourth period.
Dawkins and Erving generated 10 consecutive Philly points as they cut matters to 98-97 with 3:34 remaining.
The crowd, which had gone from pandemonium to nervous muttering, suddenly got itself back in the game. It roared as Nixon, flying in the transition game, pulled up for a short jumper: 100-94.
When Jabbar yanked a rebound and Cooper flipped a high layup over Erving's leap to make it 102-94 with 2:40 left, LA seemed safe!
Oh, yeah? The Doc banked in his third straight jumper from the left side, then added a free throw for a three-point play (102-97). Then Lionel Hollins hit a jumper, and Erving two free throws at 1:17 to make it 102-101 with just 77 seconds left in one of the best NBA games ever played that wasn't good enough to be shown in prime time anywhere in the U.S.A. except L.A.