If ever there was a time for Julius Erving to assert himself, it is now. And no one knows that better than the man the Philadelphia 76ers will rely on Sunday against the Celtics in the deciding seventh game of the Eastern Conference championship series at Boston Garden.
"My teammates look to me for a number of things," Erving said, "and I know they will be looking for me to show them the way Sunday. That's the way it should be. We have a lot to lose, but a lot more to gain.
"I've been trying as hard as I can to do everything within my power to help us win every time out," Erving said after Friday night's 88-75 Celtic victory at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. "And here we are--everything has come down to one game."
Erving scored 24 points and had 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals and three blocked shots Friday. He scored seven of Philadelphia's 11 fourth-quarter points.
Boston has tied this series with a tenacious double-teaming defense that has taken Andrew Toney out of the Sixers' offense. He made one of 11 shots Friday night.
On three occasions in the fourth period, when the 76ers were trying to generate any kind of offense they could, they put four players on the left side of the court and left Erving alone to play one-on-one on the other side.
He got a three-point play against Larry Bird on one occasion, but took two long jump shots that missed badly on the other two. The 76ers are expected to use that isolation tactic frequently again on Sunday.
"They (the Celtics) played a hustling defense and they weren't afraid to commit fouls," Erving said of Friday's game. "We have to play the same way and not let them intimidate us. Mental preparation is probably more important for this game than any other we've ever played.
"If we let what happened to us in the past bother us, we're going to be in trouble. We need to concentrate on nothing but winning this game and we can do that by playing the same type of defense we played the last game and by making a few more shots.
"Andrew Toney has to get involved more, too, but they're gearing their defense to stop him, which means other players have to produce more than they normally do. I am one of those players. I'm going to look to score more, but not to the extent of just throwing the ball up everytime I get it."
Erving made eight of 20 shots Friday; he is averaging 17.3 points in the series, seven below his regular-season average.
Cedric Maxwell and Bird have usually guarded Erving. Both have tried to deny him the ball. Once he does get it, they have dropped off, forcing Erving to shoot jump shots, something he would rather not do.
"You've got to take the shots they give you," Erving said. "We've been criticized in the past for being too much of a one-on-one team, but sometimes in a series like this, where the defense is so good and the other team knows your plays so well, that ability to play one-on-one can be what saves you.
"I expect Erving to really assert himself Sunday," said Bird, "because he's a real competitor and I know how badly he wants to win. Toney is the one who has hurt us the most in the past, but Erving is the one we fear the most. There's only one Doctor."
There also is heavy pressure on the 76ers, although forward Bobby Jones insisted today "I think the pressure is still on them (the Celtics) because they're the defending world champions and they are expected to win it again.
"We just have to stay loose and not worry about it. This team is not going to give up. I think we will go out there not being afraid to lose, but expecting to win."
And looking toward Julius Erving.