When the Los Angeles Lakers run, there is little the Philadelphia 76ers can do to defend against them.
"They have so many guys who can handle the ball," said an impressed Julius Erving after the Lakers had blitzed the 76ers, 124-117, in the opening game of the National Basketball Association championship series tonight at the Spectrum.
"No team has that many guys who can start and finish the break. When a team runs as well as the Lakers were running tonight, they make you think about getting back on defense so much that you don't go to the boards as hard and you don't concentrate on your shots," Erving said.
The Lakers showed signs of their 12-day layoff in the first half as they were beaten badly on the boards and looked almost as if they were just using the first 24 minutes to limber up.
Once they were loose, however, the 76ers couldn't stop the Lakers.
They made up a 15-point deficit in 3 minutes 55 seconds and in one marvelous span of the third and fourth quarters, they outscored the 76ers, 40-9 to put the game away. In that 10 minute 21 second span, the Lakers made 17 of 20 shots from the field. Only two of the baskets were from beyond 10 feet. The rest were fast breaks, or layups off set plays.
The Sixers, in that span, got only one offensive rebound, didn't score with it and missed 13 of 15 shots.TOnly seven Lakers played, but all seven scored in double figures, led by Jamaal Wilkes' and Norm Nixon's 24 points. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 23.
Wilkes had 16 of his points in the third quarter as he scored layup after layup.
"I wasn't having too much luck with my jump shot in the first half, so I started moving more in the second half," Wilkes said. "I kept going hard to the basket and somebody kept passing me the ball."
A 61-50 halftime deficit didn't seem to faze the Lakers, who have won a record nine straight in the playoffs, five on the road.
The Sixers had 14 offensive rebounds leading to 10 of their first-half points and their defense was making things difficult for the Lakers, contributing to 15 first-half turnovers by the visitors.
"The layoff bothered us," said Michael Cooper. "Our timing was off early and we weren't smooth."
"We were rusty like we thought we'd be, so we just jung in there until we got going," said Magic Johnson. "I could tell we were about to take off just before it happened. We're capable of exploding like that at any time. The whole second half, it just seemed like it was one shot and go."
The major adjustment the Lakers made defensively, according to Wilkes, was picking up the Sixers earlier on defense. "We were more aggressive," he said. "We pushed them out to the 25-foot line instead of letting them set up 15-18 feet from the basket like they were in the first half."
"Defense is what got us here and that's what will sustain us," said Cooper, after he, Nixon and Johnson had limited high-scoring Andrew Toney to 20 points, 10 in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach for the 76ers. Toney had scored 46 against the Lakers in a regular-season game.
"That was the regular season," said Cooper. "It's a new day today."
The Lakers' defense is a double-teaming, trapping one that makes the opposition take outside shots.
"Even when you move the ball like you're supposed to against that kind of defense, you're still left with an outside shot." said Erving. "And if those shots don't go, you're in trouble because they pack inside and get all of the rebounds."
Game 2 will be Sunday here and Wilkes said the pressure is on the 76ers once again.
"We broke their serve," he said. "There's no home court now. Losing at home after having a 15-point lead has to stay on their minds a while."