This time the Philadelphia 76ers were able to hold on; this time they didn't wilt under the pressure. And now they say they have enough confidence to challenge Los Angeles for the NBA championship.
With superior defense and rebounding, the 76ers slowed the Lakers' fast break and defeated Los Angeles, 110-94, today. They held the Western Conference champions to their lowest point total since Feb. 19 in tying this best-of-seven series at 1.
After squandering a 15-point lead at home in an opening loss, the 76ers knew if they didn't stop the Lakers' fast break today, this series, with the next two games in Los Angeles Tuesday and Thursday, would be all but over.
By winning, the 76ers assured themselves of a fifth game here next Sunday. They also planted some doubt in the minds of the Lakers, who were beginning to believe they were unbeatable after winning a record nine straight playoff games and not losing in the last 46 days.
The closest the Lakers came in the final quarter was at 98-90 on a foul shot by Kurt Rambis with 6:30 left. On their next two possessions, however, with chances to reduce the deficit to six, they missed short shots. Bobby Jones then a scored on a tip-in and Julius Erving had two field goals for the 76ers.
In one 4:46 stretch of the fourth quarter, the Lakers missed seven straight shots before Bob McAdoo scored from 20 feet with 4:26 remaining. By then the 76ers were in command, 104-90.
"We can't continue to keep fighting from behind," said the Lakers' Norm Nixon, who made only three of 14 shots. "Sooner or later if you keep letting teams get ahead of you, you're going to lose."
Defense was the key to the 76ers' success. They continually stopped the Lakers on the break and prevented them from going on one of their familiar scoring streaks.
"It was nice to apply what we did in practice and see it come to life in the game," said Erving, who led all scorers with 24 points and all rebounders with 14.
"Our team was put together as a defensive team," he continued. "We can't just go out and run. We have to hold the Lakers down if we're going to win. They didn't shoot well (42 percent), but I like to think we had something to do with that.
"There's a reason why a guy's shots don't fall. If you give their guards uncontested shots, they're going to make them. They didn't get that many open shots today. I thought (Maurice) Cheeks did a great job on Nixon."
With Nixon scoring only six points and Magic Johnson making just six of 14 shots, the Lakers lacked the outside shooting they need to keep the defense from sagging on their most potent scorer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
"In the second half I was getting tripled and we weren't hitting anything from outside," said the perennial all-star center, who finished with 23 points. "They were making their shots and that cut down on our fast-break opportunities."
After Los Angeles scored the first five points, the 76ers came back to take a 21-15 lead. With reserve Darryl Dawkins scoring nine points in the last 2:56, Philadelphia increased its advantage to 34-26 by the end of the quarter.
The Lakers shot 37 percent (six of 16 shots) in the second quarter, and the 76ers increased the lead to 57-44 in the final minute before three free throws cut the halftime advantage to 10 points.
The Lakers had trailed by 11 points at intermission in Game 1 and still pulled away to a 124-117 victory, so the cheering was restrained from the sellout crowd of 18,364 in the Spectrum.
This time there was no drastic turnaround in the third quarter. Again, as in Game 1, the 76ers widened their lead to 15 points (80-65), but this time they responded to the Lakers' points.
In trying to contain Abdul-Jabbar, both Philadelphia centers--Caldwell Jones and Dawkins--committed three fouls by midway through the second quarter. Earl Cureton, a seldom-used second-year center (54 minutes in 10 playoff games), came in and kept Abdul-Jabbar from dominating.
With 5:13 left in the third quarter, Dawkins was called for his fifth foul while Jones was on the bench with four. Again Cureton came in, scoring six points and and getting four rebounds to keep the 76ers in front, 88-76, entering the fourth period.
"We didn't shoot very well, but I thought the game was in the balance when we cut it to eight," Riley said. "But we couldn't hammer anything home. It was Philadelphia's day. They deserved to win.
In addition to their defense, another reason why the 76ers deserved to win was that they outrebounded the visitors, 52-39. They had 20 off the offensive boards for 23 points. In Game 1, the Lakers had a 50-41 rebounding advantage.
"There's no secret to offensive rebounding," Riley said. "It's like the free enterprise system. It's there if you want it. Today they went after it harder than we did."
In addition to Erving, the 76ers received strong work from Caldwell Jones, who had 11 rebounds, Cureton (eight) and Bobby Jones, who had seven despite playing with a painful hip in the second half.
"It was very sore," Jones said. "I couldn't move laterally very well, but I felt if I could help the team some way, I'd keep playing. If I would have gotten hit on it again, though, I wouldn't have played any more."
Cheeks also was instrumental in the 76ers' victory. He scored 19 points, had eight assists and neutralized the Lakers' trapping defense with his quick, intelligent passing.
"The best way to break their trap is to pass before they double-team me," Cheeks said. "We ran when we had the opportunities, after steals and blocked shots, but I thought we were more selective than in the first game. At times, against this team, we have to be more careful with the ball because they're so good at turning turnovers into baskets."