All season, teams tried to find a way to slow down the Philadelphia 76ers. Get them in a half-court game and they can be beaten, said virtually every team's scouting report.
After two games of the NBA championship series with the Los Angeles Lakers, the 76ers have discovered they must now slow down the tempo and make it a half-court game.
"It's a strange feeling," said Julius Erving. "Every team I've ever been on has been the one that set the tempo, ran with the basketball, and here we are with an opportunity to win the world championship and our best chance could be by slowing down the game. Basketball can be a real trip sometimes, can't it?"
The 76ers ran only in spurts Sunday, content the rest of the time to set up, move the ball and take the open shot, hit the boards and keep people back on defense to guard against the Laker break. The result was a 110-94 victory that evened the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
Game 3 will be Tuesday night at the Forum (WDVM-TV-9 at 9 p.m.). The fourth game also will be at the Forum Thursday. The Lakers are 4-0 at home in the playoffs and were 4-0 on the road, as well, until Sunday's defeat.
"I just don't believe the home court means that much, as far as we're concerned," said Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham. "We won two games in Boston, two in Milwaukee and the only playoff game we played in Atlanta. If we play our game, we'll do fine. It doesn't matter where we do it."
This series is causing the 76ers to make a number of adjustments. Usually, their opposition is in that position. But the Lakers are a unique foe for Philadelphia.
"We're playing against probably one of the greatest teams ever," said Sixer guard Clint Richardson, "so we have to react to them and try to take away some of their strengths. During the regular season, we could beat most teams simply because we were better. We never had to make the adjustments. At this level, the teams are even, so it is one big adjustment."
The major adjustment the 76ers made Sunday was designed to beat the Lakers' trapping defense. Los Angeles plays a defense as close to an illegal zone as the rules allow. The Lakers are quick and put tremendous pressure on the ball, usually using 6-foot-9 Magic Johnson as a chaser.
The 76ers never adjusted in the first game and lost a track meet, 124-117. Sunday, they beat the trap, which got them good shots, and they outrebounded the Lakers, 51-39, preventing L.A. from running.
The Lakers were so lost in a half-court slow-tempo game that they shot 42 percent, compared to 53 percent in their previous eight playoffs games. The Lakers were held to 94 points, the first time they had been under 100 during the playoffs.
In a half-court game, the Laker offense was reduced to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sky hooks and jump shots. The two best Laker jump shooters, Norm Nixon and Jamaal Wilkes, went a combined five for 28. Nixon was three for 14.
"This just shows we can lose after all," said Coach Pat Riley. "But we aren't going to do anything differently. We'll still trap and we'll still run. We aren't going to have two bad games in a row."
Cunningham isn't so sure the Lakers won't do some things differently, though. "They won't make any major changes, but they're going to do something," he said.
Riley is known as Capt. Video by his players because of his constant use of videotapes, but Cunningham took a page from Riley's book after the first game. He said he looked at tapes of that game practically all night Friday and Saturday and broke down every phase of the game.
"By watching the films, we were able to pick up signals when they were going to trap and we could get our people in the right positions," Cunningham said. "We were as prepared as you could be for a game."
Erving has been the steadiest Sixer so far in the series, averaging 25.1 points, 10.5 rebounds and three assists. Before the series began, Riley said Andrew Toney was the Sixers' key man. Toney scored only 12 points, going six for 16 Sunday, but Philadelphia still won.
The Lakers used only seven players Sunday for the second straight time. "Playing more people wouldn't have made a difference," said Riley. "Doing things better is what we need. One loss doesn't faze us a bit."