It was back to normal for the Philadelphia 76ers tonight. They played Mo-ball.

Because the 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks know each other's offense so well, it was a slow-paced, physical, defensive game, the type of game tailored for Moses Malone.

He took advantage of it, with 26 points and 17 rebounds as the 76ers beat the Bucks, 87-81, at the Spectrum.

The victory gave Philadelphia a 2-0 lead in its best-of-seven National Basketball Association Eastern Conference championship playoff. Games 3 and 4 will be played in Milwaukee Saturday and Sunday.

Mo-ball is a simple game, as explained by Julius Erving. "We give the ball to Moses and he scores, and then you shoot and miss and he gets the rebound and then we do it all over again."

As dominant as Malone was tonight, it still was an outstanding defensive effort by teammate Bobby Jones that was perhaps the pivotal play of the game.

Malone had five rebounds and nine points in a five minute span at the end of the third period and the beginning of the fourth that gave the 76ers a 77-66 lead.

The Bucks responded with a 14-3 rally, five of the points by Sidney Moncrief, and tied the score at 80 after a hook shot by Bob Lanier with 3 minutes 10 seconds left.

After a timeout, Maurice Cheeks scored on a base line jump shot over Moncrief for a two-point Philadelphia lead. The 76ers, as they had done virtually the entire game, pressed full court after the basket, but the Bucks beat the press and broke out on a two-on-one fast break with Moncrief and Brian Winters going against Jones.

Jones came out to the free throw line to challenge Monrief, and Moncrief bounced a pass by him to Winters coming in from the left. Winters went up for what looked to be an uncontested layup that would have tied the score. But Jones somehow recovered and smothered Winters' shot as Winters was sent sprawling.

Cheeks picked up the loose ball and fed Erving for a dunk and an 84-80 lead with 2:13 left. The Bucks never recovered.

Winters said he thought he was fouled on the play. "He (Jones) got a little more than just ball, but he made a helluva play," said Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson. Jones said he felt contact, "but most of it was after the block."

After Erving's dunk, the teams exchanged misses before Lanier was fouled by Andrew Toney with 1:19 left. Lanier made only the second of his two free throws, though, and the 76ers still led by three.

Toney made an open 17-footer on the 76ers' next possession and, after Marques Johnson missed , made the last point on one of two free throws.

Malone had only 14 points and 12 rebounds in Philadelphia's 111-109 overtime victory Sunday in the first game of the series, said the difference tonight was, "I just felt stronger. I don't like playing games at 1 o'clock in the afternoon. I was moving better tonight and was more aggressive offensively."

Malone wasn't very effective in the first quarter because the Bucks double- and triple-teamed him and took the ball away from him three times.

From then on, however, Malone moved farther outside, more like a forward, and as soon as he got the ball turned to the basket so he could see the whole floor and avoid the double-teaming.

The Bucks missed 10 of their first 12 shots and didn't improve much as the game progressed. They shot 41 percent.

They also didn't play very intelligently, according to Lanier. "We made so many mental errors it was unbelievable," he said.

"It's crazy. We were forgetting plays and forgetting simple instructions coming out of the huddle."

Moncrief, who had a one-for-nine game Sunday, responded with 21 points tonight and Marques Johnson had 25.

In an attempt to get off to a faster start than usual, Nelson started Junior Bridgeman at small forward and moved Johnson to power forward, replacing Alton Lister.

It didn't help, as Bridgeman made only one of 12 shots and the Bucks were playing catch-up.

The 76ers also adjusted by going to a full-court press much of the game, to take advantage of the Bucks, who don't have a true point guard and aren't a particularly good ball-handling team.

"That pressure forced us to eat up a lot of the shot clock and didn't leave us much time to run our plays right," said Moncrief.

Five-foot-eight Charlie Criss came in and made four jump shots and helped with the ball-handling, but the three other Milwaukee reserves, Lister, Winters and Harvey Catchings, made only two of 11 shots.

Of concern to the 76ers was the fact that Erving wasn't a factor until that one dunk and he did nothing distinguishable after it, either. Erving made only three of 11 shots and had two assists in 33 minutes. He shrugged it off afterward, as did Coach Billy Cunningham.

"We all have bad days. We didn't direct a lot of things at Doc tonight, either. But he'll be back."