The Milwaukee Bucks finally found a way to beat the Philadelphia 76ers today.
They unleashed 5-foot-8 Charlie Criss.
The diminutive 33-year-old, balding Continental League graduate, the shortest player in the NBA, added the stability and ball-handling the Bucks have lacked in the back court the previous three games of this series. He led his team to a 100-94 victory and the Bucks remained alive for the Eastern Conference championship.
Game 5 will be played in Philadelphia Wednesday, with the Sixers enjoying a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.
"Pride was the only motivation factor we needed," said guard Sidney Moncrief. "That and Charlie Criss made the difference."
"I tried to keep things as light and as loose as I could," said Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson, who celebrated his 43rd birthday today. "And we talked in terms of continuing to play hard. We didn't play any harder or better than we did in the first three games. The outcome was just different this time."
It was different mainly because of two players--the smallest, Criss, and the biggest, Bob Lanier.
Criss, who was signed as a free agent before the season started, had been used sparingly until today, but played 34 minutes and scored 11 points and had seven assists, had five rebounds and two steals as an early substitute for Brian Winters. Criss also disrupted the 76ers' offense by hounding Maurice Cheeks into a 4-14 shooting day and seemed to beat Cheeks every place he wanted to go.
With their offense out of sync, the 76ers made only 40 percent of their shots.
Criss made only one of five shots from the field, but converted nine of 10 free throws, four of them in the final 11 seconds to secure the victory.
Two free throws by Julius Eving had given the 76ers an 88-85 lead with 5:42 remaining, but today it was Philadelphia that faded down the stretch instead of Milwaukee. The Bucks responded with 10 straight points, six of them by Lanier, while the 76ers missed five shots in a row and turned the ball over twice.
Lanier scored on a tapin and a short jumper over Cleamon Johnson and after Moses Malone came back in the game, Lanier scored on a hook shot over him to give the Bucks a 95-88 lead with 1:42 left.
"I figured that in the fourth quarter it was still anybody's game and if I was going down, I wanted to at least be an active part of it," Lanier said. "They weren't double-teaming me and it's just as tough for Moses to stop me alone as it is to stop him."
Said teammate Marques Johnson: "I could see a little extra fire in Bob's eyes in that stretch."
"Just another day in the life," said Lanier.
Johnson and Sidney Moncrief each had fast break baskets in that 10-0 spurt before Erving finally scored again on a driving dunk shot. After Moncrief missed a 10-footer, Erving then banked in an 18-foot jump shot to close the lead to 95-92 with 55 seconds to play.
Criss missed a long jumper as the 24 second clock was running out, but the Bucks retained possession with 28 seconds left when Philadelphia's Bobby Jones knocked the rebound out of bounds.
The 76ers were then forced to foul, and after Erving grabbed Lanier, Lanier made one of two shots for a 96-92 Milwaukee lead.
Lanier then fouled Andrew Toney as Toney attempted a three-point shot, and his successful free throws got his team within two with 17 seconds left.
Erving fouled Criss and he made two shots and after Erving missed a three-point attempt, Cheeks fouled Criss and he again made both shots.
"I just go to the line and shoot. I don't think about it," said Criss.
"There were chances for them (the Bucks) to just bag it and go home for the summer," said Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham, "but they didn't. They beat us the same way we'd beaten them in the first three games. They came up with the big plays at the end."
Criss said that Assistant Coach Garry St. Jean told him before the game he would be used more today, mainly because everything else the Bucks had tried had failed.
"That's the way it is when you're 5-8," said Criss. "You're usually the last one they turn to."
Criss, who committed only one turnover said he felt his role was "to take the shot if it was there and try to tire out Cheeks."
Said Moncrief: "Charlie gave us what we needed, someone to offset Cheeks and give us the advantage at the end."
The 76ers, who lost for the first time in eight playoff games, didn't take the defeat well. Most of them left Milwaukee Arena five minutes after the game, declining interviews.
"I'm pleased we won a game here, but I wanted to end it all today," said Cunningham. "The key now is to get ourselves ready for Wednesday night and make sure this thing ends right there in Philadelphia."
The Bucks got a scare late in the game when Junior Bridgeman went down with a sprained right ankle after having made seven of nine shots. He said he would play Wednesday.