Although the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers probably are the two best fast-breaking teams in basketball, their National Basketball Association championship series has turned into a test of half-court offenses.
In the first two games, the Lakers have scored only 40 points off fast breaks; the 76ers have scored 57. During the regular season, both teams produced approximately one-third of their offense off fast breaks. But, after the first two games of the finals, the Lakers are producing only 20 percent of their points from the break and the 76ers 26 percent.
When the tempo slows, the game belongs to Moses Malone, and he belongs to the 76ers. That has been the difference throughout the playoffs.
Malone had a rather pedestrian 24-point, 12-rebound game Thursday night at the Spectrum as the 76ers took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series with a 103-93 victory.
Games 3 and 4 will be played at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday and Tuesday. Only four teams in the history of the league have come back to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games.
Trying to contain Malone has been the primary concern of every opponent the 76ers have faced in the playoffs. All have failed.
Malone is averaging 26 points and 15 rebounds in 11 playoff games, 10 of them Philadelphia victories. Malone has been the leading scorer in seven of those games and the leading rebounder in all 11.
The Lakers' strategy against Malone Thursday was to alternate their two most physical players on him, Kurt Rambis and Mark Landsberger.
"They're trying to push and shove like Milwaukee did," said Malone. "They're doing their best, but Rambis ain't going to stop me down low. He can't check me. I don't know why they got him on me. Ain't no 6-8 man going to check me."
Lakers Coach Pat Riley said he put Rambis on Malone because Kareem Abdul-Jabbar isn't aggressive or physical enough to offset Malone's strength.
"Both teams are big, fast and quick, so there aren't going to be a lot of fast breaks," said the Lakers' Magic Johnson. "Both teams get back on defense pretty well. That means it's going to be a half-court game and if that's the case, we'll have to execute a lot better than we have been."
In the first game, the Lakers, weary from playing three games in five days, tired in the fourth period and lost, 113-107. On Thursday, they tired under the relentless pounding and pressure of the 76ers.
The score was tied at 79 with 9 1/2 minutes to play. When the Lakers reached back, however, nothing was there. Even with Malone on the bench in foul trouble, the 76ers rallied behind Malone's replacement, Earl Cureton, and prevailed.
Cureton had three rebounds, two points and two steals and held Abdul-Jabbar reasonably in check while Malone sat out 5 1/2 minutes of the final period. The 76ers outscored the Lakers, 12-8, in that stretch.
The most telling statistic, however, was that the Lakers shot only five free throws the entire game and made three. Both are playoff record lows. They didn't shoot a free throw in the second half. The 76ers went to the line 32 times and made 23. In the two games, the Lakers are 22 of 33 from the line and the 76ers 46 of 64.
The reason is simple. The team that is the offensive aggressor goes to the foul line, and in this series, that has certainly been the 76ers.