The Philadelphia 76ers all but snatched the crowns off the heads of the Los Angeles Lakers today with a fascinating display of all-around talent, which may have only been a glimpse of their greatness.
They spotted the Lakers a 15-point first-quarter lead and then took control of the game in every phase, especially with their defense. They came away with a 111-94 victory and a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven National Baskeball Association Championship finals.
No team in the history of the league has come back from that deficit to win a series.
The 76ers outscored the Lakers, 62-42, in the second half, and in the third period, limited Los Angeles to two field goals in 14 attempts. Then, early in the fourth period, they scored 14 straight points that brought a hush over the Forum crowd of 17,505 and carried the 76ers to their 11th victory in 12 playoff games.
For the entire season, the 76ers have won 76 of 95 games.
They can win it all here Tuesday.
"If you don't get us early, you're in trouble," said 76ers Coach Billy Cunningham, "because in the second half, we're coming with the defensive pressure. It's been characteristic of this team all through the playoffs to come out in the second half and turn the game around with our defense.
"I hope this team gets the recognition it deserves as a great defensive team. Yeah, we have the stars who can play offense, but it's our defense that puts us at that awesome level."
Moses Malone was the most dominant player on the floor again as he scored 28 points and had 19 rebounds, six assists and three steals. Julius Erving scored 21 points and had 12 rebounds and Andrew Toney had 21 points and five assists.
Still, it was the 76ers' defense that was the difference.
"I think the Lakers have trouble reacting to a team that plays at the same pace they do," said Erving. "In the second half we never let them get into a shooting rhythm."
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 10 of his 23 points in the first quarter and the Lakers were off and running to a 32-21 lead. They increased it to 40-25 early in the second period, then the 76ers starting coming.
"It's good we got kicked in the first quarter because it woke us up," said the 76ers' Marc Iavaroni.
An 18-5 scoring run, six of the points by Malone and four each by Toney and Bobby Jones, reduced the Los Angeles lead to 48-47 with 1 minute 51 seconds left in the half. The Lakers still managed to lead, 52-49, at halftime, but it was evident that they could do little when the 76ers came at them.
The third period was a nightmare for the Lakers. They turned the ball over on their first five possessions and didn't score a field goal until Jamaal Wilkes made a tap-in with 6:54 left in the period.
Malone, Erving and Toney accounted for all but four of Philadelphia's 23 third-quarter points. A three-point play by Erving gave the 76ers a 61-56 lead.
The Lakers fought however, mainly because they made 16 of 19 free throws in the period and went into the final quarter tied at 72.
The Forum started rocking when Bob McAdoo made two long jump shots at the outset of the period to give Los Angeles a 76-74 lead, but the 76ers ended that rally with a 14-0 burst. It started with a tap-in by Jones and then Clemon Johnson stole a Magic Johnson pass that resulted in a fast break by Maurice Cheeks and a tie score at 76.
The Lakers missed their next five shots, none of them good ones, thanks to the 76ers' defense, and turned the ball over again. Meanwhile, Jones scored three points and Toney four to go with a free throw by Erving and a fallaway turnaround jumper by Malone.
That left the 76ers on top, 86-76, with seven minutes left.
The Lakers cut the lead to six points on a dunk by Abdul-Jabbar and two free throws from Johnson with 4:40 left, but Malone scored his team's next eight points and the lead was soon back to 10 and rising.
"You have to credit Philadelphia with a sustained defensive effort," said Los Angeles Coach Pat Riley. "They take away your first option and your first pass and make you do what they want you to do."
Jamaal Wilkes said it was the 76ers' "defense and rebounding that turned the game around. They have one of the best transition defensive teams in the league."
Wilkes finished with 20 points and Johnson 18 on only three of 12 shots from the field, plus eight turnovers.
Norm Nixon strained a tendon in his left knee and had four stitches in his chin. He made only one of six shots in 31 minutes.
The 76ers made it clear what they intended to do Tuesday.
"We're going to come out with more intensity Tuesday than ever before in the playoffs," said Cunningham. "This is what we've been working for since September. I'm not surprised we're up, 3-0. We want to win it in four. We want people to remember this team."
Said Riley: "You have a dream and you never, never give it up. We're going to hang in there until the end. The shock of today hurts, but they still have to win one more game.
"This team has created a lot of miracles. I'm not going to concede anything to anybody."
Abdul-Jabbar, whose 15 rebounds were almost twice as many has he had in the first two games combined, said, "It's possible we can win, not probable, but possible."