In their march to the 1983 NBA championship, the Philadelphia 76ers displayed an inexorable intensity. That fury, often missing this season, returned in Game 2 of their playoff series against the Washington Bullets and produced a 113-94 victory.
"Once we got them down, we kept them there," said guard Maurice Cheeks. "We hadn't been effective at that early in the season -- or late in the season for that matter."
Early or late, it didn't matter today as Philadelphia took a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series, which will resume Wednesday at Capital Centre. The 76ers steamrolled over the Bullets, who shot 59 percent in the first half and trailed by just 56-52 at the break but could not sustain the pace. Washington missed 34 of 50 second-half shots to finish with a 44 percent mark and hit only 16 of 29 (55 percent) from the free throw line.
"The Sixers just had one of their great games," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "In the first half we played about as well as we could and we were still four points down. We didn't sustain our intensity over the course of the game . . . . We didn't really have any chance in the second half."
At the start of the third quarter, the 76ers outscored the Bullets, 14-6, to stretch the four points to 70-58 and take control. Charles Barkley and Julius Erving were the key figures in that run, but over the course of the game they had plenty of company.
Andrew Toney, held to 14 points in Game 1, came back with 31. Erving scored 23 and Bobby Jones 16. Moses Malone and Barkley each registered 14 rebounds.
The Bullets were led by Jeff Malone's 30 points, and Darren Daye had 19 points and nine assists. But according to Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham, the key to the game was his team's ability to contain Jeff Ruland. After scoring 20 points with 10 rebounds and seven assists in Game 1, Ruland was held to 12 points, seven rebounds and two assists.
"We cut down Ruland's ability to make his teammates better," Cunningham said. "Last game he was hitting people like Charles Jones and Dudley Bradley cutting to the basket for easy points. That didn't happen today."
That was primarily a result of a switch in Philadelphia's defense. Instead of automatically doubling 6-foot-11, 265-pound Ruland whenever he received the ball, as they did Wednesday, the 76ers let Malone fend for himself, moving to help only when Ruland tried to dribble to the basket.
Erving described the sight of Moses Malone and Ruland jousting as something akin to "Godzilla going against King Kong." Cunningham said it was just a case of doing dirty work extremely well.
"They played a great defensive game," said Ruland. "We had trouble everywhere, getting the ball inside, getting it back out after it got inside. They shut down the passing lanes, they were everywhere."
The 76ers' strategy helped force the Bullets away from their successful first-half strategy.
That was the idea of making Erving work harder by having Daye bring the ball up the floor. Driving to the basket for short shots or dishing off to open men when the Philadelphia defense helped out, Daye had 15 points and six assists at halftime.
After starting the third quarter, though, Daye was replaced with 8:41 left that period and didn't return until 8:50 remained in the fourth. "I was really playing things by ear," Shue said in explaining Daye's absence, "but I felt the game slipping away around that time and it really doesn't matter what strategy you have coming into a game, when that happens you'd better do something to adjust."
There could be no disputing that the game was getting away from the Bullets, who went eight for 22 from the floor and were outrebounded, 18-10, in the third quarter. After three quarters, the score was 81-71 with Washington fortunate to be that close.
Two fast-break layups by Jeff Malone in the first minute of the final period cut that margin to six. But after Cunningham called a timeout, the 76ers outscored the Bullets, 10-5.
The Bullets got one more chance to make a move. With the score 96-84, and just over six minutes to play, the teams exchanged five turnovers in a 19-second span, in a routine that would have been more appropriate if the teams had been stumbling on the ice below the hardwood floor.
Even when Toney connected on his second three-point field goal of the game with 4:23 left to make the score 101-87, it was a mistake.
"That last shot was one of those 'Oh no -- great shot,' " said Cunningham. "We were really trying to run another play but sometimes when Andrew is in a groove you just have to let him go."
It's a groove the Bullets hope they can avoid in Game 3 Wednesday.
"We definitely have our work cut out for us but it isn't going to do any good to talk about it," Ruland said. "Whatever we have to do will happen out on the floor."