Julius Erving, who probably would be chosen as the ambassador for the NBA if such an position were established, is one of the most even-tempered, soft-spoken, cooperative athletes one can find. But every now and then, a team does something to anger the Doctor. And when that happens . . .
"I got real ticked off when I saw what was happening to us in the third period," said Erving, who scored 14 of his game-high 25 points in the final period last night to help his Philadelphia 76ers to a 106-98 victory and 3-1 playoff series victory over the Washington Bullets.
"I couldn't believe what I was seeing. We don't look at Washington and see a great defensive club, but we had another 13-point quarter.
"We had a great first half (79 percent from the floor) and instead of coming out for the third period and taking control, we got a bit complacent and allowed them to get back in the game. We let this happen to us once (blowing a big lead and losing, 118-100, Wednesday night). That wasn't going to happen again."
Not if Erving had anything to do with it.
The surging Bullets had cut the 76ers' 18-point advantage to three in the third period. Two free throws by Moses Malone at the buzzer temporarily slowed the Bullets and gave Philadelphia a 74-68 lead going into the final quarter.
If the 76ers planned to avoid a fifth and deciding game Sunday in Philadelphia, someone had to take charge.
"Billy (Coach Cunningham) didn't have to tell anyone to take charge," Erving said. "If an individual can take over, we let him go."
Erving opened the final period with a driving layup around Greg Ballard. On the 76ers' next possession, Erving scored again on an 18-foot jumper. Two possessions later, the veteran forward slipped along the base line and tossed up one of his "Oops, excuse me" finger-roll layups.
Minutes later, Erving (11 of 16 from the field) answered another basket with a vintage one-handed tomahawk stuff following a nice pass from Clint Richardson as the 76ers maintained an eight- to 10-point lead.
"You don't look at individual matchups (all four baskets came against Ballard)," Erving said. "If you beat a guy, someone should help out. This isn't a one-man game."
Erving drew another defender, Charles Jones, but the results were nearly the same. He finished off his prolific period with another inside basket, a short jumper in the lane and two foul shots to keep his team safely ahead in the waning minutes.
"Doc had that great stretch on offense and we complemented that with a good defensive effort," Cunningham said. "They made a great run but we were able to hold on."
When Erving wasn't victimizing the Bullets, the 76ers were getting fine efforts from an unlikely source.
"I'm glad I'm the guy teams forget about," said Richardson, who scored 14 points, had five rebounds and four assists in his customary role as the first guard off the bench. "I'm usually the one they want to shoot. I just come in and try to play my role."
He played more than usual (33 minutes) because Andrew Toney (17 points) was in foul trouble and Mo Cheeks has a badly bruised shoulder.
Malone said he was confident the 76ers would "close the business tonight."
"It was a tough series and I'm glad it's over," said Malone, who had 18 points and eight rebounds. "But I was sure we could beat them."
That's easy to say when the Doctor plays on your team.