Brutality is never pretty, yet despite all the subtle forearm shivers and blatant body slams that punctuated Tuesday night's game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, there was something oddly attractive.

"That was as intense a 48 minutes of basketball as you'll ever see," said 76ers Coach Billy Cunningham, whose team won, 112-108, to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that resumes Friday night at the Spectrum.

The tenor of the game was set during the playing of the national anthem when, under a lone houselight, the Star Spangled Banner came wafting out of a smoky saxophone.

Perhaps stunned by the sudden brightness when the lights were raised, referees Earl Strom and Ed Middleton seemed reluctant to blow their whistles. In one first-quarter sequence, Philadelphia's Charles Barkley was hammered on three consecutive shots without a foul being called.

Before the game, Bucks Coach Don Nelson had complained the referees didn't let his three pivot men -- Alton Lister, Paul Mokeski and Randy Breuer -- compete against Philadelphia's Moses Malone in last Sunday's 127-105 loss in Game 1.

That wasn't the case Tuesday. Malone, who is 6 feet 10 and 265 pounds, drove to the basket time after time, yet was knocked to the floor more than once.

"I think experience really paid off in this game," said Julius Erving. "We adjusted to the calls and were patient. I think that a younger team might have spent too much time complaining in the first half."

A younger team also might have fallen apart under the barrage the Bucks threw at Philadelphia in the opening 12 minutes. There were jams and slams by Terry Cummings en route to a career-high 41 points and fellow all-star Sidney Moncrief was gouging his way to the basket with what was, for Cunningham, alarming regularity.

Had this been the regular season, the 76ers perhaps might have buckled under. In their final 25 games the team was a mediocre 13-12, but according to Erving, that isn't indicative of what to expect now. "We've returned to the team that's won 80 percent of their games, not the people who were at .500 towards the end of the season."

One reason is that, according to Cunningham, "we're as healthy as we've been for the last three months." And inspired, by the attention attracted by the end-of-the-season slump and memories of last year's elimination in the first round by New Jersey.

"We've got a lot to prove," Cunningham said. "There's last season, there's the fact we want to show we can play when we're healthy."

Milwaukee, whose youth-oriented team might not be able to stand up to the pressure, already has its believers. "We have a positive attitude," Moncrief said. "Philadelphia still has to win two games . . . but they're in control, no doubt about it."

In the history of the NBA, only one team, the 1969 Los Angeles Lakers, has rebounded to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games on its home floor. The Bucks can find a ray of hope in that feat, as well as from the fact that of the team's three victories against the 76ers this season, two came in Philadelphia.

Cunningham, however, is ready to take those hopes away from the Bucks. "They've done well at the Spectrum but we're looking to end this series," he said. "Milwaukee's nice, but I don't want to come here again until next fall." Bucks Get Physical, Still Lose 76ers: 'Lot to Prove' By Anthony Cotton Washington Post Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE, May 1 -- Brutality is never pretty, yet despite all the subtle forearm shivers and blatant body slams that punctuated Tuesday night's game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks, there was something oddly attractive.

"That was as intense a 48 minutes of basketball as you'll ever see," said 76ers Coach Billy Cunningham, whose team won, 112-108, to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series that resumes Friday night at the Spectrum.

The tenor of the game was set during the playing of the national anthem when, under a lone houselight, the Star Spangled Banner came wafting out of a smoky saxophone.

Perhaps stunned by the sudden brightness when the lights were raised, referees Earl Strom and Ed Middleton seemed reluctant to blow their whistles. In one first-quarter sequence, Philadelphia's Charles Barkley was hammered on three consecutive shots without a foul being called.

Before the game, Bucks Coach Don Nelson had complained the referees didn't let his three pivot men -- Alton Lister, Paul Mokeski and Randy Breuer -- compete against Philadelphia's Moses Malone in last Sunday's 127-105 loss in Game 1.

That wasn't the case Tuesday. Malone, who is 6 feet 10 and 265 pounds, drove to the basket time after time, yet was knocked to the floor more than once.

"I think experience really paid off in this game," said Julius Erving. "We adjusted to the calls and were patient. I think that a younger team might have spent too much time complaining in the first half."

A younger team also might have fallen apart under the barrage the Bucks threw at Philadelphia in the opening 12 minutes. There were jams and slams by Terry Cummings en route to a career-high 41 points and fellow all-star Sidney Moncrief was gouging his way to the basket with what was, for Cunningham, alarming regularity.

Had this been the regular season, the 76ers perhaps might have buckled under. In their final 25 games the team was a mediocre 13-12, but according to Erving, that isn't indicative of what to expect now. "We've returned to the team that's won 80 percent of their games, not the people who were at .500 towards the end of the season."

One reason is that, according to Cunningham, "we're as healthy as we've been for the last three months." And inspired, by the attention attracted by the end-of-the-season slump and memories of last year's elimination in the first round by New Jersey.

"We've got a lot to prove," Cunningham said. "There's last season, there's the fact we want to show we can play when we're healthy."

Milwaukee, whose youth-oriented team might not be able to stand up to the pressure, already has its believers. "We have a positive attitude," Moncrief said. "Philadelphia still has to win two games . . . but they're in control, no doubt about it."

In the history of the NBA, only one team, the 1969 Los Angeles Lakers, has rebounded to win a best-of-seven series after losing the first two games on its home floor. The Bucks can find a ray of hope in that feat, as well as from the fact that of the team's three victories against the 76ers this season, two came in Philadelphia.

Cunningham, however, is ready to take those hopes away from the Bucks. "They've done well at the Spectrum but we're looking to end this series," he said. "Milwaukee's nice, but I don't want to come here again until next fall."