The Milwaukee Bucks, led by 30 points from Terry Cummings, evened their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Philadelphia 76ers at 1-1 with a 119-107 victory tonight at the Mecca. It was the Bucks' first playoff victory over the 76ers in seven games.
Cummings, a 6-foot-9 forward from De Paul, scored 10 points in the final 12 minutes to help secure the victory after Milwaukee had taken control late in the third quarter with an 11-2 burst. Philadelphia was led in scoring by forward Charles Barkley's 26 points, although only nine came in the second half.
But the real star of the game was Milwaukee guard Sidney Moncrief. The all-star scored 16 points and had six rebounds, but his mere presence was worth a great deal more to Milwaukee. In Game 1 of the series, a 118-112 76ers victory, Moncrief sat out because of a torn muscle in his left foot.
Team doctors felt the injury would take 10 to 14 days to heal properly, but tonight, when the lights were turned down, the Bucks' starting lineup was introduced and the players ran out to the free throw line through a runway of blinking and revolving green lights, Moncrief was the last name called.
"Just his being there was an immense value to us," said Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson. "We won the game and had some great performances from other players because of Sidney Moncrief's heart."
Moncrief's desire was evident in one third-quarter sequence when it appeared that he had reinjured the foot going after a loose ball. Before he could be replaced, the seven-year veteran managed to get an offensive rebound and put it through the hoop -- all on one foot. In the fourth quarter, Moncrief made the shot of the night, grabbing an offensive rebound and scoring on a 360-degree, back-to-the-basket shot.
"I think it made all of us play that much harder," said backcourt mate Craig Hodges. "You know he's out there, working hard and risking further injury to help the team . . . it made us step up our play a bit. Just knowing he was out there added so much more stability."
Before the game, the question was whether to allow Moncrief, the backbone of the team, to play.
"I thought that we could struggle and scratch out a win without him. But if we didn't then we're in a very deep hole and maybe it becomes too late to play him," said Nelson. "The gamble is if he reinjured himself and couldn't play any more, but it's better to have him play than to keep him out and never know what he might have done.
"We had no guarantees that the foot would be better in two days or two weeks or whatever. But we were very willing to take the gamble and live with whatever happened."
With Moncrief playing, it freed Nelson to make a major defensive adjustment -- playing his centers, Randy Breuer and Alton Lister, on Barkley.
In the first half, it didn't seem to matter. Barkley scored 13 points in the second quarter to help draw the 76ers -- down by 12-3 in the opening 2:30 of the game -- back to a six-point deficit, 61-55, at halftime.
As the contest wore on, the 76ers' massive power forward seemed to become worn out, although Coach Matt Guokas thought a little more than fatigue was involved in Barkley's lessened production.
"Every team's gotta try to check him out," he said. "They were doing it, not only with big men but with a couple of men. I have no problem with that, except when they start to grab and hold."
Responded Nelson: "That's unbelievable . . . I'd rather not get involved with that, if you don't mind." Nelson then got involved with it. "We have films that anyone can watch at any time, then anyone could see who's guilty of pushing and grabbing and holding. I'm sure Matty sees those films, too."
When both coaches look at films of tonight's game, what they will see above all else is Cummings burying shot after shot, making 14 of 21 from the floor. Cummings also had 15 rebounds; four of them came on the offensive end, where Milwaukee had 19 rebounds. They had four in the series opener.
"To beat them we just have to go out there and out-aggress them," said Cummings, coining a phrase. "Now we know we can do that; that was the most important thing, we know we can beat Philly."