A series that seemed destined to go the full seven games will come to its conclusion Sunday afternoon in the Mecca in Milwaukee when the Bucks meet the Philadelphia 76ers in the decisive contest of their NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series.
This series has had it all, from strategic moves and counterstrategies, to punches and counterpunches. After six games, the 76ers have averaged 111 points per game, the Bucks 110.
A 56-34 rebounding margin in their 126-108 Game 6 victory here at the Spectrum on Friday elevated Philadelphia's total rebounds to 245 -- only four more than Milwaukee. Each team has been called for 10 illegal defense violations.
So what does it come down to? Neither team has been exactly overwhelming in seventh games. The 76ers are 3-5 in such affairs, the Bucks 0-4, including a loss to Philadelphia here in 1981. "But history doesn't mean a thing," said Philadelphia Coach Matt Guokas. "What happened last week or last year does not mean a thing."
With each team achieving a victory on the other's floor, the home court advantage would also appear to be relatively unimportant as well. But perhaps because his team will be on familiar ground, that's not how Milwaukee's Don Nelson is looking at it.
"We've played all year and worked very hard to get the home court advantage but we've never had to use it before," he said. "Now we do. I hope it pays off."
One factor that should be in the Bucks' favor is the probable return of all-star guard Sidney Moncrief. Moncrief, who has a torn muscle in his left heel, sat out Games 1 and 3 of the series and played in 2 and 4, with Milwaukee winning when he played. He did not play in Game 5 last Wednesday, but the Bucks won, 113-108.
Nelson also was able to rest Moncrief during Friday's game, although the coach said he wasn't sure how much of a difference the layoff would make. "I hope that he can play and I hope that he will do his best to play, but it's not cut and dried yet that he will," Nelson said.
It's also hard to gauge the difference between 22 and 20 minutes of inactivity and eight and four. The first two numbers are the amount of time Milwaukee's Paul Pressey and Terry Cummings were seated on the bench in Game 6, the last two was the rest afforded to their Philadelphia counterparts, Charles Barkley and Maurice Cheeks.
One would think that with all at stake, the adrenaline would kick in and make those numbers meaningless. However, while Cheeks, the NBA leader in minutes played during the regular season, seems tireless, the difference between Barkley today and at the start of the playoffs is something close to startling.
The last two games in particular have been hard on the 6-foot-6, 250-pound forward. The constant pounding by Randy Breuer, Alton Lister and Paul Mokeski, seven-footers all, has taken its toll. For example, Barkley was held -- sometimes literally held -- to eight rebounds in Game 5, his first time under double figures in 10 playoff games.
Perhaps even more telling, the steady stream of comments that usually comes from the irrepressible 23-year-old have dwindled down to next to nothing. Before Game 6, he even went so far as to say that he wasn't going to do another interview "for the rest of my life."
That also could be the sign of a man preparing to concentrate on his work. After all, he did have 23 points and 21 rebounds in helping the 76ers stave off elimination. But that's not how Terry Cummings sees it.
"The fatigue factor is going to work in our favor," he said. "Our starters are capable of playing 48 minutes. Theirs are tired. We know that. And having Sidney back will make a big difference."