The Washington Post

Mavericks’ comeback brings back memories of ’86

Kevin Durant went from mimicking placing a championship belt over his waist to falling over helplessly after the Oklahoma City Thunder had the most improbable collapse during a 112-105 overtime loss in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals. After leading 99-84 with 5 minutes, 6 seconds left in regulation, the Thunder was outscored, 28-6, the rest of the game.

Man, I wasn’t even born in 1986. (BILL WAUGH/REUTERS)

The Wizards franchise hasn’t had many memorable playoff performances since making its last NBA Finals appearance in 1979, but the Bullets did record one of the greatest postseason comebacks ever in 1986, when they overcame a 17-point deficit with 3:49 remaining by scoring the final 18 points to defeat the Philadelphia 76ers, 95-94, in the opener of their first-round series.

The common link between both meltdowns? Maurice Cheeks, who was point guard for that 76ers team and now serves as an assistant for the Thunder.

It was an odd night at the old Spectrum, as the unlikely hero of the game was a guy named Dudley Bradley and the goat was Julius Erving. You read that right. There was even some controversy, as then-Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery fought to get an extra second that proved to be critical when Bradley spun around and banked a three-pointer as time expired.

Washington Post columnist Ken Denlinger described the whole scene by saying, “Surely, the multi-ton statue of Rocky outside the Spectrum recoiled in disbelief. Somebody better make sure Dudley Bradley hasn’t also pilfered the Liberty Bell.”

Charles Barkley, who was a second-year player with the 76ers, described it as a “spinorama” shot as he laughed about the loss on TNT on Tuesday night. Barkley had 26 points and 21 rebounds in the game, but he also missed two free throws badly to give the Bullets some life.

The Bullets trailed 94-77 after Sedale Threatt made a free throw, but Dan Roundfield got the amazing run started when he rebounded an airball and converted a three-point play, then made back-to-back baseline jumpers.

They made the 76ers get nervous, then made them get tight, then watched them choke. After Roundfield made a layup to bring the 76ers within 94-92, the Bullets fouled Erving and the 9.148 fans in attendance were able to exhale -- or so they thought.

A Hall of Famer, three years removed from winning a championship, was about to step to the foul line for two game-clinching free throws. But an aging, graying Erving went to the line and missed three free throws. You read that right.

Erving missed the first two free throws, but Manute Bol was called for a lane violation that gave Erving another opportunity. He missed again.”Hat trick,” then-Bullets assistant Fred Carter told Denlinger. “I called it. I said he’d miss ’em all.”

The misses set up the Bullets to inbound the ball at halfcourt to go for a tie or win. Washington Post reporter Anthony Cotton wrote: “The play designed by Loughery called for Dan Roundfield to pass the ball to Jeff Malone, who scored a team-high 21 points. However, the all-star guard was hounded by Philadelphia’s Maurice Cheeks, leaving Roundfield no alternative but to pass to Bradley, who finished the regular season with the worst field goal percentage -- 34.9 -- of any NBA player taking a minimum of 100 shots.”

Roundfield got the ball to Bradley, who seemed to lose the ball as spun around Threat, then Erving before leaning in for the game-winner. Denlinger wrote, “So his winning effort is like your Aunt Harriet grabbing a rifle with a crooked barrel and plugging a backyard rodent square in the heart.”

Now that’s an incredible comeback. Of course, the Bullets went on to lose the series in five games.


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