Friday, May 14, 2010

Portland's Crowning Achievement: Part 4

With the NBA playoffs getting down to brass tacks, Order of the Court will take a look at a great post-season series of the past: The Portland Trail Blazers’ 4-2 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1977 NBA Finals. There will be a post for each game.

Game 4: Portland 130, Philadelphia 98 (Series tied, 2-2)

This is what all the pundits had predicted, except that it wouldn’t have taken the Portland Trail Blazers until Game 4 to put it all together. Philadelphia was supposed to be a collection of individuals, and Portland’s team game was going to cause the 76ers to self-destruct.

Riding the wave that started with nine minutes remaining in Game 3, the Blazers burst out of the gates at Memorial Coliseum, where they had won 16 straight games. Philadelphia coach Gene Shue was forced to call quick timeouts with Portland staking 9-2 and 17-4 leads. Lionel Hollins broke out of his mini-slump, sinking long jumpers and making good decisions as the Blazers ran their fast break to perfection. The ball was finding Bill Walton easily enough as Portland’s star got at least 20 touches in the first half.

The 76ers were caught in a downward spiral, with the snake-bitten George McGinnis called for three fouls in a first quarter that ended with Portland winning, 29-16. The 76ers tried to force their way back into the game, letting Lloyd B. Free gun away in the second quarter. The result? A 57-46 lead for the Blazers at halftime, with Portland getting 17 assists and the one-on-one 76ers getting only five.

Hollins (25 points and six assists) and Maurice Lucas (24 points and 12 rebounds) were the stars for Portland in this game. They needed to be as Walton (12 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists) picked up his fifth foul with 7:02 remaining in the third quarter and the Blazers leading, 71-47.

If ever there was a time for the 76ers to make a run it was then. But Shue inexplicably left Julius Erving to rest on the bench when Walton headed to the sideline. Lucas scored 10 of the Blazers’ next 13 points for an 84-59 advantage, and the rout was on. Portland was even getting fast breaks on Philadelphia’s made baskets. By the time third quarter was over it was 98-67 and Walton didn’t ever need to check back into the game.

It was all garbage time in the fourth quarter, and an 11-0 run by the 76ers couldn’t make the score respectable. Even Portland coach Dr. Jack Ramsay stopped pacing the sidelines and cracked a smile watching his reserves, including a red-hot Wally Walker, pour it on in the fourth quarter.

The 76ers had become unraveled on and off the court. There were accusations lobbed in the press from Philadelphia players after the game accusing the team of playing selfishly. McGinnis could come up with no answers for his 16-for-48 shooting in the Finals.

The only good news for the 76ers was that they were headed home to play Game 5. But the worm had turned since Game 2 in Philadelphia. The Blazers were well on their way to history.

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