Lucas had this kind of second game against the Nuggets: 13 for 17 from the floor and 29 points. Though Denver won, with Issel scoring 36, the 121-110 score was deceiving in that the Nuggets shot 39 free throws to the Blazers' 15, and Walton fouled out with 7:36 to go after two surprising calls.
As the series moved to Portland, however, Denver's problems multiplied. Both teams like to run and play tight, aggressive defense, but the Nuggets' defense is based on overplaying the passing lanes and keeping the ball away from key people. But they could not keep it away from Walton, and when he got it they could not cheat on his receivers, because Walton is the league's best passing center.
In Game Three Thompson scored 40 points, but Issel, hobbled by an infected toe, was not a factor. Lucas, who had 27 before fouling out, was not around when the turning point came on a play the Nuggets seem unable to make in pressure situations—when they are behind, say, 108-106 with 15 seconds left.
That was the situation when Denver's Jim Price, racing to the attack on a three-on-one fast break for the tying goal, fumbled the ball. Walton alertly recovered it and quickly passed off for a Twardzik-to-Herm Gilliam layup, which sealed a 110-106 victory.
In Game Four, Issel still was immobilized, and Thompson got a couple of odd early foul calls, after which the Denver star raged and swore, was hit with a technical and played pitifully the rest of the evening.
More? Portland's Bob Gross threw a behind-the-head pass to Walton that miraculously went in the basket for two of Gross' 25 points. At one stretch in the fourth quarter the Blazers had possession of the ball for nearly two minutes, taking seven shots (none went in). Portland pulled away in the closing minutes for a 105-96 win.
"It must be the fates," Brown said of the preceding activity.
But solid teams make their own breaks. During the regular season the Nuggets were 4-14 in games decided by five points or less; now they were in obvious disarray.
Brown complained he had nobody who wanted the ball in the clutch except Thompson. "After this thing is over, I'm backing the truck up," he said, hinting at wholesale housecleaning. The truth is Denver already had traded away most of its character, only to get big-money malcontents in return. Silas and others have been critical of Brown since mid-season. Mack Calvin and Brown were bickering even during the Nugget guard's 28-point effort in Game Four.
"The spirit isn't here anymore," said Forward Bobby Jones, who was struggling through his own poor series.