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The sweeping collapse of the 76ers might have seemed melodramatic had it not been so comical and, given the schizophrenic nature of the species, so thoroughly predictable. Philly's downfall probably began on an airplane somewhere over Des Moines during the team's trip West after the first two games. It was then that the Sixers stopped taking the Blazers seriously and started debating whether to give Erving all their playoff shares or just buy him the Liberty Bell as a thank-you present.
Philadelphia had won the first two handily by combining good concentration on defense with its DDT (Doc plus Doug plus Think) offense. Little did this marvelously motley crew of infantile thrillionaires realize that their plane was flying directly into the teeth of the Portland storm.
The third game, in which the Trail Blazers ran roughshod through the visitors, was bad enough. So were the torrents of rain that kept falling and washing out the BEWARE, DUCK CROSSING road signs. But Blazermania also featured such items as long umbrella-studded lines at the Memorial Coliseum ticket windows 48 hours before they opened and policemen interrupting radio dispatches to report game scores.
One night a 7-year-old boy was arrested for scalping tickets. Another night a man in a rainbow-colored Afro wig, Rockin' Rollen Stewart, showed up at the Coliseum to say he was "a trippin' dude representing the people pleasers." Whole neighborhoods gathered to watch the games on television. Woodburn, Ore. sent a telegram to the Blazers and signed it, 781 names strong. Local newspapermen gathered all the objectivity they could muster to address the Portland coaching staff in the first person plural, e.g., "What do we do here that we don't do in Philly, Jack?"
Even before the humiliating 130-98 pasting the 76ers took in Game Four, it appeared as if some sort of grenade had exploded in the Philly camp. Among the ongoing atrocities was Free's request to go home because his sore ribs hurt too much to play in the biggest games of his life. "Lloyd is 85% well," said team physician Stanley Lorber. "Some people just don't want to play."
Fourth Forward Joe (Jelly Bean) Bryant, who did want to, contributed some nasty verbal slaps at third Forward Steve Mix for "not really playing 100%. As soon as we started losing, Steve didn't feel well," said Jelly Bean. "Any given day I'll beat Steve's face in any aspect of the game."
Sixer Coach Gene Shue spent the hours he wasn't working on his backhand—"Tennis clears my mind. I don't want to overthink," he said—closing practices or canceling them outright. A 76er official was asked if this was done out of a need for secrecy. "No," he said, "out of embarrassment."
Behind closed doors, McGinnis, laboring through one of the worst slumps any superstar chain smoker ever experienced, got solace from his teammates. Every time Un-gorgeous George put up a jumper, the 76ers shouted "brick, brick"—the NBA term for an incredibly horrible shot. Once when McGinnis was wide open under the basket, a teammate deliberately hurled a pass over his head into the seats, as everybody laughed. McGinnis must have figured this was at least as hilarious as the banner at the Spectrum which spelled his name MCGOONIS.
In an effort to reverse the outcome of Game Three, Shue decided to take Collins' perimeter shooting out of the offense and force the ball inside to McGinnis and Caldwell Jones, who together would challenge Walton. The effect of the strategy was debatable to say the least.
In the first 1:30 of Game Four, McGinnis twice got his shot shoved down his throat by Walton and twice turned the ball over himself. He surrendered seven quick points to Lucas, and the Blazers were off and running to a 28-11 lead.