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At the end last Sunday, as bare-chested Bill Walton stood there, one moment higher than the highest mountain, the next submerged by Blazermaniacs deeper than the deep blue sea, Julius Erving would have been forgiven had he raised the roster of the Philadelphia 76ers over his head and jam-dunked it into the nearest garbage can.
The Portland Trail Blazers had whip-lashed the 76ers four times in eight days to win the NBA championship, simply because whenever Walton rolled his arms over his head in those strange, jerky circles, all of Multnomah County came to his aid; but when Erving asked for help, what most of the 76ers came up with was zilch.
Before Portland's clinching 109-107 victory on Sunday, only Doug Collins had joined Erving in fending off the Blazer legions of Bob Gross, Lionel Hollins, Johnny Davis, Dave Twardzik and Maurice Lucas. Then in Game Six, George McGinnis finally got his act together with 28 points.
But it was too late. The Sixers had waited too long to care that here was the magnificent Dr. J playing his heart out—one against all, 40 points on Sunday, 182 points for the series—and there were the Trail Blazers wrapping up the title with another disciplined, unselfish, well-balanced job of teamwork.
Up to the stirring final moments of the last game, the bright, new champions—Portland's starting team averages 23 years of age and 2.2 years of pro experience—seemed too young and carefree to be impressed with the fact that they were embarrassing the fat cats from the East.
Gross was flipping in some implausible shots, scoring 24 points and doing everything possible to keep Erving down among mere mortals. Hollins and Davis and Twardzik were running relay races by the 76er guards to the tune of 40 points to 21. Lucas was snatching key rebounds and sinking key free throws. Walton? The Big Guy was in full cry, ringing up his usual rather glorious individual numbers, such as 20 points, 23 rebounds, seven assists and eight blocked shots.
"He changed everything we tried to do," McGinnis said.
"He's an inspiration," Erving said.
Though the 76ers for once had started off a game as if they had not just awakened after an all-night drunk—that is, started crisply, efficiently and tied the Blazers 27-all at the end of the first quarter—Portland rolled to a 15-point lead in the second period and led by 14 in the third and by 12 in the middle of the fourth. At any instant it appeared as if the Trail Blazers would take off for another blowout.