So it was back to Denver for what figured to be the clincher Friday night. The Nuggets were loose and confident. The Bucks were demoralized, and they were 0-6 in games at McNichols Arena. "What do we have to lose?" said Johnson, one Buck who was not down at the mouth. "I'm just going to have fun."
Johnson's depressed teammates mostly watched as he frolicked in the first half, single-handedly keeping Milwaukee in the game with 18 points and 13 rebounds. The Nuggets threatened to break the game open several times; especially when Thompson opened the fourth quarter with a gravity defier. As Ralph Simpson threw a pass toward a Coors vendor in Section 18, Thompson rose like a Titan missile, caught the ball in one hand and zinged it through the twine. A moment later Johnson went to the bench with 30 points, 16 rebounds and five fouls. Denver led 94-84.
But Winters, who shot 1-for-4 in the first half, poured in 13 fourth-quarter points, and Johnson returned to score four more in the clutch. Meanwhile, the Nuggets—particularly Issel, who played the entire series virtually without relief, and Thompson, who had 23 points, but only two in the last 6:30—turned to lead. The Bucks, who apparently did not know that no one wins in Denver but the Nuggets, came away 117-112 victors.
As Lloyd Walton, whose two free throws had iced the win, chanted, "Too young to die, Lawd, Too young to die!"
The Bucks certainly proved that Sunday, but not before Thompson committed an egregious turnover by missing the team plane to Milwaukee on Saturday. This left Brown, already upset with Thompson's performance and aloofness the previous week, perplexed, if not downright livid. But by game time Thompson seemed to be his old self, scoring 13 points in the first quarter. Then it appeared as if all the Nuggets had missed the plane. The Bucks erupted, just as they had the week before in Game 3, and Denver did nothing to stop them the rest of the way.
In a 2�-minute stretch in the first half, waves of Bucks outscored the Nuggets 25-4 to build a 19-point lead, and at one point Milwaukee was ahead by 38. Thompson finished with 28, but Issel was invisible, getting one basket and six rebounds. Johnson was again magnificent with 17 rebounds, 16 points and nine assists. Seven other Bucks scored in double figures.
In the locker room, Brown choked back tears. "They should have an isolation booth for you to sit in when you get blown out like this," he said. "We just have to regroup and circle the wagons." He used exactly the same words each of the last three seasons when Denver's back was to the wall in the playoffs. Each time the Nuggets lost.