It was a tremendous series. Seven games between Seattle and Milwaukee decided by a total of 28 points. Home-court advantages repeatedly wiped out. A championship team stumbling and recovering just in time; the young challenger playing the final two games without a key player, yet leading with 4:24 left in the finale.
Chroniclers cite the Philadelphia-Boston series of 1968, New York-L.A. in '70, Boston-Phoenix in '76, to name but three of high and particular drama. And now there is Seattle- Milwaukee.
Those who saw it will remember that the defending champion Sonics trailed by six points with 11 minutes left in Sunday's seventh game, and they will recall Downtown Freddie Brown, who scored 10 of his 14 points in the last quarter, lofting a pair of 18-footers to keep it close just when it seemed Milwaukee might increase its margin. They'll remember Brown cutting into the lead again with a lovely hesitation move that brought Seattle within two at 80-78 and then hitting a pressure 20-footer with just over six minutes left that put Seattle ahead for the first time in the closing minutes.
"I needed the ball, I had to have it," Brown said later. "We needed instant point production, and I never had any doubt I was the man for the job."
As far back as the third game of the series, Milwaukee Guard Quinn Buckner, who had been assigned at different times to cover Brown and Gus Williams, had been apprehensive. "All we can do is keep a hand in their faces," he said. "And pray Fred Brown doesn't get hot. When that happens, there's nothing anyone can do."
Brown got the pivotal baskets; Williams led the Sonics with 33 points, including four free throws in the final 16 seconds, as Seattle won the final game 98-94 before a frenzied home crowd in the Coliseum.
From its first pulse-quickening moments, the series seemed destined to produce a harrowing finish, for this was a match made in basketball heaven. Seattle won the opener at home in overtime; the Bucks won the second game in overtime, and after four games the series was so even that both teams had scored exactly the same number of points. When it was annnounced during last Friday's sixth game, in Milwaukee, that there had been an electrical failure and that the arena was operating on emergency power, it seemed altogether plausible that if the lights did fail, so luminous was the action that the arena would glow in the dark.
The Bucks might well have gone ahead 3-0 had it not been for Dennis Johnson's desperate three-point basket from 30 feet out with a single second to play in overtime of the first game. Johnson's heroic heave gave the Sonics a 114-113 victory. The Bucks won the second game 114-112 in overtime and Game 3 by 95-91 when the series moved to Milwaukee. After that, the home team didn't win again until Sunday, four of the seven games having been taken by the visiting team.
As a concept, however, the home-court advantage dies hard, and for that reason it was a vintage series for undue optimism and unwarranted despair. Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson was guilty of the former when, before Game 4, he said, "We've definitely got them in a corner now."
That had been true literally as well as figuratively in Game 3, when Milwaukee's guards managed to trap Seattle's backcourt so effectively that the Sonics weren't able to run. "And we're not a good team when we walk the ball up," admitted Seattle Coach Lenny Wilkens.