Even after Erving's blitz—19 points in those classic 12 minutes that put the 76ers up by 14 points with 6:10 left to play—the Celtics still found themselves with the ball and a chance to win in the final 16 seconds. But they fumbled it away on their 25th turnover, an appalling number for such fine passers and ball handlers, on a confusing play invented for the moment by Coach Bill Fitch. Philadelphia won 99-97. As for Game 4, the 76ers, leading 86-74 at the end of the third quarter, won 102-90 even though they made only two baskets in 23 attempts in the fourth.
It wasn't that the Celtics were unprepared for the 76ers. In fact, they might have been overprepared and over-coached. Instead of sticking with the game that earned them the best record in the NBA and the sweep of outclassed Houston—the simplest of running, passing and shooting games—Fitch constantly changed lineups. He kept his bench warm, and at times grumpy, with regulars like Archibald and Maxwell for committing a few turnovers. Fitch was hauling around so much tape and TV equipment some players began calling him Captain Video. This is the man who installed a special antenna outside his hotel room in New Jersey a while back to pick up a TV game from Philadelphia, the man who sometimes vacates the bench during games to view replays in the locker room.
Still, Cunningham was able to show off a new defensive trick in Games 3 and 4 to slow down Bird, who had won Game 2 with 31 points and had scored 27 in the opener. Instead of having to chase Bird, Erving switched to Maxwell, who rarely ventures more than a layup away from the basket. Meanwhile, the alternating tandem of Jones and Jones took Bird. He had 22 and 19 points in Games 3 and 4, respectively, but he tired sufficiently to let his man, Erving, loose for 28 and 30.
Bird's fatigue showed in Game 3, and he said, "I think the Doctor knew it." Did he ever. Boston led 58-57 when Erving lit up the Spectrum. First he took off from the foul line, floated to the basket and made a finger-roll layup off the fast break. Then he hit a 15-foot jumper over Bird. Next came a reverse layup from behind the glass. Then he assisted Bobby Jones on a layup. And so on...and on.
After the game, the Doctor said. "I amaze myself with what I do maybe one percent of the time. The other times it's merely repetition. The buildings and the names and the faces change, but, generally, I do what I expect of myself. And I don't think about my dunk shots. I just make sure I have a place to land."
The play Fitch dreamed up in Game 3 came with 16 seconds left and the Celtics down by two. Pete Maravich was supposed to take the shot, but the Celtics passed the ball aimlessly, and Maravich never knew what to do with it. Finally, Carr rolled it toward Cowens, who fumbled it away. Afterward, some Celtics put the knock on Fitch. Said one, "He has about 200 plays but we use five. Why did he pick one of the other 195? Nobody knew what was going on."
Game 4 was the most puzzling of all. The 76ers shot that miserable .087 in the fourth quarter, yet they blocked an astounding 15 Celtic shots in the game—five by Bobby Jones, four by Dawkins, two each by Erving, Caldwell Jones and Steve Mix. Twice in the fourth period the 76ers went four minutes without scoring, and in those eight minutes the Celtics got exactly eight points.
"Has something happened to this team?" said Fitch. "No. We're not going to fall for that one. This team is happy. We're working. They're blocking our shots. If we can manage to get the damn ball into the basket, get a little lucky...."
As Fitch said those words in the locker room, there was a loud crash and a scream. A large mirror had fallen from above Carr's locker, shattering on his head, and opened a four-inch gash on the back of his right shoulder. The accident left a chill in the room. Fitch looked ashen. "You see what I mean about things not going right?" he said.
After Sunday's crusher, Fitch had tears in his eyes, though the relief from the strain was just as' apparent. "Knowing you're not as bad as they made you look is some comfort," he said. "If people really want to know how good we are, they'd better buy a season ticket and come in here next year to find out."