Down the hall, Westhead was ridding himself of a headache—Haywood, who had been unhappy most of the season over the limited playing time accorded him and had "caused distractions" on the bench during Game 2, according to Westhead. In the locker room Haywood flared at his main rival for playing time, Jim Chones. Westhead could tolerate no more, so he suspended Haywood for the rest of the series. That done, Westhead, a Philadelphian born and bred, was asked to discuss how he felt about going back East to try to beat his hometown team in Game 3. "I'm more worried about whether it will be comedy or tragedy," said Westhead.
More to the point, Westhead made a defensive switch—Chones onto Dawkins, leaving Abdul-Jabbar with Caldwell Jones, who had said before the game, "If Kareem guards me I'll shoot from half court and hope the refs call him for playing a zone." Jones did, but the refs didn't. With Kareem camped securely under the basket again and Chones dogging Dawkins, the Sixers attacked from outside. Hollins, guarded by Johnson on yet another switch, missed his first five shots. And L.A. opened a 15-point first-quarter lead.
But in the second period, Erving caught fire with a swooping dunk, a finger roll and an underhand scooper. West-head called time. "Our scouting report says that anytime Doc scores two baskets in a row, do anything to stop the game," he said later. After the time-out, Erving was collared until late in the quarter, when he threw a memorable fake-left-go-right-flying-layin over Kareem. During the quarter, the Laker lead evaporated, but in the last 1:44 L.A. scored nine straight and led at halftime, 58-44.
The game was never close after that, with the Lakers ravaging Philly on the boards 56-37. Abdul-Jabbar's numbers were nothing if not ordinary—33 points, 14 rebounds, three assists, four blocks. The difference again: Wilkes, Nixon and Johnson with 57 points, after only 39 in Game 2. For its part, Philadelphia got just 13 points from its vaunted bench, which had contributed 23 in Game 2.
So everyone went home for the night, to come back again 25 hours later. As Erving said, "It's just a long halftime."
By now an interesting pattern was discernible. In Game 2, Philadelphia went to the foul line 15 more times than the Lakers. In Game 3, the Lakers went 13 more times than the Sixers. In Game 4, the officials finally found the Lakers in a zone defense—22 seconds into the game. Thereafter the Sixers went to the line seven more times than the Lakers, their 23 free throws to L.A.'s 14 spelling the difference in the game.
"Why did Kareem score only 23 points?" someone asked Westhead.
"I don't know," said the coach wryly. "He was perfect from the line." After 27 field-goal attempts, Abdul-Jabbar went to the line exactly once. "I can't be effective when they're holding my arms," he said.
This game was much closer than the first three, with the 76ers jumping to an early lead on defense and running, then losing it to turnovers and Laker rebounds and the shooting of Nixon and Wilkes.
In the fourth period, the Sixers had regained momentum and were leading 89-84. Wilkes was down with foul trouble and Erving found himself on the right wing holding the ball, with bumbling Mark Landsberger to get around. With one step and dribble, Erving was clear of Landsberger; and with another he was launched toward the hoop. "Then I saw Kareem coming and waving his arms," said Erving. A mid-course adjustment took him beyond the backboard and his right arm popped out behind Abdul-Jabbar's back. It went up, then down, then up again, scooping the spinning ball into the basket. Classic, vintage, save-it-for-the-replays Doctor, two of 23 points for the afternoon. That about finished L.A.