Through the first six games, the self-assured Mickey Johnson may have gotten little of the attention reserved for Marques and Julius, but he was close to them in his level of play. In those games, he averaged 13.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and no complaints about being overlooked. "The attention given Marques has worked to my advantage," he said after Game 6. "Now, though, there's a little more pressure on Philadelphia to deal with me, which should take some of the heat off of Marques."
Mickey Johnson wouldn't be a factor in the deciding game, however; he picked up three fouls in the first seven minutes. In fact, he and Buckner—who suffered severe stomach cramps as well as three fouls in a 29-second span of the first quarter—went scoreless. "Losing Mickey so soon hurt because he'd been playing so well," Nelson said, "but it wasn't as if we didn't have someone to replace him." Indeed, Marques Johnson was himself again, playing the entire 48 minutes of the game and scoring 36 points, his personal high for the series. He got 12 of those in the first period as the teams played to a 28-28 tie.
But Erving, who would finish with 28 points, got 15 in that first period, many of them from one-on-one forays, which were conducted with Cunningham's hearty approval. "Why fool around?" he said. "We're going to go to Doc, anyway."
Until Guard Brian Winters canned a jump shot at 8:13 of the second period, all of Milwaukee's scoring had been done by Marques, Sidney Moncrief and Lanier, and a minute and a half later Lanier was almost ejected for his altercation with Mix. After the row, Philadelphia outscored the Bucks 20-10 en route to a 58-48 halftime lead.
Friday night the Bucks had overcome 37% first-half shooting to spurt ahead early in the third quarter. This time the Sixers held fast and gradually pushed their lead to 74-58. They seemed on the verge of running away with the game. But just as Milwaukee appeared to be losing its poise, the 76ers slowed down. Milwaukee went scoreless for almost three minutes, from 6:55 to 4:07 of the third period, but in that span Philly could only come up with a pair of layups by Cheeks.
As Cunningham had said earlier, "Teams with these kinds of records' and these players don't fold." Given their reprieve, the Bucks went on a 22-5 spurt and took an 80-79 lead at 9:47 of the fourth quarter as the irrepressible Marques and Bridgeman, who had gone 0 for 6 in the first half, combined for 17 points. "We were attempting to do things all game," Nelson would say later. "But from that point everything just seemed to start working."
The teams exchanged the lead for more than three minutes before Erving hit two free throws, stole a pass and sank a jumper to put his team ahead 91-86.
Now it was Marques' turn. He scored five points as the Bucks drew to within a basket at 93-91. With 2:30 to play, Moncrief tried a layup, and Dawkins was called for goaltending when he pinned the ball between the rim and the glass. The score: 93-93. That set the stage for Jones' late-game heroics and the semi-protest by the Bucks.
After a Hollins jumper, Jones' first two free throws put Philly up 97-93. Marques quickly cut the margin to two at 1:06. Then, with 45 seconds to play, Jones rebounded a shot missed by Erving. Eighteen seconds later, after a Cheeks field-goal attempt was blocked by Lanier, Caldwell picked up the loose ball and put up a shot from the top of the key. It missed, barely ticking the rim, but it beat the 24-second shot clock. Dawkins tapped the offensive rebound back to Hollins, who passed the ball on to Jones, who was fouled with 14 seconds to play and made both free throws. That made the score 99-95. The Sixers had held on to the ball for an incredible—and later disputed—52 seconds. A three-point goal by Bridgeman was too little, too late.
But even an hour after the final buzzer there was still a chance that the game hadn't truly ended. An error on the official play-by-play summary indicated that Jones' shot from the top of the key had come more than 24 seconds after the Sixers' previous shot. That prompted a trip by Nelson, Buck Vice-President Wayne Embry and the two game officials to WCAU, CBS' Philadelphia affiliate, to review tapes of those final seconds and determine whether the 24-second clock should have expired before Jones was awarded the free throws that produced the game's winning points. After watching and timing a replay, a dejected Nelson accepted the loss as nobly as he possibly could. "I just had to see if there were any discrepancies," he said.