Mahorn's hard-nosed interior defense and underrated offensive repertoire had been major factors in Philly's surprising first-place finish in the Atlantic Division this season, so his ineffectiveness against the Bulls, which continued in Games 3 and 4, was significant. How to explain it? Mahorn didn't have an answer, but Jackson suggested this one. "Mahorn had to wrestle an alligator down there," he said, referring to Cartwright. "Bill accomplishes things that no one but the players on our team can realize." Apparently so, for Cartwright's offense (which would produce zero points in Game 3 and only four in Game 4) seems increasingly lumbering and ineffectual.
Before Game 3, the Sixers promised to come out and, as Barkley put it, "play desperate." Which they did—for 40 minutes. Barkley was especially desperate, beating the double-team by posting up closer to the basket and throwing around Chicago bodies like so many stuffed animals. Barkley finished the game with 20 rebounds (10 offensive), plus 34 points. Grant was the major victim when Barkley loosed his fateful lightning in the paint, and Grant admitted there wasn't much he could do to stop him.
"When the refs let him play, he's impossible," said Grant. How so? Grant smiled and got to his feet. "Well, his favorite move is to stay in the lane for, like, six seconds. Then, when the ball goes up, he grabs me here [around the hips], gives a yank and pulls me behind him. Great move. Impossible to stop."
The Alligator was probably Game 3's most invisible player, but Mahorn (10 points, three rebounds) never came into clear focus either. There was even something curiously desultory about his attempts at intimidation. Early in the fourth quarter he tripped the Bulls' B.J. Armstrong from behind on a fast break and, joined by Barkley, stood over the fallen Armstrong and glowered at him. Armstrong is the rookie guard, don't forget, who has such a youthful-looking face that he was charged the 14-and-under admission when he visited the Sears Tower in Chicago several months ago. What's next, Bump and Thump? Puppy-kicking?
The worst sign for the 76ers in Game 3 was the lineup the Bulls had on the floor when they made their spectacular comeback—Jordan joined by reserves Nealy, King, Armstrong and Craig Hodges. "Four quick guys and one, big, hard-nosed guy" is how Jordan described it. But Barkley seemed unfazed by the near-debacle as he held court on a variety of subjects in the Sixer locker room long after Game 3 had ended.
"Yo, L-Train!" he shouted at La Salle University star Lionel Simmons, a certain first-round pick in the upcoming NBA draft, as Simmons wandered around the Philly locker room. "You already got all that first-round money spent?"
"No, not so, Charles," said Simmons.
"Hey, Lionel, it's your world, man," said Barkley. "I'm just livin' in it."
The subject turned to the makeshift Chicago lineup that finished the game. "What I'd like on Sunday, see, is if they started those same guys," Barkley said. "Then we'll see what happens."
Well, Barkley did get King in the starting lineup in place of Pippen, who was home in Arkansas for the funeral of his father. King responded with 21 points. And he got Nealy for 22 minutes. And he got Armstrong, who, in 26 well-played minutes, did not commit a turnover and did a creditable job of guarding Sixer point guard Johnny Dawkins.