Malone-led 76ers win title with defense
Los Angeles — Three main things separated the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Lakers in this year's National Basketball Association Championship playoff finals, which Philadelphia ended with a four-game sweep at the LA Forum with a 115-108 victory.
The Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar never contained rival center Moses Malone, especially on the boards; the 76ers consistently played great team defense; and LA was unable to stand up to Philly physically.
Los Angeles' power shortage showed up glaringly in the fourth period of all four games, the Lakers averaging only 18 points in Games 1, 2, and 3, and a mere 15 in Tuesday's final. For Philadelphia, it was the highest kind of personal vindication, considering the 76ers had lost the NBA finals twice in the last three years to Los Angeles.
Of course, that was before the arrival of Malone this year in a trade with the Houston Rockets. Moses had 24 points and 23 rebounds Tuesday night for a four-game series average of 25.8 points and 18 rebounds. He was also a unanimous selection as the series' Most Valuable Player.
''Every time you looked out on the court Tuesday during the game's fourth period, someone was making a great play for the 76ers,'' said Bill Walton of the San Diego Clippers, a playoff spectator who knows what it's like to have to defend against Malone. ''Moses was tremendous. He always seemed able in this series to reach back for something extra at the end of every game.
''Of course Doctor J. (Julius Erving), Maurice Cheeks, and Bobby Jones weren't bad either,'' Walton continued.
''And the way Andrew Toney shot, I'd have to think the size of the basket looks twice as big to him as it does to anyone else. I was also impressed by the hard 48 minutes that Magic Johnson gave the Lakers.
''If Los Angeles hadn't had some key people out with injuries (Bill was referring mostly to Norman Nixon and Bob McAdoo), it might have won a game or two in this series. But any time you have to rely on six or seven players against eight or nine, which meant the 76ers had a big edge in numbers, you're probably going to lose.''
For Philadelphia, the playoffs simply became a mirror of their regular season , which the 76ers began by winning 50 of their first 57 games en route to a league-best 65-17 record. Actually things got better after that as Philly swept New York in the opening round of the playoffs; eliminated Milwaukee in five games; and then shut out Los Angeles for a 12-1 playoff record.
Philadelphia's pressure defense in the finals cut 15 points off the Lakers' regular season scoring average, which had been the second highest in the league behind the Denver Nuggets.
''I think the chief reason we beat Los Angeles and everyone else this season is because we're such a fine defensive team,'' explained Philadelphia Coach Billy Cunningham. ''I want to emphasize that because there has been so much talk about the 76ers being a team of only offensive stars. That's true, but they are also stars who are willing to work hard on defense.''
When assistant coach Jack McMahon was asked how he would evalute Malone's contribution this year, he replied:
''First I think you have to understand that the 76ers are not a one-man team. Everybody, including the players on our bench, are assigned specific roles. But Malone's presence is what makes us great, and I've never seen a superstar who works as hard in practice as Moses does. I mean, he makes everyone else put out more than he ordinarily would.
''Although people are always talking about Malone's consistency, the word they should be using to describe him is relentless,'' McMahon added. ''Moses just never gives up. When Malone is in there, our team defense is the best in the league. Look what he did tonight, 23 rebounds against 7 for Kareem, and he also blocked a few shots.''
When Philadelphia owner Harold Katz was asked how much of a risk he felt he was taking when he signed Malone to a six-year, $13.2 million contract during the off-season, Katz replied:
''I don't pay for things unless I know what I'm getting ahead of time, and in Malone I knew I was getting the one man who could guarantee me a championship. Moses isn't just a player with a lot of natural ability, you know, he's also a player with tremendous personal motivation. I was never afraid that all that money would go to his head.''
After Philadelphia eliminated Milwaukee from the Eastern Conference finals, Katz insisted that Malone borrow his Rolls Royce for a week. Normally, Moses tools around in a four-wheel-drive pickup truck that has had its body raised several inches above the frame.
Laker Coach Pat Riley, who left himself open for second guessers in this series by often resting Abdul-Jabbar at times when LA was having trouble holding late-game leads, had nothing but praise for the 76ers in his post-game remarks.
''Philadelphia is a great basketball team and we didn't lose to them. They went out and beat us. The only thing I'm glad about is that the monkey is off our back now and on theirs.'' For now it's up to the 76ers to try and become the first repeat NBA champion since the Boston Celtics won back-to-back titles in 1968 and 1969.