With the NBA playoffs on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, here are some memorable 76ers playoff games dating to when they moved from Syracuse before the 1963-64 season. Is your favorite missing? Send feedback to Marc Narducci at email@example.com.
Final of 12 parts.
The 76ers entered the 1982-83 season with high expectations, and rightfully so. They had been to the NBA Finals three of the previous six seasons, ending in heartbreak each time.
For the new season, there was a championship-or-bust mentality after the Sixers acquired Moses Malone from the Houston Rockets. He was considered the player who would push them over the top.
And while Malone’s arrival invigorated the entire franchise, coach Billy Cunningham was worried about one of his incumbent starters, Bobby Jones. Cunningham thought that with Malone’s arrival, it would be better for Jones to come off the bench.
So on the first day of training camp, Cunningham called Jones over to discuss making Jones a reserve, albeit an important one.
Before Cunningham could bring this idea up, he was intercepted by Jones.
“Bobby said to me that he thought we would be a better team if he came off the bench,” Cunningham said in a recent interview. “He epitomized what a winning team needs.”
Keep in mind that Jones had been an All-Star in the ABA and a four-time selection in the NBA, including the previous season with the Sixers.
“I know in our discussions we talked about who wins the game, not who starts the game, that is important,” Jones said in a recent interview. “I just felt like I wanted to still be valued as a player, I certainly was going in at the end of the game most of the time.”
Jones really embraced the role.
"Coming off the bench was perfect for me,” he said. “I was always a guy who could wear down fairly easily and my stamina wasn’t great. Knowing I was going to play shorter minutes, you can really pump up yourself and be more intense, knowing you were going to come out fairly soon.”
Jones earned the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year Award that season and was named an All-Defensive first-teamer for the eighth straight year.
The other issue to resolve was getting everybody to buy into the acquisition of Malone. The season before, the Sixers lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers in the Finals. To acquire Malone, the Sixers had to send Caldwell Jones, one of their most popular players, to Houston.
“We had come so close the year before and, while this was nothing against Moses, there were some wondering why the team had to make that move,” Cunningham said. “After a few days of training camp, they understood why we acquired him.”
According to Cunningham, Malone’s basketball hero was Sixers great Julius Erving.
“It was a seamless transition, Moses joining the team,” Cunningham said. “He complemented everything we did. Here is a guy who was the MVP and could have been very demanding, but he made it so easy and was embraced in the locker room.”
Malone followed up his 1981-82 MVP season with another in his first year with the Sixers. He was clearly the missing piece, and before the playoffs, he made his famous fo-fo-fo prediction, meaning the Sixers would sweep their three series each in four games.
He was off by only a game as the Sixers became the first team in NBA history to lose just one game in the postseason.
After a first-round bye, the Sixers swept the New York Knicks and then advanced to the Finals with a 4-1 series win over Milwaukee.
The Sixers, who had the NBA’s best regular-season record (65-17), swept the Lakers in the Finals.
The clinching game came May 31, 1983, when the Sixers won Game 4 in the Los Angeles Forum, 115-108.
The Sixers trailed, 65-51, at the half and were down, 93-82, entering the fourth quarter. But they outscored the Lakers, 33-15, in the final 12 minutes. The Sixers had trailed at the half in all four games.
Erving gave the Sixers the lead for good with 59 seconds left on a three-point play, making it 109-107. Another Erving basket, followed by a Malone dunk, and the Sixers were on their way. The win was punctuated by Maurice Cheeks’ fast-break dunk for the Sixers’ final points.
"There was no joking around, we were ready to go to a battle, and I think Moses [Malone] brought a lot of that for us.”
That’s right, the 6-foot-1 Cheeks jammed it, momentarily stunning his delirious teammates.
“I was shocked,” Bobby Jones said. “I didn’t know he could dunk. He has small hands and kind of cupped it, and I was really proud of him.”
Malone, who was named the Finals MVP, had 24 points and 23 rebounds. Andrew Toney scored 23 points, Erving had 21, and Cheeks 20. Jones scored 13, shooting 6-for-7 from the field, along with four steals and two blocked shots.
The Sixers’ fifth starter, Marc Iavoroni, had four points and three rebounds. Clint Richardson and Clemon Johnson had six and four points off the bench, respectively.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 28 points for the Lakers while Magic Johnson contributed 27 points and 13 assists.
Jones recalled the team’s mindset as it prepared for that clinching Game 4.
“In the hallway before we went out for warmups, it was almost like we were going out for a fight,” he said. "There was no joking around, we were ready to go to a battle, and I think Moses brought a lot of that for us.”
Jones says the Sixers’ clinching win was a team effort.
“I look back, everybody who played in that game contributed in a positive way,” he said. “Nobody had a bad game.”
Cunningham said that he had a special feeling for Erving, who had won two ABA titles but had been with the three most recent Sixers teams that had lost in the Finals.
“Winning for Julius Erving was something that solidified he had a great career,” Cunningham said. “He would have had a great career without it, but it was just the dot of the 'i' for Julius. It was awfully fulfilling because of the type of person he was to coach and to be around.”
Cunningham, who took over the team in November 1977, said it was a relief to win the title.
“I never felt a bit of pressure from the media and fans,” he said. “Any pressure was on myself.”
Pat Williams, who was the Sixers’ general manager and is now attempting to bring Major League Baseball to Orlando, Fla., said he was taken aback by the graciousness of the Lakers.
“The Lakers were going down fighting, and they did,” Williams said in a recent interview. “What I remember most is [Lakers coach] Pat Riley came over to our dressing room to congratulate our team. I remember that vividly.”
Cunningham said the key was that a talented group of players blended together and made the appropriate sacrifices toward the championship effort.
“The great thing was the chemistry in the locker room,” Cunningham said.
Over the years, Cunningham has also stayed in touch with so many who were part of that championship team.
“If you see those men since then, you find some really wonderful men,” Cunningham said. “They have given back and done wonderful things for others.”