The Milwaukee Bucks, almost certain they would be playing the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round of the playoffs, battled resolutely in the final week of the regular season to assure themselves the home-court advantage.
Lot of good it did the Bucks. They will go on the road Thursday night in the third game of the best-of-seven second round series and it can’t possibly be worse.
Moses Malone scored 25 points and Julius Erving 21 Tuesday night at Milwaukee to offset a sparkling performance by Terry Cummings to lead the 76ers to a 112-108 victory over the Bucks for a 2-0 lead in the series.
Cummings scored 41 points, sinking 14 of 25 shots, had 12 rebounds, 4 assists and 3 steals. Largely because of Cummings, the Bucks, unlike in Sunday’s opener, made a game of it all the way. Paul Pressey’s 16 assists also played a part in making it a close game.
The 76ers won it at the foul line. Field goals were even, but the 76ers made 27 of 30 free-throw attempts. Malone, 9 for 9, and Julius Erving sank them in the clutch after the Bucks pulled within three points with almost two minutes to play.
The Bucks finished one game ahead of the 76ers during the regular season. But this is a different 76er team from the one that ended the season with the players bickering among themselves and unhappy with Coach Billy Cunningham.
“We are not the team that ended the season playing under .500 basketball,” Erving said. “We’ve returned to the team that’s won 80% of their games.
“Our intensity and concentration is there, and we’re as healthy as we’ve been in three months.”
During the regular season, Coach Don Nelson of the Bucks had great success using three centers, Alton Lister, Randy Breuer and Paul Mokeski. They have had no success against Malone. The three played a total of 63 minutes and had 21 points and 17 rebounds. Malone, playing 39 minutes only had six rebounds, but Erving had 10 and Charles Barkley had 12 to go with his 19 points in 34 minutes.
“I have no complaints with the way we played,” Nelson said. “We played as hard as we could. We had a lot of turnovers in the first half, but in the second half we took pretty good care of the ball.
“We are a young team and we are learning what playoff basketball is all about. It will be tough for the youngsters to keep a positive attitude for Thursday night.”
Boston 121, Detroit 114--Although it was an accidental blow, when Bill Laimbeer’s elbow caught Larry Bird in the mouth, he made the Celtic star angry.
It happened in the last two minutes of the third quarter at Boston and, despite his ailing elbow, Bird scored 19 more points for a career-high playoff total of 42 points. The sterling performance by Bird, who was 14 of 26 from the field, had 10 rebounds and 6 assists, led the defending champions to a 2-0 series lead.
“Anybody that throws elbows at me gets me fired up,” Bird said. “When I get the ball in good position, I can score on just about everyone.”
Bird, who discarded at halftime the pad that has been protecting his ailing elbow, drew heavy praise from both coaches.
“He’s the best basketball player on the planet,” Detroit Coach Chuck Daly. “He’s as tough as anyone in the league. Bird believes he can do whatever it takes out there to win.”
Boston Coach K. C. Jones is familiar with Bird’s heroics. “Larry Bird still does the job when things get rough,” he said. “It was just a sweet victory for us.”
Thee magnificent Isiah Thomas tried to get the Pistons even in the best-of-seven series. He scored 28 points, had 9 rebounds and 15 assists.
Denver 130, Utah 113--Lafayette Lever put on a Magic Johnson-type performance at Denver to get the Nuggets off on the right foot in their playoff opener with the Jazz.
Lever, taking advantage of the absence of Mark Eaton, Utah’s 7-4 center, weaved in and out among the Jazz. He had 19 points, 18 assists and 16 rebounds.
Dan Issel came off the bench to sink 9 of his first 10 shots as the Nuggets went in front with a late spurt in the second quarter and led the rest of the way.
The Nuggets made their last nine shots in the first half to build a 73-66 lead.
Eaton was injured in the last game against Houston and underwent surgery Tuesday. Billy Paultz, the 15-year playoff veteran who came through against the Rockets when Eaton was hurt, couldn’t deliver this time. He played nine minutes, was 0 for 3 and had two rebounds.
“Sure, I’m happy about the stats, but they don’t matter if you lose,” Lever said. “I think it’s going to be a great series. As you go through each round its supposed to get tougher and this one will be tougher than the one with the Spurs.”