(DENVER) "It wasn't really the shot I wanted," said New York's Julius Erving of his game-winning shot at the buzzer in Game 1 of the ABA Championship Series. "I wanted to drive or take the baseline but Bobby Jones cut off my drive. So I had to shoot it."
"It" was a classic turnaround 21-footer over Jones that hit nothing but net and sent the McNichols Arena crowd into stunned silence. The clutch hoop left the magnificent Erving with 45 points, including 18 in the pressure-packed fourth quarter, and gave the Nets a thrilling 120-118 win.
The Doctor, who left no doubters among the 19,034 in attendance as to why he is the league's MVP noted of his game, "When you got the rhythm, you got to keep going. I felt good tonight and I had a little luck on some of those offensive rebounds at the end. Two or three times the ball came off the board hard to me and I was able to score or get fouled."
Was this perhaps his best game ever? "I can't think about the past. All I know is now. And I know this game gave us all very good vibrations. I thought this was a great ballgame for the fans, the ones here and the ones who saw it on TV back in New York."
He explained of his success in eluding the defense of Bobby Jones, "tonight I played basically an inside game because he's (Jones) so good at overplaying me. I just let the ball come to me, and I didn't come out to get it. Their defense took us out of our patterns, so I just let the flow of the game come to me."
Most successfully, as Doc shot 17 of 25 from the field, connected on all 11 of his free throws, grabbed 12 rebounds and dealt four assists.
Noted Nets' center Kim Hughes, "He (Erving) really didn't surprise me tonight; we've seen it all year. Some of the things he does, other guys would be in traction for weeks if they tried them. His body control is just amazing." The articulate rookie pivot came up with three key offensive rebounds late in the game, twice scoring big baskets to keep the Nets ahead of the surging Nuggets. "I was trying hard all night to go to the boards. I think they (Nuggets) got a little tired toward the end. They were trying to box out a little more earlier in the game."
"We gave them too many points on second shots, but overall our defense was good," said New York mentor Kevin Loughery, who then turned to discuss Dr. J's game-winning shot. "He's got one of the very best defensive forwards in pro ball on him and look what he does. Actually, we wanted Doc to be a little deeper inside and he got the ball too high. I can't say we designed the play for a 25-foot fadeaway; the play worked because of Doc's greatness, that's all."
Both Loughery and Erving disclaimed the powers of the 'mystical home court advantage.' "It seems to carry less weight in the playoffs," said Doc. "I don't think it's that important until you get to the seventh game," added the Net boss.
Over in the quiet Nugget quarters, David Thompson said much the same thing. "Evidently it doesn't mean much, because the home teams lost a game in both of the previous series. We've got to get on the right track Tuesday (game 2)."
On a possible Nugget letdown after an emotional seventh game win over Kentucky, he offered "anytime you start another series, particularly after one like we just had, it's hard to get in the proper frame of mind right away."
David had 30 points (13 of 19 shooting) and noted he is now "comfortable" at guard, where he played much of the final period. "I've played so much more at forward that I'm still more familiar with playing up front but guard is no problem.
"The Doctor was great, wasn't he?" asked DT rhetorically. Say one thing for the Nuggets .. they weren't beaten by any hamburger. It took a marvelous game by perhaps pro ball's greatest performer to do them in. Of such performances are legends made and sustained.
This article Copyright © Leo Hirsch and used with permission