Friday, July 15, 2011

The 1977 NBA All-Star Game

I just finished watching the 1977 NBA All-Star Game played in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. No, this is not a blog post written in February of 1977 and left in an internet time capsule, only to be uncovered in 2011; NBA-TV showed the game tonight as one of their Greatest Games series. My favorite thing about having NBA-TV (and NFL Network too) is being able to see classic games. I have been reading about these guys for my whole life, but I have not seen too many of their games.

What impressed me the most, and does every single time I see him play, was Julius Erving. Nobody could slow him down. Those gigantic hands control the ball effortlessly; he can go up for a dunk right off the bounce without warning because he can grip it so easily, no gathering required. He has this long stride that allows him to cover long stretches of court and jump from further out than it seemed everyone was used to. And even though this was an All-Star game, not traditionally known to be super competitive events in any professional sport, he played with a lot of hustle.
Actually, everyone played with a lot of hustle. That was the second most impressive thing. These guys battled hard. Bob McAdoo (it is fun to say his name, Maaaaaac-ah-doo) scored like crazy, but then had to go downcourt and defend either Kareem Abdul-Jabbar or Bob Lanier. McAdoo was giving up 40 pounds and a couple inches to Lanier and five inches to Abdul-Jabbar (not to mention those Go Go Gadget arms). Still, he would go on the block and try to prevent them from scoring. Lanier really beat him up. Those old school guys were tough I guess because he kept at it.

Another player I noticed was Paul Westphal. I know him as the coach of the Phoenix Suns in the 90s (and today with the Kings), but, man, could he play. I had no idea. He had a couple of hard dunks that blew me away, a left handed jam and a two-handed reverse.

Other impressions:

  • Rudy Tomjanovich played terribly. He shot too much and missed too often. I do not think his play in that game warranted the 22 minutes he received. (I am guessing he just had an off night. Really, the only thing I know about his playing days is he was nearly killed by one punch by a guy named Kermit on the court)
  • Jo Jo White was really fast.
  • There was a guy I had never heard of, Don Buse, Indiana Pacers' point guard, who played outstanding. One of the announcers described him in mostly negative terms (he has no range on his jump shot and and is not quick enough to be a point guard), but ended with, "But there is one problem with him: he wins." Later they mentioned he was leading the league in assists and steals. So apparently there are some positives other than him simply lucking into wins. Oh, a guy who can not shoot, but wins a lot and passes and steals the ball well? Kind of sounds like a poor man's Rajon Rondo.
  • All the bigs in this game could shoot from 15-18 feet and yet they still went inside. It seems today it is either/or. Either you are an outside shooter or a post up player.
  • Free throw shooting. The two teams combined to shoot 31-37 from the line. How many times would you run across that today?
  • It looked like the professionalism was lacking in 1977. Somebody forgot to paint the three point line on the court... (There was an interesting conversation during the game between the announcers about how much more difficult it was for slasher/drivers to score in the NBA because defenses packed the lane due to not having a three point line to worry about. Teams today pack the lane and stop Lebron James even with the three point line. It would be a totally different game if it was not around)
  • And yet, Dr. J still dominated. Yes, I am going to talk about him some more. He dunked hard on Kareem. It was like Jordan over Ewing that one time. Vicious. He dunked over someone else too (I think it was Rick Barry or Dan Issel). And when I say over I mean over. The guy tried to take a charge and Dr. J would not have any of it. He jumped ridiculously high and extended to stuff it.
  • Dr. J's defense was good too. It helped get the East back into the game. At one point in the fourth quarter, with the West leading by not much, Barry cut to the basket and Kareem found him with a well placed pass. Erving came out of nowhere to reject him right at the rim. Later, Erving ran downcourt and intercepted the deep outlet pass like a free safety in football.
  • AND still, despite Dr. J doing everything to keep the team in the game, East Coach Gene Shue decided to go with Maravich playing pick and roll with McAdoo to close the game out. Three times they tried it and three times it failed. The screens were not good enough, Pistol Pete did set it up right either. It would have been more sensible to let Erving close the game with the ball in his hands or draw up a play to get Maravich going to the basket with the option of Dr. J cutting. That worked out earlier in the quarter. Pistol Pete hit Erving with a beautiful no look, over-the-shoulder pass for a reverse layup and with a between the legs of the defender pass for another easy bucket. Instead the game ended with a anemic pick and roll and a turnover.
  • It was funny to see a young Larry Brown. The West's second to last possession was preceeded by a timeout. Brown gave the team defensive directions (get back on defense) and some general offensive direction. Then Rick Barry decided he would draw up a play. Very confident of him to take over the huddle like that. Brown let him, but it was kind of funny to see Barry start telling the team what they were going to do without the legendary coach's input.
  • Leisure suits...
  • How did Dr. J do all that running and jumping with so much hair? It had to weigh him down and could not have been aerodynamic.
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