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Jack McCallum
May 21, 1990
That dull noise was once-brash Philly falling behind 3-1 to Michael Jordan and the Bulls
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May 21, 1990

Thump Go The 76ers

That dull noise was once-brash Philly falling behind 3-1 to Michael Jordan and the Bulls

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The Eastern Conference Semifinal playoff series between the Chicago Bulls and the Philadelphia 76ers promised to feature the continuing adventures of Bump and Thump, as the Sixers' noggin-knocking, body-bashing duo of Charles Barkley and Rick Mahorn have come to be called. But by the time the Bulls left the City of Brotherly Loathe on Sunday night, a 3-1 lead tucked away in their black-and-red travel bags, Bump and Thump had all but turned into Pfft and Whoosh. And the series' story line had taken a familiar turn—toward the continuing stupendous postseason play of Michael Jeffrey Jordan.

Jordan scored 45 points, 18 of them in the fourth period, in Chicago's crucial, come-from-behind 111-101 Game 4 victory at the Spectrum on Sunday afternoon. That win set it up so that one more Chicago triumph—the series returned to Chicago Stadium on Wednesday night—and the Bulls would advance to the Eastern finals for the second straight year. Jordan had already scored 39 and 45 points in Chicago's Game 1 (96-85) and Game 2 (101-96) victories at home and was even more incredible in the Bulls' 118-112 loss in last Friday night's Game 3 in Philly, scoring 24 points in the fourth period to finish with 49. Jeez, the guy just can't seem to get 50.

Chicago probably won Game 4 by the way it played in that Game 3 defeat, in which it nearly overcame a 93-69 deficit in the final 10 minutes before running out of time. The Bulls' frantic full-court trap—"our basic scrum-it-up, roustabout defense," coach Phil Jackson calls it—exposed the 76ers as a team that becomes complacent with a big lead and nearly catatonic when called upon to protect a rapidly shrinking one. Then again, maybe Game 3 was a carryover from Game 2, when Philly let a 57-46 halftime lead go up in smoke.

At any rate, Game 4 offered more of the same, much to the displeasure of the vocal Philadelphia fans. The Sixers led by as much as 80-66 late in the third period and were still ahead 89-80 early in the fourth. But they seemed powerless down the stretch as Jordan and a supporting cast that included Ed Nealy, a 6'7", 250-pound power forward who looks like a refugee from someone's defensive line, took over the game. Barkley, normally indefatigable, was suddenly ineffectual. The Bulls' persistent double-teaming, combined with the intractable, elbow-in-the-back defense of Nealy, turned Barkley into little more than a Bump on a log. He missed six of eight free throws in the fourth period (he was only 6 of 15 from the line in the game) and had but one field goal in the final 12 minutes.

"I knew he was real tired because he didn't talk as much, and talking energizes him," said Jordan of Barkley, who finished with 22 points. "You could see his battery wind down as the game went on." From the Sixer locker room, where he sat exhausted and nearly speechless, Barkley said, "We lost the game because I didn't make my free throws."

Before the series began on May 7, the NBA office warned both teams that retribution for fighting and unduly physical play would be costly. The Sixers may have overreacted to the edict in Game 1. With the exception of Barkley (30 points, 20 rebounds), they played sluggishly and passively, particularly Thump, who, having missed the team bus, arrived at Chicago Stadium just 45 minutes before tip-off and later said he felt like he had been "catching up" the whole night. Mahorn had only four points and eight rebounds.

" Rod Thorn [the league's vice-president for operations] said not to hurt anybody," said Barkley, "not don't hit anybody. You can hit somebody without hurting them."

And you can hurt somebody without hitting them. At one point during the third period of Game 1, Barkley gestured at teammate Mike Gminski and hollered to the bench, "Get him out of here!" A few minutes later, he castigated teammate Ron Anderson for not going after a rebound. Anderson woofed back, and Barkley later had to admit that he had been at fault on that play for not boxing out. Barkley also said that the incidents were overblown by the media and that among team members, his outbursts are not usually taken personally. Perhaps. But they seemed to be symptomatic of a panicking team that was destined to self-destruct, an impression that was magnified in Game 2.

Barkley had 19 rebounds in that game but scored only 16 points, two of them in the second half. He succumbed much too easily to the Bulls' relentless double-teaming, preferring to swing the ball around the perimeter in search of an open teammate instead of attacking the basket. Jackson's scrambling of his defensive matchups for this series was effective. Power forward Horace Grant guarded Barkley (mobility on mobility), center Bill Cartwright guarded Mahorn (bulk on bulk) and small forward Scottie Pippen guarded Gminski, the Sixer center who plays mostly outside, so Pippen could be the designated doubler. Barkley had written KICK ASS in magic marker on the back of his sneakers, but he kicked none.

Neither did Mahorn (14 points, two rebounds). Oh, he knocked Jordan to the floor as Jordan drove down the lane late in the third period, but that didn't come close to knocking the Bulls off their game. After the whistle, Mahorn compounded the transgression by shoving Bulls forward Stacey King and drawing a technical. And Jordan then converted the two free throws plus the T to give Chicago a 78-77 lead it never lost.

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