Spurs memory 22: Spurs toast first playoff series victory with bubbly

Spurs subdue Philadelphia for first seven-game playoff series victory in franchise history

Date: Wednesday May 2, 1979
Place: HemisFair Arena, San Antonio
Score: San Antonio Spurs 111, Philadelphia 76ers 108.

Teams seldom celebrate playoff series victories with champagne before they hoist championship trophies.

The Spurs broke from custom after beating Philadelphia in 1979. Their excitement was understandable, considering how historic the playoff series victory was for the team and Spurs Nation.

It was San Antonio’s first seven-game playoff series victory in franchise history after losing nine previous series. Before the breakthrough, the Spurs had lost in the first round of the NBA or ABA playoffs every year since coming to San Antonio in 1973.

The dramatic Game 7 triumph was one for the ages. The Spurs bounced back after squandering an 18-point lead early in the second quarter. They were on the brink of nearly squandering a 3-1 lead in the series before rebounding to claim a 111-108 triumph in Game 7.

“This stuff about us choking in the playoffs is over,” Spurs  guard James Silas told the Express-News after the wild victory over the 76ers. 

George Gervin led the Spurs with 33 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, despite playing the last 5:47 of the game with five fouls. Larry Kenon chipped in with 27 points, but Mike Green was the difference late in the game as he was inserted into the starting lineup in place of injured starter Billy Paultz.

Green came up with 20 points, eight rebounds, four assists, three assists and three steals as he outplayed Philadelphia’s big men inside. It led to a memorable picture of Green in the next morning’s San Antonio Express-News toasting the Game 7 victory with some bubbly.

“Heck, I don’t know what happened at the end except we had more points,” Spurs coach Doug Moe told reporters after the wild victory.  

Green scored 11 points in San Antonio’s pivotal fourth-quarter comeback. And backup guard Louie Dampier came up with a several key plays after Silas fouled out, igniting the late run with a key basket and gritty defense on Andrew Toney.

San Antonio was nursing a slim one-point lead when Green converted two foul shots after he was fouled by Bobby Jones with 1:04 left.

But after Julius Erving nailed two foul shots to pull Philadelphia back within a point, Green hit an 18-foot jumper to give the Spurs a 109-106 lead with 43 seconds remaining.

After a Bobby Jones miss, Gervin added two clinching free throws to ice the victory with 11 seconds left.

Gervin had huge start, scoring 22 points in the first half including 12 straight points in the first quarter. His early binge helped stake the Spurs to a 43-25 lead midway through the second quarter.

But Philadelphia charged back to trim the Spurs’ halftime lead to nine points behind the play of Erving, who produced 34 points, eight assists and three blocked shots.

Erving, Steve Mix and Maurice Cheeks all had a part in a Philadelphia rally late in the third quarter that boosted them to an 81-78 lead heading into the final quarter.

Mark Olberding’s three-point play with 8:52 gave the Spurs the lead again. But the lead changed six times in the next seven-plus minutes before Gervin’s two foul shots gave the Spurs the lead for good at 105-104 with 1:27 left.

Philadelphia coach Billy Cunningham had set the stage for Philadelphia’s comeback in the series with a change in his starting lineup. In order to match up with Gervin’s height in the backcourt, Cunningham opted for a bigger lineup with Erving at guard, Caldwell Jones at forward and Darrell Dawkins at center.

It worked until Game 7, when Dawkins went down with a sprained ankle in the first quarter and was limited to 27 minutes. His absence enabled the Spurs to hold a 45-36 rebounding edge in Game 7.  

They said it, part I: “At this moment, I don’t even know that we’re playing Washington. We’ll be flying up there tomorrow and that’s when we’ll star thinking about them. But as far as I’m concerned, at this moment they don’t even exist,” Spurs owner Angelos Drossos on beating  Philadelphia and facing defending NBA champion Washington in the next round of the playoffs.

They said it, part II: “All that talk was so much bull. We have played some great teams in the playoffs and lost. But this year, we played tough when we had to,” Moe on the Spurs finally winning a playoff series.

They said it, part  III: “There was a little pressure on me, but I can handle it. There was a lot of criticism about our centers lately and I didn’t think it was right.” Green to the Washington Post on his big performance in Game 7.

They said it, part IV: “We always play a good fourth quarter so I wasn’t worried,” Green, to the post on the late San Antonio rally.

They said it, part V: “I felt we would come back even after we lost that big lead. The thing we had to do was keep our confidence and we did,” Gervin to the Post on the Spurs’ resilency.

They said it, part VI: “I had a job to do and I came out to do it from the very beginning. They said Maurice Cheeks was holding me down. He’s good, but he’s still a rookie and he has a lot to learn,” Gervin on Philadelphia’s defensive strategy.

They said it, part VII: “We’ve  got the team that can keep beat anybody. I don’t care who they are,” Silas, to the United Press International about the victory.

They said it, part VIII: “I thought we had to overcome the refereeing. It seemed like every break went against us,” Moe on game officials.

They said it, part IX: “The heat is off. It’s finally over,” Drossos’ comments after the victory. 

The upshot: The game was one of the first home games in Spurs history to be seen on local television. KMOL-TV picked  up the broadcast with Terry Stembridge and Rudy Davalos serving as the announcing crew. The Spurs were 0-9 in seven-game series and 0-3 in seventh games before the victory over Philadelphia … Silas dedicated the victory to Stembridge, who was the voice of  the franchise dating back to its first season in Dallas in 1967-68 … The Spurs became the second former ABA team to win an NBA playoff series. Denver defeated Milwaukee in a seven-game series in 1978 before losing in the Western Conference Finals to Seattle … The Spurs advanced to the Eastern finals for a similarly memorable series against Washington in the Eastern finals. San Antonio would not win another Game 7 until beating Detroit in the NBA Finals on June 23, 2005.

Previous Spurs most memorable moments:

No. 23: Horry-Nash , may have sparked title run.

No. 24: Ice’s clandestine arrival .

No. 25: Barkleywith series-clinching shot.

No. 26: Silas becomes first Spur.

No. 27: Robinson makes history with .

No. 28: after crucial 1999 victory at Houston.

No. 29: on Halloween night.

No. 30: Torrid San Diego shooting

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