The “Sixers Six” is a series of top-six lists on a variety of Sixers topics, both past and present.
Today’s Sixers Six ranks the top six most underrated playoff moments in franchise history. These list won’t consist of great playoffs moments that all fans remember like The Step Over or Andrew Toney‘s Game 7 against Boston. Rather this list looks at the most under-appreciated playoff heroics by Sixers that you might not have known about or had forgotten. Here is the list:
6) Doug Collins’ Buzzer Beater Sends Game 1 of the 1978 Eastern Conference Finals into OT
– In 1978, the Sixers faced off against Wes Unseld, Elvin Hayes, and the Washington Bullets in the Eastern Conference Finals. Game 1 in Philadelphia was tight throughout the second half of the game and in the final moments, Washington led by two, 109-107, with five seconds left. The Bullets were inbounding the ball with the lead and once the pass was caught by Tom Henderson, George McGinnis and Doug Collins trapped and forced a jump ball with three seconds left.
On the ensuing tip, McGinnis was able to win the jump ball, right to Collins. Doug then took one dribble to his left and threw up a jumper that went in at the buzzer. Tie game at 109 heading into overtime. The crowd at the Spectrum went crazy as Collins kept the Sixers alive in the game, but unfortunately, they lost in overtime, 122-117. The Sixers would end up losing the series to Washington in six games. The buzzer beater ended being one of Collins’ last great moments as a Sixer as nagging knee injuries forced his early retirement just three years later. So while the Sixers lost the game and ultimately the series, Collins’ buzzer beater has generally been forgotten amongst Sixers fans, but it is still one of the most clutch shots in team history.
5) Thaddeus Young’s Layup beats the Magic in Game 3 (Round 1 – 2009 Playoffs)
– Head coach Maurice Cheeks was fired 23 games into the 2008-09 season and was replaced by front office executive Tony DiLeo. The Sixers played well under DiLeo, going 32-27 the rest of the way with some momentum heading into the playoffs. Their first-round opponent would be the 3rd seed Orlando Magic led by the Defensive Player of the Year Dwight Howard. The Sixers had stolen Game 1 in Orlando and heading back to Philadelphia for Game 3 tied 1-1.
It was tight game throughout the fourth quarter and the score was tied, 94-94 with 6.9 seconds remaining and the Sixers had the ball. Thad Young caught the ball in the corner off the inbound and drove baseline towards the basket with Howard waiting for him. Young then picked up his dribble with Dwight all over him while the big man nearly forced a jump ball. Thad was able to regain possession and spun to his right surrounded by three Magic players.
With three seconds left in the game, Young somehow managed to get his layup off over Howard and Rashard Lewis making the bucket and giving the Sixers a two-point lead. The Sixers hung on and won in amazing fashion to take a surprising 2-1 series lead over the heavily-favored Magic. Philly would lose the last three games of the series but Young’s heroics in Game 3 made it one of the more fun first-round playoff series in team history.
– In a series that saw both teams average more 106 points per game in its first six games, Game 7 of the 1977 Eastern Conference Finals was a slugfest, that saw the Sixers victorious, 83-77 over the hated Boston Celtics. Of Philadelphia’s 83 points, 27 came from World B. Free off the bench. Those 27 points were just enough as the Sixers hung on to win, scoring just 12 points in the fourth quarter. Free was the leading scorer of the team, outscoring the next best Sixers’ scorer by 13 (Julius Erving, 14 points). He was never afraid to shoot, and that showed in the box score, as he attempted 27 shots but he went 7 of 7 from the free-throw line.
Free was asked to carry the team, and he did, but his performance off the bench was overshadowed by the team’s failure to bring the title back to Philadelphia. The Sixers were upset in the Finals by the Trail Blazers in six games, leaving a sour taste in Sixers’ fans mouths, but Free’s efforts to save the Sixers in Game 7 against the Celtics was his most memorable moment in Philadelphia.
3) Earl Cureton’s Skyhook Over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA Finals (1983)
– The moment lasted only a few seconds for Earl Cureton. It was Game 2 of the 1983 NBA Finals in Philadelphia, with the Sixers leading the series 1-0 to the Lakers. A win at home would almost guarantee victory in the series, and the Sixers got a big contribution from someone they did not rely on all season. C
ureton, the team’s third center, only averaged 13 minutes per game during the regular season, and had barely played during the playoffs as Moses Malone was dominating his competition. But in Game 2, Malone went to the sidelines with his fifth personal foul with 7:58 left in the game and the Sixers holding onto a slim lead (83-79): enter Earl Cureton. In his five-plus minutes, Cureton rallied his Sixers, playing tough defense on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, grabbing three rebounds, getting two steals, and scoring the most important two points of his career.
With just under five minutes to go and the Sixers leading 89-85, Bobby Jones passed the ball to Cureton on the right block. Cureton posted up on Kareem, spun left, took one power dribble, and turned for a hook shot. The ball went in the basket and the crowd erupted. Cureton perfected Kareem’s patented “Skyhook” on the master himself in crunch time of the NBA Finals.
When Malone had returned to the game with 2:24 left, the Sixers doubled its lead, 95-87, and went on to win the game, 103-93, taking a commanding 2-0 series lead. That was a lead the Sixers did not relinquish as they swept the Lakers in Los Angeles to finally win its championship. Sixers fans should never forget how important Earl Cureton was in winning Game 2 with those five big minutes, headlined by his skyhook over the 19-time All-Star.
2) Eric Snow’s Game-Clinching Runner in Game 1 of the 2001 NBA Finals
– We all remember “The Step-over”, it is the defining moment of that team, that season, that year’s MVP, Allen Iverson. Yet it was not the game-deciding basket.
As we all know, with the game in overtime and the Sixers up by two, 101-99, Allen Iverson makes his infamous corner step-back jumper and steps over Lakers’ guard Tyronn Lue with 47 seconds left, giving the Sixers a four-point lead. That’s what we all remember. What you may forget is that on the other end of the floor, Kobe Bryant hit a clutch fadeaway jumper with Raja Bell right in his face, to put the Sixers’ lead back to two with 33.9 seconds remaining. That meant the Sixers had to play the shot clock out and if they could score one more basket, they could finish off the upset.
Larry Brown does not call timeout, as point guard Eric Snow can’t get the ball to Iverson, who is being hounded by Lue. Snow passes to Bell, who uses five seconds of the short-remaining shot clock to get himself into a scoring position. He can’t get open so he passes back to Snow, who is two feet behind the three-point line. With a slight hesitation, Snow dribbles left past Bryant to free himself up for a running, one-footer jump shot, which he gets off right before the shot clock expires. The prayer is answered, and everyone is shocked at the Staples Center, including Marv Albert and Doug Collins on the NBC broadcast. Sixers are back up four, 105-101 with 10 seconds remaining and Eric Snow has silenced the crowd with his stunning runner.
The Sixers ended up winning 107-103 in a stunning upset, beating the mighty Lakers who were previously undefeated in the playoffs. LA would go on to win the next four games of the series, to take the title in five, but Sixers’ fans will never forget that Game 1 victory. While the Step Over was the defining moment of Allen Iverson and that Sixers team’s run to the Finals, we can’t forget that Eric Snow sealed that victory with a clutch jumper.
– The 1966-67 championship-winning Philadelphia 76ers were led by Wilt Chamberlain, one of the greatest players of all-time. Wilt dominated, averaging 24 points, 23 rebounds, and seven assists per game during the regular season. He put the team on his back during the team’s playoff run, beating the Royals, Celtics, and the Warriors, as they brought the city of Philadelphia a title. But what is lost in the narrative is the contributions of third-year guard Wali Jones during the NBA Finals. Jones, who was the backup to veteran Larry Costello to start the season, ran the point for the 68-win Sixers for the final two months of the year.
Jones stepped up big time in the NBA Finals, averaging 20 points in the series’ six games. But his most memorable game of the series against San Francisco was the clinching Game 6, where he led the Sixers in scoring with 27 points. Trailing the series 3-2, Rick Barry took over for the Warriors scoring 44 points, so someone else besides Chamberlain (24 points) had to help counteract Barry’s production. Jones’ 27 points were the deciding factor of the game, as the Sixers ended the series in San Fran, winning 125-122, outscoring the Warriors by nine in the fourth quarter.
So, while it is right to credit Wilt Chamberlain with much of the team’s success in its championship season, Jones’ Game 6 performance was the deciding factor of the series. He scored more points in that game than four Hall of Famers (Chamberlain, Hal Greer, Chet Walker, Billy Cunningham). Even as the Sixers’ celebrated the 50th anniversary of the ’66-’67 championship this past season, not enough was (and still isn’t) said about Wali Jones’ series-clinching performance.