The Sixers won, 122-112, to maintain their share of first place with Boston, turning back the Pacers for the 12th consecutive time at the Spectrum.
"That's been the story of our team from Day 1," Julius Erving said. ''Most of what we've done hasn't been according to a script, but a matter of doing what's been necessary to win. We've had guys coming off the bench, guys contributing defensively, guys getting in hot spurts. Most nights, though, it's been a matter of balance, guys reacting, adjusting. But finding ways to win on nights when it seems you're not supposed to, that's been satisfying."
This was Mystery Night. When coach Matt Guokas said he would decide on a lineup based on who showed up, he wasn't kidding. Cliff Robinson (back strain) didn't show up, so Roy Hinson moved back into the starting lineup and Kenny Green became the first forward off the bench. Andrew Toney became the third guard, but only for the first half, because David Wingate was the first guard off the bench in the second half. And Sedale Threatt, who had been the third guard, didn't get off the bench at all.
"Matty was pretty upset at halftime," Maurice Cheeks said. "He felt we weren't in it (the Sixers led, 59-58), that we were keeping them in it, that we were making silly mistakes. He let us know. He doesn't scream and yell, but he gets his points across.
"That's the value of coaching. Sometimes you can just be playing, but without a purpose. That's where a coach has to motivate you, remind you, put it on your mind. I guess it's OK to have nights like that once in a while, as long as you win."
The Sixers won because they tightened the defensive screws in the second half, using Wingate to scramble after the Pacers' point guards and Cheeks to pursue shooting guard John Long. That, in turn, helped create enough opportunities for Charles Barkley to ring up 30 points and 21 rebounds, Tim McCormick 25 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high five blocks, Cheeks 22 points, 10 assists and 4 steals, and Hinson 17 points.
They got all of that done even though Erving sat out the last 18:24, Toney shot 0-for-3 in 11 minutes, Barkley was assessed his first technical foul of the season with 4:53 left in the third quarter and Guokas was assessed another technical 1:48 later.
"I thought I was going to get a delay of game call (from referee Mike Mathis), not a technical," Barkley said. "I flipped the ball in the stands earlier and nobody said that was a delay, but this time it was a 'T.'
"To me, the key was that the Pacers hit all their jumpers the first half and we couldn't hit anything. I didn't think we were playing that badly, and when we began getting some fastbreaks and some easy baskets, the game was ours. Hey, that's not a bad team. They have all those big bodies, and that means they have a lot of fouls to waste. I'm just thinking about all those people who were saying we had too many forwards. If it hadn't been for all the forwards, we might be in last place right now."
With Robinson out, Guokas told Green, who had played 34 minutes all season, to be ready. Green responded with a decent eight points and five rebounds in 19 of his more fluid and confident minutes.
"He told me he was going to use me, but it's been hard on me, it's been hard for a year-and-a-half when you just sit, sit, sit," Green said. "I had been used to playing in college (at Wake Forest), and last year (with Washington and the Sixers) didn't work out the way I had wanted it to. This year, I'm trying to take it as it comes. I'm one of the 12 guys on the team and thankful I'm here.
"It's up to him (Guokas) to run it the way he sees fit, but we're winning and he knows what he's doing. I was a little surprised and shocked when he said I'd be playing, but I've heard that before, then didn't see the floor except during warmups. I don't consider what I did tonight a major contribution. I'm surprised all you (media) guys even want to talk to me."
Some of the guys wanted to talk to Threatt, who refused. Some of the guys wanted to talk to Toney, who also refused.
But Wingate, the 6-5 rookie, didn't seem to mind. He didn't mind chasing after point guards Vern Fleming and Kyle Macy, either.
"Defense is my game," he said. "I feel I can play anybody. If I'm out there against a smaller man, I can use my size to create problems. Coach keeps emphasizing that our offense can be off, but our defense can still win for us. So we went at 'em, at 'em and at 'em, and they eventually broke down. I just know when he sends me out there to play, I just play."
SIX SHOTS: Jeff Ruland has been cleared by his surgeon, Dr. Kenneth DeHaven, to begin exercising his surgically corrected left knee. "On schedule?" Ruland said. "I'd say I'm on a better schedule than the airlines."
Somebody asked Tim McCormick about his shot-blocking theory. "I don't know too much about it," he replied. "I just try to stay out of foul trouble. There were some plays tonight when they could have called fouls, but they didn't, so I kept on trying." And what about McCormick's theory on the moment-to-moment inconsistencies of the Sixers? "When the game's on the line, we play the way we're capable," he said. "Other times, we play poorly, put ourselves on the verge of getting knocked off. Scary" . . .
Wayman Tisdale scored 20 points for the Pacers, who placed seven scorers in double figures, but still dropped to 2-9 on the road . . . Matt Guokas's technical? "For walking up and down the sideline, and I waved my hands once," he said . . . Trainer Al Domenico showed up wearing a stylish leather jacket. "Who are you supposed to be?" Ruland asked. "Ben Cartwright?"