The Sixers had only nine players in uniform for their 15th victory of the season. Among the missing was their star rookie, Jerry Stackhouse. How improbable was the victory? Just count the ways:
* The Hawks are 42-33 and taking dead aim at the postseason.
* With nine players dressed, the Sixers were one above the NBA minimum.
* Stackhouse remained in Philadelphia after breaking his thumb Friday night in a game against Detroit. He is out for the season, as is the team's forgotten man, Richard Dumas, who told coach John Lucas that he had broken his foot by dropping a trash can on it at home. Guard Greg Sutton also missed the game with a sore foot.
* The Sixers' point guard was Rex Walters, previously the only Sixer who had not started a game this season. Walters hit 6 of 10 shots and scored 17 points while handing out seven assists.
* The Sixers' starting lineup was their 30th different one this season.
``Gratifying,'' Walters said. ``Lenny Wilkens is a great coach, but maybe tonight his players got out of hand a little bit.''
Walters was referring to the five technicals called against the Hawks, including three in the fourth quarter. Suddenly, after being up by 16 points midway through the third period and cruising, Atlanta was in a ball game, as the Sixers refused to self-destruct.
``Those are the worst technicals I've seen,'' Wilkens said. ``I've been in the league 30-something years and I've never seen calls like that. That was atrocious.''
One of the technicals brought an ejection for Grant Long, the Atlanta forward who had scored 15 points in 31 minutes. The string of them seemed to rattle the Hawks right down to the gel-filled heels of their sneakers. Yes, the wheels came off, but this time they came off the team the 76ers were playing.
``We'll take them,'' Clarence Weatherspoon said. ``I'll take them any way I can get them.''
For Weatherspoon, it was a typically good night. He played 46 minutes, scored 21 points, and led all players with 12 rebounds.
``After so much bad luck and things happening,'' he said, ``it's good to have some good luck for a change.''
The Sixers' luck looked as if it would hold on the bad side when Sean Higgins failed to inbound the ball and called time out with 10 seconds left and Philadelphia leading by a point. The only problem was, the Sixers had no time-outs remaining.
Hawks guard Mookie Blaylock calmly sank the technical-foul shot to put Atlanta up by one. But to hear Lucas tell it, even that miscue was a fortunate turn of events.
``We talked about that rule at the general managers' meeting,'' he said. ``Even if you get the technical, you still get the ball back. They got the point, but we got the ball.''
This time, Higgins inbounded to Maxwell, who had received simple instructions from Lucas: Hold the ball until there are four seconds left, then win it.
``I already knew what I was going to do,'' Maxwell said.
What he did was dribble to the top of the key, take a step back, watch the Hawks' Craig Ehlo fly by him, and calmly sink the winner.
Atlanta, which had played three games in three days and five in the last seven, is fighting to stay ahead of Detroit in the Eastern Conference.
Maxwell's face lit up. ``We aren't going nowhere,'' he said. ``We're just trying to spoil things.''
The spoiler was Maxwell and Maxwell alone. He scored 12 points in the fourth quarter and 17 points after the Sixers were down by 16. He converted after all five technicals.
And when Maxwell's final shot went swish, Lucas danced across the floor like a man possessed.
``This was extra special,'' Lucas said. ``Extra special.''