The 1982-83 Philadelphia 76ers are considered one of the greatest NBA championship teams ever. The team — which included the iconic Julius Erving and two-time NBA MVP Moses Malone finished with a record of 65-17 in the regular season and streaked to a 12-1 record in the playoffs. Philadelphia would sweep the Los Angeles Lakers in four games to win their first NBA title since the 1967-68 season.
Philly would meet the up and coming New Jersey Nets in the first round of the 1983-84 playoffs. Easy work right? For the 76ers, nothing came easy in a series which was dominated by two young stars from across the bridge.
Before Dikembe Mutombo and the eighth-seed Denver Nuggets shocked the top-seeded Seattle Supersonics in the first round of the 1994 NBA Playoffs, there were the 1983-84 New Jersey Nets. Led by talented point guard Michael Ray Richardson and young power forward Buck Williams the Nets jumped out to a 2-0 series lead before outlasting the reigning champions in five games.
Philadelphia finished the regular season with a 52-30 record — a rather sharp drop-off from the previous season — still good enough for third in the Eastern Conference. Moses Malone, fresh off an MVP season averaged 22 points and 13 boards per game, but was limited to 71 games due to an ankle injury.
In Game 1, the Nets jumped out to a 39-29 lead after the opening quarter on their way to a 116-101 victory. The sixth seeded Nets got a 25-point 16 rebound effort from Buck Williams — who played 46 minutes and 24 points from Otis Birdsong. Philly struggled as Julius Erving and Moses Malone combined for a pedestrian 38 points on 12 for 30 shooting.
Michael Ray Richardson stole the show in Game 2 with 32 points 7 rebounds, 9 assists and 4 steals. Richardson eventually fouled out, but the damage was done as the Nets went up 2-0 with a 116-102 win. Erving’s struggles from the field continued with 12 points on 5 of 13 shooting. The Nets were looking to close Philly out as the series moved to East Rutherford, New Jersey.
Game 3 may have been the best game of the series as 11 players scored in double figures. Philly gathered themselves after trailing 29-26 after one on their way to a hard-fought 108 100 victory. Julius Erving bounced back with a game-high 27 points, 5 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks. Moses Malone pulled down 17 boards to go with 21 points. The Nets, even in defeat continued to befuddle the 76ers with strong efforts from Williams (21 points, 17 rebounds) and Richardson (16 points, 11 assists). Jersey’s bench outscored Philly’s reserves 26-10.
For the second consecutive game, Philadelphia’s starters scored in double figures. Three starters, (Erving, Malone and Toney) scored twenty or more points on their way to a 110-102 victory in Game 4 to even the series at two games each. Albert King led the Nets with 20 points and Buck Williams grabbed a game-high 18 boards. Philly definitely had the momentum going back over the Walt Whitman Bridge for a decisive Game 5.
The Nets once again jumped out to a fast start before the 76ers rallied to lead at the half. The teams were tied at 76 entering the final quarter. Michael Ray Richardson and Otis Birdsong scored 24 points each and Buck Williams added 17 points and 16 boards. Andrew Toney was the only 76er to break the 20-point mark. Erving and Malone closed out the series shooting a combined 11 for 25 from the floor. How ironic is it that the team with which Julius Erving celebrated his greatest success in the ABA rendered him his greatest disappointment as an NBA player.
Buck Williams dominated the series averaging 18 points and 15 rebounds while playing 45 minutes per contest. Poor shooting from Julius Erving and Moses Malone doomed the 76ers as both players failed to shoot at least 50 percent from the floor. Guards Andrew Toney and Maurice Cheeks were the most consistent players for Philadelphia.