Forty years ago today: Lionel Hollins, 76ers advance to NBA Finals

It was 40 years ago today that shooting guard Lionel Hollins helped guide the Philadelphia 76ers past the Boston Celtics, providing a dynamic spark in an elimination game.

The result: Sixers 105, Celtics 94.

Premier scorer Julius Erving didn’t have one of his better offensive games in Game 5 of the 1980 Eastern Conference finals. Didn’t matter.

Erving’s teammates, led by Lionel Hollins (24 points, seven assists), Bobby Jones (19 points, 8-for-10 shooting) and Darryl Dawkins (18 points), more than made up for Dr. J’s quiet 14-point outing.

In Games 1, 3 and 4 (a troika of Philly wins) of the best-of-seven series, Erving led all players with 29, 28 and 30 points.

“We can beat them too many ways,” Lionel Hollins said after Game 5, according to Sports Illustrated. “Doc doesn’t score, so we score for him.”

Playoff series background

The Sixers triumphed 96-93 in the series opener, followed by Boston’s 96-90 victory in Game 2.

Philadelphia rebounded with a 99-97 win in Game 3, then handled the Celtics 102-90 in Game 4 despite shooting just 2-for-23 from the floor in the fourth quarter.

In Game 4, Bobby Jones had five of the 76ers’ 15 blocked shots as they took a 3-1 series lead.

Dr. J’s teammates step up

Boston coach Bill Fitch, who guided his club to a 61-21 regular-season record, wanted to limit Erving’s effectiveness on offense.

The consensus opinion, of course, was this: The Celtics had a greater chance of winning if Dr. J was held far below his scoring average (he averaged 27.0 in Games 1-4).

Or as Sports Illustrated’s John Papanek wrote in his recap of the fierce rivals’ series: “The Celtics might have thought from the previous four games that if they held Erving to 14 points, the fifth would be theirs. But no. Instead, Hollins took over from the start, scoring 24 points on an assortment of jumpers, drives and trips to the foul line against (Chris) Ford and M.L. Carr. And Bobby Jones, one of the best sixth men in basketball, maybe the best defensive forward and the fastest, most sure-handed fast-break wingman alive, threw in 19 points on eight-of-10 shooting, while Dawkins had 18 and Caldwell Jones 12.”

Lionel Hollins’ championship experience

Before joining the Sixers during the 1979-80 season via a trade with Portland, Hollins played an instrumental role for the 1976-77 title-winning Trail Blazers.

Looking back on that experience, the Arizona State alum offered the following details in a 2003 interview:

“Obviously, the fondest memory is winning the championship (in 1977) and to see the city go absolutely berserk,” Hollins told ESPN Classic. “It was the beginning of Portland becoming a big-league city. They hadn’t made the playoffs in the previous six years and then we came along. We made the playoffs and had the third-best record in the West. We beat the Bulls and then we upset Denver, upset Los Angeles and upset Philadelphia. According to all the scouting reports they were upsets, but we felt we were one of the best teams in the league that year. That was the biggest moment — winning the championship. (I have fond memories of) the people I met in Portland, the fans and how they took to us and the relationships that I developed while I was there — both on and off the court.”

Reactions after Game 5

The Sixers were nearly on the same level as Boston during the regular season, posting a 59-23 record.

Reaching the NBA Finals proved that Philadelphia had a dangerous, elite lineup.

“It seems obvious now how much better we are, doesn’t it?” Philadelphia head coach Billy Cunningham said later. “I’ll tell you. We never thought we’d win it in five.”

Celtics rookie Larry Bird, who shined (24.8 points, 13.7 rebounds in the first four games) before the series clincher, said the Sixers thrashed his team in Game 5.

“We were considered the best team, but they put us away like we were nothing,” Bird, the 1979-80 NBA Rookie of the Year, was quoted as saying by SI.

Impressive defense

Bobby Jones and Caldwell Jones played tenacious defense against Bird, holding him to 5-for-19 shooting and 12 points. Celtics teammates Dave Cowens and Nate “Tiny” Archibald had 22 points apiece. Lionel Hollins, Maurice Cheeks and others also provided stellar defense from the backcourt.

Boston’s Pistol Pete Maravich played his final NBA game in the series-ending defeat. In 17 minutes, the basketball legend had four points on 2-for-8 shooting against the Sixers.

Lamenting the loss, Fitch summed it up this way, according to Sports Illustrated: “Knowing you’re not as bad as they made you look is some comfort. If people really want to know how good we are, they’d better buy a season ticket and come in here next year to find out.”

1980 NBA Finals

Days after the euphoria of Philly’s elimination of Boston, Julius Erving, Lionel Hollins and Co. fell to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. Magic Johnson’s great performance (42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists) in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s injury absence in Game 6 put the finishing touches on Los Angeles’ title.