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Recounting The Trail Blazers’ 1977 Championship 40 Years Later

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Four decades ago, the Trail Blazers gave the city of Portland its most memorable sporting victory.

Blazers 1977 Reunion Group Photo
The 1977 NBA Champion Portland Trail Blazers take a team photo during their 1997 reunion.
Getty

The 1977 NBA Finals was one for the ages for the city of Portland. Facing the Philadelphia 76ers, the Trail Blazers were going for their first NBA title in the history of the organization. The series featured three Hall-of-Famers: Julius Erving, George McGinnis, and Trail Blazers great Bill Walton. After falling 0-2 in the series, the Trail Blazers mounted one of the best comebacks in NBA history, pulling off four straight victories to win their first NBA championship.

Casey Jarman of Portland Monthly chronicles those six memorable games in his article “The Spirit of ’77: How the Blazers Won Portland.”

Game 1 of the series was in Philadelphia, with the Sixers taking a 1-0 series lead on a 107-101 win. Bill Walton had a monster performance for the Trail Blazers, scoring 28 points, while grabbing 20 rebounds. Julius Erving led the Sixers with 33 points. Sixers guard Doug Collins scored 30 as well. Portland’s downfall came when starters Maurice Lucas, Lionel Hollins, and Bob Gross fouled out in the fourth quarter.

In Game 2, the Trail Blazers failed to show up to play, dropping the second straight to the Sixers, 107-89. Bill Walton led Portland once again with 17 points, while Doug Collins led the Sixers with 27. The game was chippy as Darryl Dawkins and Lucas got into it and the police had to break them apart. Lucas showed the fire that would ignite the Trail Blazers for the rest of the season.

In the fourth quarter, tensions mount. “They’ve gotta get on top of these fouls,” commentator Rick Barry says as Philly’s George McGinnis and Blazer Lloyd Neal begin pushing each other. “They can’t allow this to happen.” With five minutes left and the 76ers up 20, Philly’s Darryl Dawkins wraps up Gross under the basket, then throws him to the ground. They exchange words. Dawkins goes after Gross, swinging at him but striking a teammate instead. As Dawkins backs away, the Blazers’ Maurice Lucas smacks him with a forearm to the back of the head, and they square off. Lucas shadowboxes Dawkins before teammates and police drag them apart. The Sixers win by 18 as the game ends on a strange, charged note.

Then the Trail Blazers turned the series upside down in Game 3. Led by 27 points from Lucas, the Trail Blazers blew out the Sixers, 129-107. Prior to the game, Lucas went up to the Philadelphia bench to make nice with Dawkins and the rest of the team. Things were finally looking up for the Trail Blazers, now only trailing in the series 2-1.

“I think all of us wondered what might happen in this series after those first two games at Philadelphia,” Musburger says with just over a minute left before the Blazers claim their first victory of the series. “There’s no wondering now: this is going to be a marvelous showdown.”

Portland didn’t slow down, starting Game 4 on a 17-4 run. They went on to tie the series, winning 130-98. They ran away with the game in third quarter, pouring in 41 points.

The Sixers rally before halftime, behind another great Dr. J performance, but the Blazers execute smooth, pass-first basketball in the third quarter. Blazer rookie Johnny Davis makes thrilling drives to the basket that draw fouls to become three-point plays. Barry calls it a “total breakdown” by the 76ers. The Blazers win by 32. Point guard Lionel Hollins is calm and steady throughout.

Game 5 was one of the best games of the series. The Sixers set an NBA record for fouls in a half, with 22 personals. Portland had another tremendous third quarter, scoring 40 points and getting their lead up to 20. Erving tried his best to get the Sixers back into the game, scoring 37 points. The Trail Blazers set multiple rebound records in the win, including 59 rebounds by the team. They took the pivotal Game 5 matchup, 110-104, to take a 3-2 series lead. The city of Portland could sniff their first NBA title.

Portland would never forget Game 6. With five seconds left to play, the Sixers trailed the Trail Blazers 109-107. McGinnis got a shot off for the tie but it hit the front of the rim and the tap by Erving was deflected. The buzzer sounded and the Trail Blazers were suddenly NBA champions.

With five seconds left and the 76ers down by just two points, 109–107, the crowd seems stunned. So does Rick Barry: “If they take the ball inbounds right now, George McGinnis is wide open! I don’t know what they’re doing!” The 76ers indeed pass it to McGinnis, who takes an uncontested shot. But McGinnis’s jumper hits the front of the rim. Dr. J’s attempt at a rebound deflects to Davis, who jets to center court as time runs out.

A beat of disbelief, then fans flood the court in a chaotic scene. “It’s over! It’s over!” Musburger yells. Walton, his mouth open and his head slouched with exhaustion, makes his way through a sea of back-slapping hands. His jersey has vanished. He is swallowed up. In a move that will incense Blazer fans for decades, CBS forgoes postgame interviews and celebrations to cut to coverage of the Kemper Open, a golf tournament.

1977 will be a year that will always be remembered for Blazers fans. Just seven years after becoming an NBA franchise, the team hoisted their first NBA title. Now 40 years later, the thought of the title still brings a smiles to fans’ faces.

Read Jarman’s full article, here.