PHILADELPHIA -- To the New Jersey Nets, there's no place like the Spectrum.
Playing like veterans instead of young upstarts, the Nets upset the 76ers for the third consecutive time in Philadelphia Thursday night and knocked the defending champions from the NBA playoffs in the deciding game of their best-of-five first-round series.
Albert King sank two free throws and a tap-in in the final 2:19 to lift the Nets to a 101-98 triumph over the 76ers, who were bidding to become the first team in 15 years to successfully defend their league title.
The Nets didn't panic after losing back-to-back games at home to force a decisive fifth game. And they didn't panic after falling behind 90-83 with 7:12 left and 96-94 with 2:51 remaining. Despite a roaring sellout crowd of 17,921, they played as if they were home.
'At the shoot-around today, Otis (Birdsong) said we were on our home floor away from home,' New Jersey coach Stan Albeck said. 'He also said, 'I think we're going to win.' Everybody came into the game with a lot of confidence although I was concerned when they got that seven-point lead.'
'I said we were back home now, but I was only joking,' said Birdsong, who tied teammate Micheal Ray Richardson for scoring honors with 24 points. 'But I knew we would play well. If you come down to a fifth game against a team like the Sixers, you must be playing well.'
A jumper by Julius Erving gave Philadelphia its last lead, 96-94, but Richardson's drive tied it with 2:35 left. King then hit two free throws with 2:19 remaining and tapped in the rebound of Birdsong's missed shot with 60 seconds left to make it 100-96.
The Nets' defense held Philadelphia scoreless after Erving's basket except for a meaningless layup by Andrew Toney at the buzzer. The 76ers turned the ball over nine times in the period and center Moses Malone did not score.
'I'd like to congratulate Stan Albeck for the great job he did geting his team ready,' 76ers coach Billy Cunningham said. 'A lot of little things hurt us, especially the turnovers, but their team did a terrific job. If they can continue to play at this level, they are going to go a long way.'
Buck Williams added 17 points and 16 rebounds for the Nets while King finished with 15. Toney scored 22 points, Malone 19 and Maurice Cheeks 16 for Philadelphia.
The score was tied 76-76 entering the fourth quarter. Three baskets by Clint Richardson sparked the 76ers on a surge that gave Philadelphia a 90-83 lead on a steal and layup by Cheeks with 7:12 left.
Cheeks' basket sent the sellout crowd of 17,921 into a frenzy but the Nets regrouped after a timeout and ran off an 11-2 spurt to take a 94-92 lead on two free throws by Darrly Dawkins with 4:24 remaining.
The Nets shot 56 percent from the field in the first quarter and outrebounded Philadelphia 13-7 to take a 31-25 lead at the end of the period. The advantage grew to 41-30 on Birdsong's jumper with 6:51 left until halftime.
But the 76ers' defense established itself with Cheeks sparking a 23-7 surge over the next six minutes. Cheeks sank two free throws and a layup to cut the deficit to 45-43 with 3:15 left and hit two free throws 57 seconds later to give Philadelphia a 47-46 lead.
The 76ers boosted the margin to 53-48 on Cheeks' layup with 54 seconds remaining and led 53-50 at the half. Philadelphia held a 5-point lead on four occasions in the third quarter but the Nets stayed within range. The game was tied four times in the final 2:44.