6. Edging by the Sixers by the narrowest of margins
By the time the postseason came around in 1985-86, there could be no disputing that the Bucks were sick of the sight of the Philadelphia 76ers.
Milwaukee’s playoff runs had come to an end at the hands of the Sixers in 1981, ’82, ’83 and ’85, with the Celtics filling in for Philadelphia as the spoiler in 1984.
The great Bucks teams of that decade were remarkably consistent in the regular season, historically good in a variety of ways, yet they also had the misfortune of frequently finding themselves pitted up against all-time great Boston and Philadelphia teams.
Julius Erving and Bobby Jones‘ age, they were then 35 and 34 respectively, certainly offered the Bucks renewed hope heading into their second-round meeting in 1986. Even then, the emergence of a young Charles Barkley presented Milwaukee with a new problem, though.
Having made light work of the Nets in a first-round sweep, the Bucks were then quickly locked into an epic series with their greatest rival.
The two teams alternated wins across the first four games before Milwaukee won Game 5 to take a 3-2 lead. The Sixers responded by taking Game 6, setting up a Game 7 decider that proved to be the most hotly-contested game of the entire series.
Across both teams, there was no end to volume scorers, but there was almost nothing to separate them as the game reached its final stretch.
With just one-point in it, and nerves visibly playing a factor for both teams, the Bucks and Sixers traded buckets. After a somewhat quiet night by his high standards, it was Charles Barkley who became instrumental to the game’s outcome down the stretch.
In the final minute, Barkley scored twice to give the 76ers the lead. After the first of those, Sidney Moncrief was fouled by Julius Erving and cooly knocked down two free-throws to restore their advantage. On the second occasion, Craig Hodges tossed up a layup only for Barkley to swat it away in what was deemed to be goaltending by the officials.
With enough time remaining for Philadelphia to have one more chance to inflict further misery on Milwaukee, Erving got a clean look at a free throw line jumper with only two seconds remaining. The ball clanked high off the iron, though, and the commentator cried out: “The ghost has been exorcized!”
The MECCA celebrated a 113-112 win, and the sense of joy and relief was plain to see on the faces of Milwaukee’s players.
Keeping up the theme of the Bucks’ decade of hard luck stories, a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of the Celtics in the Conference Finals was the Bucks’ “reward” for getting past one of their greatest rivals. Still, it was such a rare occurrence that a win over the Sixers still seems like an achievement in its own right all these years later.