An offseason development would have major ramifications on the entire decade of the 1980s. Larry Bird, a Draft-eligble junior from Indiana State, was chosen as the sixth pick of the 1978 Draft by the Boston Celtics. Although Bird elected to remain in school, Red Auerbach, who had for years found players by extraordinary means, had done it again.
Washington won a league-high 54 games and took the Atlantic Division, while San Antonio, behind repeat NBA scoring champion George Gervin, won the Central. Kansas City, in its first year under feisty Cotton Fitzsimmons, qualified for the playoffs for only the second time since moving from Cincinnati by winning the Midwest. Lastly, Seattle was brimming with confidence after reaching the 1978 Finals and took the Pacific. Only Kansas City, victimized by a high-scoring Phoenix club led by Paul Westphal and Walter Davis, failed to advance to the conference finals.
Washington fell behind San Antonio 3-1 in the West finals, but won three straight games by a total of 14 points to keep their hopes of a repeat title alive. Seattle won the first two against Phoenix, dropped three straight, then came back to take the last two games by a total of five points to set up a rematch with the Bullets in The Finals.
Washington took Game 1 by two points when Larry Wright made two free throws with no time remaining. But the SuperSonics, behind Finals MVP Dennis Johnson, won four straight to bring Seattle a title and some overdue respect.
For Seattle, Johnson orchestrated the attack, Gus Williams provided the scoring, Jack Sikma added rebounding and "Downtown" Fred Brown supplied the perimeter bombs. But the man coach Lenny Wilkens pointed to as a key member of the squad was 35-year-old ex-Celtic forward Paul Silas, who averaged just 5.6 points and 7.0 rebounds that season.
"Look anywhere on our team, and you'll see Paul's influence," Wilkens said. Silas was in his 15th season as a player, and he would retire to coaching after one more season. But he had spread a little Celtic magic to the Northwest corner of the NBA map.
Eastern Conference first round
Philadelphia defeated New Jersey (2-0)
Atlanta defeated Houston (2-0)
Western Conference first round
Phoenix defeated Portland (2-1)
Los Angeles defeated Denver (2-1)
Eastern Conference semifinals
Washington defeated Atlanta (4-3)
San Antonio defeated Philadelphia (4-3)
Western Conference semifinals
Seattle defeated Los Angeles (4-1)
Phoenix defeated Kansas City (4-1)
Eastern Conference finals
Washington defeated San Antonio (4-3)
Western Conference finals
Seattle defeated Phoenix (4-3)
Seattle defeated Washington (4-1)
Points -- George Gervin, San Antonio Spurs (29.6)
Assists -- Kevin Porter, Detroit Pistons (13.4)
Rebounds -- Moses Malone, Houston Rockets (17.6)
Steals -- M.L. Carr, Detroit Pistons( 2.46)
Blocks -- Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, L.A. Lakers (3.95)
FG% -- Cedric Maxwell, Boston Celtics (58.4)
FT% -- Rick Barry, Houston Rockets (94.7)
Most Valuable Player -- Moses Malone, Houston Rockets
Rookie of the Year -- Phil Ford, Kansas City Kings
Coach of the Year -- Cotton Fitzsimmons, Kansas City Kings
All-Star Game MVP -- David Thompson, Denver Nuggets
Finals MVP -- Dennis Johnson, Seattle SuperSonics