If Kareem Abdul-Jabbar really was sleepwalking, as he said, in Game 1, then he must have been moonwalking in Game 2.
Their season riding with the rise and fall of each sky hook, the Lakers got back into the National Basketball Assn. Championship Series with a 109-102 victory Thursday night over the Celtics in Boston Garden in front of 14,890.
Mostly, the sky hooks were falling. Abdul-Jabbar scored 30 points on 15 for 26 shooting and grabbed 17 rebounds, which were the most important parts of the Laker victory that evened the best-of-seven series at 1-1.
But there was something else that Abdul-Jabbar did that was also pretty important to the Lakers. In the locker room before the game, Abdul-Jabbar visited each Laker and gave a little pep talk.
Attention, please. This is your Captain speaking. “I just wanted everybody to focus,” said Abdul-Jabbar, who said he takes his role as team captain very seriously. “Everybody was trying to pull together, and I thought I could say something that might help.”
Abdul-Jabbar was no help in Game 1, when he had only 12 points and three rebounds. But in Game 2, his effort approached Magic Johnson-like proportions. Abdul-Jabbar missed a triple-double by two assists.
Pep talks, he admitted, aren’t his usual style, so why did Abdul-Jabbar think the time was right for a pre-game chat?
“You were at the game Monday?” he asked. ‘That’s why it was a good time.”
And the Lakers found a good time to win a game. Another defeat before heading back to the Forum for the next three games would have flung the Lakers headlong against history. Only two other teams have come back from 0-2 deficits to win a Championship Series.
Now, they don’t have to worry about that. As advertised, the Lakers made some changes from the first game. The most noteworthy was to spread the court on offense to allow Abdul-Jabbar a little more room to work inside.
“That created more opportunities for everyone else,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said.
One of the prime beneficiaries was Michael Cooper, who is supposed to be a point guard and not a shooter. But, he switched roles long enough to drop 8 of his 9 shots and score 22 points.
Since Byron Scott wasn’t doing much again (shooting 5 for 17) and because James Worthy wasn’t much better due to foul trouble, Cooper took over the shooting chores that Abdul-Jabbar couldn’t handle.
There weren’t very many of them, but they came at the right time.
The Celtics found themselves down by 18 points at the half when the Lakers were the clear aggressors. But when Larry Bird shook off a 2-for-8 first half and put away 12 points in the third quarter, Boston moved to within 87-75 going into the fourth period.
Bird finished fast with 30 points, but it was a sore-legged Robert Parish who led a Celtic rally that cut the Laker lead to 102-98 with 3:45 to go. Parish, who had 18 points, scored seven of them in a two-minute span of the fourth quarter.
After Magic Johnson reversed his dribble and drove the lane for a basket and a 102-96 Laker lead following a three-point play by Parish, Kevin McHale sank a 12-foot jumper to move the Celtics as close as four points.
Cooper, whose only missed shot was a three-pointer, came back with a jumper from the corner. Two Bird free throws cut the Laker lead to four again, but with the shot clock running down to nothing, Cooper made a jump shot from the top of the key.
The 24-second clock showed no time remaining as soon as the ball left Cooper’s hands, but when it fell through the basket, the Lakers had a 106-100 lead with 1:51 left.
Celtic Coach K. C. Jones, who said Abdul-Jabbar should get the game ball, also pointed to Cooper’s surprising shooting.
“Cooper was the one who really hurt us down the stretch,” Jones said. “We expect Kareem to get 30, but we don’t expect Michael Cooper to beat you on offense.”
Unlike Game 2 from last season’s championship series, the Laker lead held up in the last two minutes. This time, it was the Celtics’ turn to make mistakes. Dennis Johnson shanked a free throw with 1:12 left, then Danny Ainge collided with McHale on the dribble and his 15-footer fell a couple of inches short.
Maybe it was the shock of how poorly they played in Game 1 or maybe it was Abdul-Jabbar’s pre-game talk, but the Lakers turned themselves around in the first half, which ended with a 64-46 Laker lead.
If you can still remember Game 1, the Celtics had a 30-point halftime lead, so the Laker turnaround was a 48-pointer.
Abdul-Jabbar showed the way. In the first quarter, he pulled down seven rebounds. During the regular season, that’s what he averaged for an entire game .
“I guess it was role reversal,” Dennis Johnson said. “They got the loose balls and the rebounds.”
The Lakers outrebounded the Celtics, 49-37, and had 14 offensive rebounds to three for the Celtics. In the first game, the Celtics had 13 offensive rebounds.
Taking a 17-6 lead, the Lakers were up, 30-16, before a trio of jumpers, two of them by Dennis Johnson, pulled Boston to within 31-26 at the end of the quarter.
Time even stood still for a few seconds during the first quarter. For some reason, the game clock stopped twice, once when each team had the ball, so it evened out.
The rest of the half, however, was anything but even. The Lakers outscored the Celtics, 33-20, and also got away with little gamble after Abdul-Jabbar picked up his third foul with 5:09 to go.
Riley, wanting to protect a 48-38 lead, left Abdul-Jabbar (nine rebounds, five assists at the half) in the game until 2:55 remained, and the Lakers had improved their lead to 57-42.
By then, Parish had bruised his leg and picked up his third foul. McHale also had three fouls, so after the Celtics closed to within 57-46 on a pair of Ainge mid-range jumpers, neither Parish nor McHale were on the court when the Lakers scored the last seven points of the half.
The Laker halftime lead was largely forgotten, but Parish’s injury wasn’t. Boston’s center wasn’t able to run the court as he did in Game 1, and the Celtics said Parish’s limitations hurt their chances.
Cooper said his own limitations are few if he has the ball in the 15-foot range.
“That’s an easy game for me when the shot is going,” Cooper said. “Before the game, when Kareem came around and gave everybody a pep talk, he told me to shoot the ball when I was open.”
Since it was the Captain speaking, Cooper said he was only following orders.
“I couldn’t help it,” he said.
There’s probably nothing that can help avoid a long series, said Abdul-Jabbar.
“The series is still very young,” he said. “Don’t be surprised if it goes seven games. I won’t be.”
Coach Pat Riley said he was mildly surprised by Abdul-Jabbar’s pre-game pep talk. “Kareem usually leads by example,” Riley said. “He’s very guarded in respecting his teammates’ space. He stepped forward and made a statement as team captain that he was going to do something about this series.” . . . The Celtic loss was their first playoff defeat this season in Boston Garden, where they had won 12 in succession, nine of them this season.