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NBA Championship Series Notes : Substitution Rule Kept Cooper on Bench

Times Staff Writer

When Boston’s Dennis Johnson sank the 21-foot shot to win Game 4 of the NBA championship series Wednesday night, the Lakers’ best defensive player, Michael Cooper, wasn’t in the game.

Cooper, who played only 16 minutes, went to the bench for the last time with 6:23 remaining, when he was replaced by Byron Scott.

Laker Coach Pat Riley said Thursday Cooper didn’t play more because he was in foul trouble. He was charged with his fourth foul only three seconds before the end of the third quarter.

Riley acknowledged he would have preferred Cooper to have been in the game for the final 19 seconds, when the Celtics ran the clock down to 0:02 before Johnson’s shot.

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But that wasn’t possible because Boston had taken a 20-second timeout with 19 seconds remaining and hadn’t made a substitution.

According to the rules, if the team that calls a 20-second timeout doesn’t substitute, neither can the other team.

As a result, Riley wasn’t able to replace Scott with Cooper during the 20-second timeout.

Riley’s only option would have been to call a timeout of his own after the Celtics’ 20-second timeout. That, however, would have been the Lakers’ last timeout.

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“I wasn’t going to waste my last timeout at that point,” he said.

He said he wanted to save one in case the Lakers got the ball back with time remaining. If they had, they would have been able to inbound the ball at midcourt after a timeout.

The Celtics never gave them that chance.

After Game 4 last season, Riley called the Celtics thugs because of what he perceived as their overly physical tactics.

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After Game 3 Sunday, Boston Coach K.C. Jones said the Lakers were guilty of dirty play and cheap shots.

What’s the difference?

After Riley’s complaints last season, there was no response from the NBA office. After Jones’ complaints were reported Wednesday, the league’s vice-president in charge of operations, Scotty Stirling, met with the two coaches and told them that their teams had to clean up their acts.

Does that mean the league is more responsive to complaints from the Celtics than the Lakers?

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Realizing he was being baited by the reporter who asked him that question Thursday, Riley smiled and said, “It might.”

Asked what the difference was in the two situations, Riley said, “We don’t wear green jerseys.”

Then, he said, “Is that what you’re looking for? Point out that I say all this with a smile on my face. If the league can’t take a joke, to hell with them.”

Jones said Thursday he also was “making little jokes” earlier in the week, when he accused the Lakers of playing dirty.

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But he added that he thought Stirling’s warning to the coaches before Game 4 was necessary.

“The teapot was starting to whistle,” he said. “If he hadn’t cooled things, the top might have blown off.”

But Jones apparently felt Stirling’s comments were directed more toward the Lakers than the Celtics because he didn’t tell his team about them before the game.

Laker forward Mitch Kupchak said Thursday he wishes Riley also had chosen not to tell his team about the meeting.

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“I really don’t believe our hearing that helped any,” he said. “I would rather have heard that we should go out and play the same way we did in winning the last two games.”

Still searching for the answer to Kevin McHale, the 6-10 forward who plays like he’s 7-4 because of his wingspan, Riley said he may use 7-2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar against him more often.

“It’s hard to pick up in game situations, but we’ve had Kareem on him about 30% of the time,” Riley said. “You might see that a little more often.”

Larry Bird, who has been Boston’s other forward in this series, said he thinks McHale should remain in the starting lineup even after Cedric Maxwell, the Celtics’ previous starting power forward, recovers from knee surgery.

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“If Kevin went back to the bench, we would lose too much offensively,” Bird said. “Max is a good defensive player and knows how to use his body on offense, but Kevin does more for us.”

Reporters were interviewing Dennis Johnson Thursday when a cloud of foul-smelling smoke settled over them.

Looking around for the source, reporters discovered the venerable Celtic president, Red Auerbach, sitting nearby, smoking a cigar.

“Can you do anything about that?” one of them asked Johnson.

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He laughed.

“No,” he said, “I can’t do anything about that.”

Series Notes One indicator that the Lakers were not playing aggressively Wednesday night was that they didn’t block any shots. They blocked 15 in the previous three games. The Celtics blocked eight in Game 4. . . . James Worthy, the Lakers’ 6-9 forward, has only 16 rebounds in four games against the Celtics. He had only one in Game 3. “That’s significant,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “He’s got to go get the ball. That’s his responsibility.”

Riley said it wasn’t realistic to think the Lakers would wrap up the series with three victories at the Forum after winning Game 2 in Boston. “Anybody who thinks a team is going to beat the Lakers or the Celtics four games in a row has to be reading too many Looney Tunes comic books,” he said. . . . After shooting an NBA record .545 from the field during the regular season and .544 in the playoffs through the Western Conference finals, the Lakers have shot .499 in this series.

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Boston’s last three field goals Wednesday night came on 20- and 22-footers by Danny Ainge and a 21-footer by Dennis Johnson. “If it came down to a seventh game, those are the three shots I’d want to see taken,” Riley said. Of course, he’d expect different results. . . . Larry Bird said the Celtics were satisfied with Johnson’s last shot. “All we want when we go on the road is the last shot,” he said. . . . Kevin McHale said the Celtics have to be more conscious of their center, Robert Parish, on offense. He took only 10 shots Wednesday night. . . . Kareem Abdul-Jabbar took only 12 for the Lakers. “We’d like him to take 20,” Riley said.

Bird said he thinks the Lakers miss Jamaal Wilkes more than Norm Nixon. “He was always killing us with those shots from the corner.” Wilkes worked out with the Lakers for the first time Tuesday since knee surgery in February. He’s been running five miles regularly. . . . Even though the Celtics won Game 4 at the Forum to regain the homecourt advantage, Bird said he still doesn’t like the NBA’s new 2-3-2 championship series format. “I’d rather be going home for the fifth game, even if it meant we had to come back out here for the next one,” he said.

Irritated by Boston broadcaster Johnny Most’s unflattering comments about Kurt Rambis, members of the Laker forward’s fan club, The Rambis Youth, marched on the broadcasting booth at halftime Wednesday night with signs. One of them said, “Johnny Most is the Least.” What did Most say to anger them? For one thing, he said that Rambis, who is known in Los Angeles as Clark Kent, didn’t come out of a phone booth but a sewer. Maybe Scotty Stirling should talk to Most.


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