Lakers Can’t Find Their Peak at the Summit : Olajuwon, Reid Excel as Rockets Win, 105-95, Take 3-1 Advantage
By leaps and bounds, that’s how the Houston Rockets beat the Lakers again Sunday, nudging the defending NBA champions closer to the end of a season they once thought would be their very best.
Instead, the Lakers are only one loss away from elimination, which could come as early as Wednesday night in the Forum.
All the Lakers have to do now is win three straight games against a Rocket team they’ve just lost three in a row to. The Rockets moved into this position with a 105-95 victory Sunday afternoon in the Summit.
“I don’t think they can win three in a row,” said Akeem Olajuwon, who may be right.
If that sounds difficult to you, imagine how it feels to the Lakers, who know that at this point, their margin for error is zero.
“Either we do it now or we sit there at home and watch them play the Celtics on TV,” said Magic Johnson, whose third triple-double in the playoffs went down the drain.
Only four teams in NBA playoff history have come from a 3-1 deficit to win a series, each time in the conference finals. History and the Rockets are working against the Lakers.
“We’re not out of it, but we’re reeling,” said Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. “If I were on Houston, I’d be very confident right now.”
On the strength of their latest conquest, the Rockets took a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference final, which was forged to a large degree by Olajuwon’s 35 points and 23 more from Robert Reid.
That much may have been expected, but who could have believed that the Rockets would still win even though Ralph Sampson sat out more than 16 minutes of the second half, only to watch Jim Petersen replace him and grab a game-high 13 rebounds?
“It was the same story,” Magic Johnson said. “Their inside game is still hurting us.”
If the Lakers don’t turn themselves around quickly, the hurt will soon be over. Once again Olajuwon was a problem for which the Lakers had no solution.
Olajuwon followed up his 40-point explosion in Game 3 with a 42-minute tour of duty that, in addition to his scoring, included eight rebounds, six at the offensive end, plus four assists and four blocked shots.
“This one was easier than the last one,” Olajuwon said.
And the result was the same for the Lakers, who for the second consecutive game, failed down the stretch. They trailed by only four points, 96-92, with 4:15 remaining after Olajuwon was charged with goaltending on a shot by Abdul-Jabbar.
But from that point on, the Lakers managed only three more points, all by James Worthy, who played his best game of the series despite a painful neck injury.
Worthy was on the court the entire 48 minutes, took down 10 rebounds and had 4 assists. Worthy also led the Lakers with 26 points, even though he wasn’t cleared to play until just before tipoff.
Often grimacing, Worthy conducted a post-game press conference holding an ice pack to the back of his neck, which he injured in Game 3. Worthy kept his head down and tried to keep his chin up.
“It’s not over,” he said. “This is a terrible position to be in. We’ll have to conjure up some experience and enthusiasm.”
Oddly enough, those are the two factors that were supposed to be in the Lakers’ favor coming into this series. It just hasn’t worked out that way, especially near the end of the games. Maybe Dick Motta was right all along.
After the basket by Abdul-Jabbar, who finished with 24 points, Sampson was brought back from the bench where he had taken a seat four minutes into the second half because of foul trouble.
Reid missed a jumper, but Sampson rebounded and looped in a finger-roll for a 98-92 lead. The Lakers committed a turnover, but got the ball back when the Rockets missed twice.
Worthy sank a free throw, then guard Lewis Lloyd dropped a 15-foot jumper from the baseline to give the Rockets a 100-93 lead with 2:03 left.
After that, the Lakers missed five of their last six shots and retreated to the locker room where they kept the door closed for nearly 15 minutes and listened to Coach Pat Riley.
The words were not especially soothing.
“I never thought we’d leave here down 3-1, but we are,” Riley said. “You have to deal with reality. I told them that if there is a destiny for this team this year, maybe it is to accept the most severe challenge.”
They don’t come any more severe than the one the Lakers have now.
For a while, their chances of evening the series looked pretty good. The Lakers led, 53-50, at the half behind 16 points by Abdul-Jabbar and 12 by Johnson.
They had overcome a 40-33 Rocket lead with a 16-4 spurt that put them ahead, 49-43, and were abetted by a fast break that has been largely silent in this series.
When Sampson left early in the third quarter, the Lakers were still ahead, 60-58, but then Petersen came in to take over the backboards. Both Reid and Olajuwon scored 10 points in the quarter and the Rockets finished it with an 80-79 lead.
In only 26 minutes, Petersen had four offensive rebounds, nine defensive rebounds, and played against Abdul-Jabbar with great confidence.
“They have some of the greatest players in the world,” Petersen said. “We have equally great players, especially Akeem. He is phenomenal. He really has carried us.”
To illustrate how things are going, the Lakers are finding comfort in the fact that at least they have not been blown out.
“We’ve been in all the games,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “It’s not like we’ve been swamped.”
However, the Lakers were outrebounded badly, 49-38, ran their fast break and shot the ball inconsistently and scored only 42 points the entire second half.
There was a time when the Lakers could get 42 points in a quarter . Those times seem long gone.
“We are professionals and I don’t think we’re going to roll over and play dead,” Worthy said. “If we can just get one game, maybe we can carry on from there.”
Laker Notes Rocket forward Rodney McCray also played all 48 minutes in Game 4 and finished with 12 rebounds and 6 assists. . . . Magic Johnson’s triple-double was 20 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. Johnson refused to say the Lakers can’t find a way to deal with Akeem Olajuwon. “When it becomes, 4-1, and we still haven’t got a solution, then I’ll be convinced we couldn’t do it,” Johnson said. . . . Rocket Coach Bill Fitch was the coach at Boston in 1981 when the Celtics became the last team to overcome a 3-1 deficit. The Celtics beat Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference finals, then defeated Houston for the NBA title. “All I know is if we win the next one, we win the series,” he said. “I’ve been in a locker room where we’ve been down, 3-1, and I’m wearing a ring.” . . . Wednesday’s game will be carried live by KCBS-TV at 8:30 p.m.