At End, Sampson Scores the Knockout Punch : Basket at Buzzer Ousts Lakers, Puts Rockets in Final, 114-112

Times Staff Writer

History may repeat itself, but the Lakers won’t. Ralph Sampson made sure of it.

In an improbable finish to an implausible Laker season, Sampson hoisted an off-balance shot with no time left on the Forum clock Wednesday night to beat the Lakers, 114-112, and give the Houston Rockets the Western Conference championship, four games to one.

Sampson took an inbounds pass in midair from Rodney McCray with one second left, turned slightly and let the ball go. Once, twice it bounced on the rim before finally falling through the net.


“I just got it and had to put something up,” Sampson said. “I think it’s probably the best experience in my basketball career.”

For the Lakers, it was probably one of their worst.

“I felt for sure it was going to overtime, but then, I can’t believe it,” Laker guard Byron Scott said. “Ralph just touches the ball and it goes in. What can you say?”

Try this. For the first time since 1981, the NBA final series will have a team other than the Lakers in it. The Rockets meet the Boston Celtics for the NBA championship, beginning Monday at Boston Garden.

The Lakers couldn’t really believe what had happened.

“We had every possible shot covered,” James Worthy said. “That was the last shot I expected.”

However, there was something that should have been expected all along. The dethroned Lakers join a long line of 17 prior NBA champions who failed in their attempt to repeat their title-winning performance.

“I think we had a good year, but we didn’t live up to our potential,” center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said. “Or maybe we did and we didn’t have the goods.”

A sellout crowd of 17,007 saw Sampson’s shot, but two players did not.

Both the Rockets’ Akeem Olajuwon and the Lakers’ Mitch Kupchak were ejected from the game with 5:14 left in the fourth quarter when they exchanged a few punches after battling for position.

Olajuwon left with the Rockets trailing, 103-99. But unfortunately for the Lakers, Sampson was still around.

Sampson scored 10 of the Rockets’ final 13 points and finished with 29 points.

The Rockets scored the final five points of the game, right after Magic Johnson’s jump shot from the baseline put the Lakers ahead, 112-109, with 37 seconds to go.

They should have been breathing easier when Robert Reid missed a three-pointer, but Wiggins got to the rebound, and Reid, given a second chance, dropped a three-pointer with 15 seconds remaining to tie the score at 112.

Scott had one last shot at avoiding overtime and getting the Lakers back into the series, but his 15-footer hit off the back of the rim.

“I got a very good shot and I thought it was in when it left my hand,” Scott said.

It wasn’t in. For the Lakers, it is over and out. The Rockets are going on.

“They’re moving up, we’re moving out,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “That’s the final story line.”

The Rockets and Lakers have met only twice in the playoffs, and the Rockets have prevailed both times. This one was certainly no fluke.

“With the way they’re playing right now, they are a better team,” Kurt Rambis said.

For the previous four games, the Lakers were trying to figure out the best way to beat the Rockets. There was no way.

Even though they had Olajuwon out of the game and even though they out-rebounded Houston, 51-31, the Lakers still couldn’t beat the Rockets, who won the series with four consecutive victories, including two on the Lakers’ home court.

Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers with 26 points, and Johnson had 24 points with 13 assists.

Sampson, who had 13 points in the fourth quarter, took over the game after Olajuwon left.

When Olajuwon and Kupchak were ejected after they exchanged blows midway through the fourth quarter, it seemed like a good trade for the Lakers: Olajuwon had 30 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocked shots; Kupchak had 6 points and 2 rebounds.

Johnson, meanwhile, spent more than 13 minutes on the bench because of foul trouble but made two free throws with 8:31 to go. The free throws gave the Lakers a 99-90 lead, but the lead didn’t last long.

Sampson completed a three-point play on which he was fouled hard by Maurice Lucas, got the Rockets within 99-97 and became angry, offering an indication of what was soon to follow.

Kupchak and Olajuwon, standing to the left of the Laker basket trying to stake out position, suddenly became entangled.

Olajuwon threw several punches at Kupchak, who tried to get in a few himself. Both benches emptied, and referee Earl Strom called double technical fouls, which meant automatic ejections for both players.

The Lakers unleashed Rambis on the fast break early in the third quarter, and his consecutive layups, both assisted by Johnson, put the Lakers up, 70-58.

But 15 seconds later, Johnson was called for his fourth personal foul and went to the bench, which is where he had found himself a little earlier.

Without Johnson, the Lakers had a difficult time protecting their lead. Olajuwon, who was scoreless in the first quarter, broke loose for 17 points in the third quarter.

The Lakers scored just one basket in the last 4:18 of the quarter and carried only an 87-85 advantage into the fourth quarter.

Johnson had picked up his third foul with 5:29 left in the second quarter and went to the bench. As soon as Johnson left, the Rockets cut an eight-point Laker lead to 48-46.

Michael Cooper’s three-pointer gave the Lakers a little breathing room, and when Abdul-Jabbar rebounded a missed shot by Rambis and scored, the Lakers finished the first half with a 61-54 lead.

The Lakers had started quickly and jumped to a 26-12 lead after eight minutes, but then Johnson took a brief rest to catch his breath, and the Rockets got back into the game in a hurry.

Sampson, who had picked up two first-quarter fouls, scored four consecutive points to narrow the Laker lead to 28-23 just after Johnson was rushed back from the bench.

Johnson assisted Cooper on a layup, then stole the ball from Reid and broke loose for a driving layup and a foul.

Johnson’s free throw finished a three-point play, then it was Cooper’s turn to steal the ball from Reid, and Johnson ended the quarter with a hook shot that increased the Laker lead to 35-23.

Although Riley said the Lakers would make no major changes, he made several in the first half anyway.

First, he changed the Laker defensive assignments and shifted Abdul-Jabbar to Olajuwon, who had only two rebounds in the first half. In a second switch, Rambis worked against Sampson, who played the entire first half and got one rebound to go along with 14 points.

What’s more, Riley used Mike McGee for the first time in nine games and also teamed Abdul-Jabbar with Gudmundsson for the first time ever.

The Rockets, who had averaged only 14.8 turnovers in the series, committed nine in the first quarter alone.

Laker Notes

Laker owner Jerry Buss said he has told guard Michael Cooper, a free agent at the end of the playoffs, to seek an offer sheet, according to a published report. “We simply want to let Michael test the free-agent market and get an offer sheet,” Buss was quoted as saying. Buss also said the Lakers will not negotiate a new contract for Cooper but will match any offer sheet he might receive. Cooper will earn $366,000 this season. Fred Slaughter, Cooper’s agent, said he has not heard from Buss that the Lakers want Cooper to look for an offer sheet. “He’s never said that or even intimated that to me,” Slaughter said. “I wasn’t aware they intend not to negotiate.” . . . How is this for confidence? Before Game 5, Laker publicist Josh Rosenfeld shipped 200 copies of the Laker playoff guide to the Celtics for the Boston area media. . . . The only two Lakers who scored in double figures in every playoff game: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.




GAME 1 Lakers 119, Rockets 107 GAME 2 Rockets 112, Lakers 102 GAME 3 Rockets 117, Lakers 109 GAME 4 Rockets 105, Lakers 95 GAME 5 Rockets 114, Lakers 112

Rockets win best-of-seven series, 4-1