There were six seconds left in overtime Tuesday night when Pat Riley caught the eye of Magic Johnson, who was standing a few feet away from the Laker coach.
“Thank you,” Riley said, with a slight smile that mixed gratitude, delight and undoubtedly a little awe. “Thank you, thank you.”
Johnson merely nodded back. He probably was too tired to do any more after scoring a career-high 46 points in the Lakers’ 127-117 overtime win over the Sacramento Kings before a sellout crowd of 10,333.
It wasn’t enough that Johnson was asked to compensate for the absence of center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who missed his third straight game with am infection of the right eye.
Johnson also had to push himself even harder when Wes Matthews, the backup guard who’s supposed to give Johnson an occasional breather, was ejected from the game after picking up his second technical foul in the second quarter.
So even though this was the Lakers’ eighth road game out of their last nine, Johnson played 48 minutes, made 17 of 36 shots, 12 of 16 free throws, grabbed 10 rebounds and passed out nine assists.
Guard Byron Scott, who played 47 minutes, also achieved a career high in points, scoring 33, and made two big steals in overtime. He and Johnson combined for 13 of the Lakers’ 15 points in the extra period.
The Lakers had trailed by 13 points, 82-69, in the third quarter, but rallied to take a 112-110 lead when James Worthy scored with 11 seconds to play on a baseline drive.
But former Clipper Derek Smith sent the game into overtime with a short bank shot from the left baseline with four seconds to play.
Johnson scored the first basket in overtime, faking a drive and pulling up for a 16-foot jumper.
Scott then stole the ball from King center LaSalle Thompson and fed Magic for a breakaway layup.
Eddie Johnson made a free throw for the Kings, then Johnson made another steal from Reggie Theus and hit a 19-footer at the other end.
Magic rebounded a miss by Otis Thorpe and fed Scott for another 12-foot jumper that sealed it.
The Kings have now lost 18 straight to the Lakers, 21 including three playoff games.
The Lakers, already missing one player with Abdul-Jabbar back in Los Angeles, lost another when guard Wes Matthews was thrown out of the game with 8:29 left in the second quarter.
Matthews picked up his first technical with 1:16 left in the first quarter, less than a minute after he’d replaced Byron Scott in the Laker backcourt.
Matthews had gone high for a rebound of a shot by Derek Smith, but his attempted outlet pass was stripped from him by King guard Othell Wilson. Then referee Jess Thompson whistled Matthews for a foul, and added the “T” when Matthews muttered something.
The Lakers were trailing, 30-29, when King forward Mark Olberding, one of the original “Bruise Brothers” when he was with San Antonio, knocked Michael Cooper to the floor as the Laker guard was cutting across the lane.
Magic Johnson took exception, giving Olberding a shove to the chest. Then Matthews came up from behind and shoved the ball into Olberding’s back. Only the intervention of Laker forward Kurt Rambis kept the enraged Olberding, who is listed as 6-9, 240 pounds, from retaliating against the 6-1 Matthews. Rambis wrapped his arms around Olberding, while Laker Coach Pat Riley also came onto the floor to preserve order.
But referee Jess Kersey signaled another “T” on Matthews, ending his night.
The physical play, however, was only just beginning. Scott and Kings guard Wilson had a fearsome midcourt collision, both players sliding into the press table.
Then Scott, driving the middle, went over the back of King center Joe Kleine, resulting in another crash landing for the Laker guard.
Both teams spent most of the second quarter at the foul line, with the Kings taking a 55-54 halftime lead.
Laker forward A.C. Green, who scored 12 points in the first quarter, made a buzzer-beating layup on a feed from Johnson to cut the King lead to one.
Johnson scored 14 points after Matthews was ejected. He had 19 in the first half.
Laker Notes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is expected to play Friday in the Forum against the Houston Rockets. “He’ll practice with us Thursday,” said Laker Coach Pat Riley, who was not planning to give the team a day off on Christmas. . . . Michael Cooper has dropped to eighth in the league in three-point shooting percentage after making just four of his last 25 attempts from three-point range in the last six games. In the eight previous games, Cooper had made 13 of 21. Byron Scott, who has made just two of his last 11 three-point tries, is third in the league at 49%.