Warriors Back, Full of Fight : They Face Lakers After Rallying to Oust Utah
The last time the Golden State Warriors were in the playoffs, the only team Jerry Buss owned was the Los Angeles Strings in World Team Tennis.
Pat Riley was an unemployed basketball player. Jerry West was in his first season as Laker coach, Magic Johnson in his last year of high school.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had just turned 30. That was 1977.
For the Warriors, who will play the Lakers tonight in Game 1 of a best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series, it hasn’t been a short decade.
No one expects them to make up for lost time all at once. Few people, in fact, gave the Warriors a fighting chance to get past Utah in the first round of this spring’s playoff after losing their first two games to the Jazz.
But that was before the Warriors had a fight--a melee after Game 2, touched off when Jazz enforcer Karl Malone threw the ball at Greg Ballard of the Warriors and Golden State Coach George Karl set off in hot pursuit of an offending fan in the Salt Palace Arena.
Malone, known as the Mailman, had rung the wrong doorbell. And suddenly, it was so long, sweet surrender. The Warriors found themselves with something to rally around and beat the Jazz twice in a row at Oakland, once coming back from 15 points. Then Sunday, Golden State became the first team in 21 years to rally from an 0-2 deficit to win a best-of-five series, eliminating the Jazz on their home court.
“I really think that had a lot to do with it,” Karl said Monday, reflecting on the Warriors’ mixing it up with Malone.
“If we had just walked off the court, we would have been down. (Malone) gave us the motivation of wanting to come back to the gym and wanting to beat them, and wanting to beat them badly.”
All the wishing in the world, however, wouldn’t seem to give the Warriors much chance against the Lakers. The Warriors are a team, after all, that:
--Has just three players with playoff experience, including one, Rod Higgins, who played with four teams last season and whose postseason resume consists of one minute with the Chicago Bulls in 1985.
--Lost its leading scorer, Purvis Short, for more than half the season with knee and thigh injuries.
--Played on while its No. 1 draft choice, center Chris Washburn, spent more time in a drug rehabilitation clinic than in the lineup.
--Not only changed coaches in the last year but owners as well, when Jim Fitzgerald, former owner of the Milwaukee Bucks, bought the club and hired Karl as coach.
And yet, while Karl once served as Doug Moe’s assistant in San Antonio, he has no intention of waving a white flag the way Moe did before the Lakers crushed the Denver Nuggets in three straight games in the first round.
“I don’t think many people are giving us a chance to win this series,” Karl said. “But people give us a chance to win one game.
“I think we can beat the Los Angeles Lakers one game. That’s our theory. Let’s win one, and then we’ll think about the rest.”
The Warriors’ prospects of winning here appear dim, considering that they lost three games in the Forum by an average of 21.3 points during the regular season.
But the Lakers, who haven’t played Golden State in two months, sense that this may be a different team from the one they beat four out of six times in the regular season.
“Right now they’re on a high, an up note,” said Laker guard Michael Cooper, who figures to be guarding Short much of the time.
“They’re playing extremely well, and they’re a different ballclub spiritually.”
Karl sees no reason why the Warriors, who were riding an emotional wave in Salt Lake, would get off now in Los Angeles.
“To be playing L.A. after nine years of not making the playoffs, and hearing about the Lakers all the time, and seeing the Laker jackets in our building, I think we’ll be ready emotionally,” he said.
The Warriors have an exceptional outside shooter in Short, who came off the bench and buried Utah with 32 points in Game 4; one of the league’s best penetrating guards in Eric (Sleepy) Floyd, who was second to Magic Johnson in assists; the strongest offensive rebounder in the league in Larry Smith, whose follow shots Sunday kept Utah from catching Golden State at the end; and a center, Joe Barry Carroll, whose reputation--one former coach, John Bach, once called him a corpse--falls far short of his ability.
This season, however, the 7-foot 1-inch Carroll became an all-star for the first time and was dominant in the finale against Utah, scoring 24 points and blocking 5 shots.
When he went head to head with Abdul-Jabbar this season, Carroll essentially played the Laker center to a standoff. Carroll averaged 20 points a game to Abdul-Jabbar’s 18.7. Both men had high games of 30 points and averaged 7 rebounds apiece.
“I think he’s a lot like Robert Parish, who’s recognized now that he’s surrounded by talent,” said Laker backup center Mychal Thompson, referring to the former Golden State center who didn’t flourish until he was traded to the Boston Celtics.
“I think Joe Barry felt in the past that he didn’t have much hope of making the playoffs, but now he feels more like he’s got to be a leader.
“It’s really reflected in his play. He’s got a lot more intensity, and he’s playing a complete game--not just scoring, but passing and blocking shots.”
Laker Coach Pat Riley said that although the success of Golden State’s perimeter shooting will play a significant role in the series, as usual, the duel of big men may determine the outcome.
“Without a doubt, it will depend on how they dominate or neutralize each other, whichever post men are consistently dominating the inside game,” Riley said.
The Lakers haven’t played in six days since routing the Nuggets. They don’t expect another breather tonight against the Warriors.
“They’re a very dangerous team,” Magic Johnson cautioned. “Any team that can shoot that well from the outside is dangerous.”
Laker Notes Tonight’s game begins at 8, a half-hour later than usual, and will be televised on Prime Ticket and WTBS. Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday at 7:30 and will be televised on Prime Ticket. Channel 2 will televise Games 3 and 4 from Oakland on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. . . . Laker rookie Billy Thompson, who suffered a hyper-extended left knee last Wednesday against Denver, has not practiced since and is not expected to play tonight. . . . Scores of the Laker-Warrior regular-season games: At L.A.: Lakers 132, Warriors 100 (Dec. 7), Lakers 129, Warriors 109 (Jan. 15), Lakers 121, Warriors 109 (Feb. 27). At Oakland: Warriors 116, Lakers 106 (Dec. 4), Warriors 124, Lakers 109 (Jan. 10), Lakers 114, Warriors 109 (March 3). . . . In the first game at the Forum, the Lakers outscored the Warriors, 42-16, in the third quarter, with Byron Scott scoring 20. The Warriors also committed 22 turnovers in that game. But the Warriors actually stayed close in the other two games, rallying from an opening 17-2 deficit to take the lead late in the third quarter of the second game, and were down just three with just five minutes to go in their last Forum encounter. . . . Purvis Short threw in 24 points against the Lakers in their last regular-season match, but Laker guard Michael Cooper held him without a basket in the last 10:19 of the game. Said Cooper of Short: “You’ve got to keep the ball out of his hands. He’s such a creative scorer that he can make shots for himself at any time.”