It may have been the most dramatic payback for a slight since two men first walked 10 paces and leveled their pistols.
And before Eric (Sleepy) Floyd would leave the scene of the greatest individual scoring quarter in the history of the National Basketball Assn. playoffs, the Golden State Warriors’ guard made sure his nemesis had received the message.
“Coop,” Floyd yelled across the court with 13 seconds left in his team’s 129-121 win over the Lakers Sunday afternoon at the Oakland Coliseum Arena. “Coop.”
Then he pointed straight at Laker guard Michael Cooper. “You,” he said. “You.”
Imagine what Floyd might have done on Mother’s Day if Cooper or any other Laker had insulted his mother.
As it was, the skinny 6-foot 3-inch guard with the heavy-lidded eyes singlehandedly struck a blow for the battered psyche of an entire team, one that was fed up with what they perceived as Laker arrogance. He showed up the Lakers by scoring 29 points in the fourth quarter--eclipsing by four the record set just two days earlier by Detroit guard Isiah Thomas--and finished with a career-high 51 points, the most ever scored against the Lakers by an individual opponent in a playoff game.
Slicing time and again through the heart of the Laker defense for layups, Floyd had a dozen baskets in the final quarter. The Lakers had four. And by outscoring the Lakers, 41-19, to wipe out a 14-point Laker lead, the Warriors avoided a Laker sweep in the Western Conference semifinal series and dictated that Game 5 would be played Tuesday night at the Forum.
“Sleepy had been hurting the whole series, and Michael Cooper had been frustrating him a lot by playing good defense on him,” Warrior forward Purvis Short said.
“And the Lakers have been in their showboating act. They show you up and talk trash at you.
“Sleepy just stepped forward and exploded.”
Warrior forward Greg Ballard echoed Short.
“I think it all came to a head for Sleepy,” Ballard said.
Throughout the series, Floyd and Cooper have engaged in a running verbal battle, several times nearly coming to blows. But there were other reasons for the resentment that finally spilled over Sunday.
The Warriors had grown tired of what they considered the Lakers’ constant posturing--the comments when a Laker dunked over a Warrior or blocked a shot, and the celebratory high-fives and body-slamming. To the Warriors, the Lakers were becoming basketball’s answer to baseball’s New York Mets.
“I told Byron (Scott), I don’t mind you making a good play, but don’t try to rub it in all the time,” said Short, who nearly came to blows with Scott in the first quarter Sunday after the Laker guard dunked over him and then smiled at Short and said something to him.
“Every time you make a good play and then get in a guy’s face, that’s an insult,” Short said. “I think they’re taking it a little too far.
“But that’s their trademark. They’re supposed to be Showtime and Hollywood.”
Golden State Coach George Karl smiled when asked about the Lakers’ behavior.
“No question L.A.'s arrogant,” Karl said. “We can’t deny that. They can’t deny that. The Celtics can’t deny that.
“Do they have a right to be arrogant? Yeah. But their flaunting it went too far, and yeah, that can be motivating.
“When they dunk it in your face, then go around jiving, that’s L.A.”
Said Ballard: “I think they could show a little more class, and some respect for the Golden State Warriors.”
After the game, Laker Coach Pat Riley said he had just one message for his players.
“I told them that if you keep barking so much, you’re going to get your head bitten off,” Riley said. “And that’s what happened.
“Sleepy let a couple of our guys know he’s a player, period.”
Riley flared when relayed some of the Warriors’ comments about alleged Laker arrogance.
“Fine,” he said. “That’s what it’s about. I don’t care what they say.”
However, Riley himself said the Lakers stopped playing right about the time that Scott was knocked to the floor after going high for a rebound. Three Lakers immediately went to help him up, and all five Lakers on the court slapped hands and slammed bodies. The sellout crowd of 15,025 booed.
“That’s when we just stopped executing our offense and our defense,” Riley said. “That’s when we decided they (the Warriors) were just going to go away, that it would be easy, and we were going home.
“We talk about being a veteran team, but we acted like we’ve never been there.”
Scott, who led the Lakers with 28 points, agreed that when the Lakers blew ahead by 15, 98-83, with a 13-4 run late in the third quarter, the Lakers thought the game was over.
“We thought they (the Warriors) were going to lay down,” Scott said. “They didn’t.”
Sleepy wasn’t quite ready to turn off the lights.
“He just knew in his mind that nobody could stop him,” said Earvin (Magic) Johnson, who got into foul trouble early and had a muted 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists.
“After he got the first 10 or so, he said, ‘Clear it out, I’m going in.’ And it didn’t matter who jumped out on him. It didn’t matter if it was Kareem or Coop or Magic Johnson or Byron Scott.
“He said, ‘I’m going to take it in on whoever and score.’ He got to the basket way too many times.”
And what of Cooper, widely considered the best defensive guard in the NBA?
He claimed he neither heard Floyd calling him at game’s end nor Floyd’s pointing. Why, then, did he have a big smile on his face?
“I was smiling at the crowd,” Cooper said. “It was exciting to see.
“Sleepy is a great performer and a great athlete. I’ve been saying all along that he was the key to their team. We let him off the chain today, and see what happened.”
But is it true the Lakers have no respect for the Warriors?
“We do show ‘em respect, the ultimate respect by playing hard against them,” Cooper snapped. “What do they want us to do, play like patsies against them so they can beat us?”
For one afternoon, at least, Sleepy Floyd made certain that he--and the Warriors--won’t be mistaken for anyone’s patsies.
Sunday’s loss was the Lakers’ first in the playoffs after six straight wins--a three-game sweep of Denver in the first round and the first three games against Golden State. . . . Joe Barry Carroll scored 23 points for the Warriors, but Golden State made its comeback while Carroll was on the bench. Carroll was replaced by Jerome Whitehead when the Warriors trailed, 91-81, with 2:35 left in the third period. When he returned with 3:57 left in the game, the Warriors led, 117-113. Carroll did, however, hit a 15-footer with 1:21 left after the Lakers had pulled within 123-119, and he also blocked a driving shot by Byron Scott with 26 seconds left. . . . The Warriors made five steals in the fourth quarter. . . . Anatomy of a turnaround: The Lakers outrebounded Golden State, 21-6, in the third period, then shot 25% (4 for 16) to the Warriors’ 70.8% (17 for 25) the rest of the way. . . . James Worthy, who had 28 points Saturday, scored just 11 Sunday, while Mychal Thompson, who had 23 Saturday, scored just 5 in 10 minutes Sunday. . . . Warrior Coach George Karl, on Eric (Sleepy) Floyd: “Everyone will talk about his great offensive performance, but he made some big steals for us, too. Our defense got us going.” . . . How long had it been since an opposing guard had a game like Floyd’s against the Lakers? "(George) Gervin had 47 against us.” Michael Cooper said, “and (Michael) Jordan had some big games.” Jordan scored 43 points against the Lakers last November at the Forum.