Utah Snaps Laker Home Win Streak : Loss at Forum, 101-97, Is First in Playoffs in 2 Years
To best visualize how long it has been since the Lakers last lost a playoff game at home, imagine 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson standing next to 7-foot-4 Mark Eaton, one pterodactyl wing span touching another. That’s a time line that could stretch to infinity.
In reality, however, it has been only two years since Sampson’s off- balance, buzzer-beating, Laker-killing shot shocked the Forum into silence and propelled the Houston Rockets into a date with the Boston Celtics. The Lakers had won 13 straight home playoff dates since then, but that streak ended Tuesday night, when Eaton and the Utah Jazz swatted the Lakers back down to earth with a 101-97 win that evened their Western Conference semifinal playoff series at one game apiece.
Eaton, who wasn’t much more than an oversized afterthought when he was at UCLA and still finds himself ducking critics in Utah despite being the premier shot-blocker in the NBA in four of the last five seasons, changed the course of this series Tuesday night as decisively as he altered the direction of countless Laker shots.
Eaton blocked seven Laker shots, all in the first half, forced the Lakers to change their flight plans on countless other trips to the basket, and also managed to shrink another 7-footer, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to postage-stamp size in what Utah Coach Frank Layden called the greatest win in the history of the Jazz franchise.
The Lakers, who fell behind by as many as 15 points, 68-53, in the first minute of the third quarter and never were ahead in the game’s last 42 minutes, had no recourse but to go bombs away in the fourth quarter. But not even four consecutive three-point shots--two each by Byron Scott and Michael Cooper in the final two minutes--were enough to overtake the Jazz, who now get to return home for the next two games of the series. Games 3 and 4 are scheduled for Friday night and Sunday afternoon, respectively.
“Eaton was a force tonight,” said Magic Johnson, who played 45 minutes but couldn’t find the key to unlock a Laker offense that suffered through a 40.2% shooting night. “We can’t let him dominate a game like we did tonight.
“The first game (a 19-point Laker win), he wasn’t a factor. We kept him busy by cutting and moving, and forcing him to come up in the lane. Tonight, there was no cutting or moving.”
And there was very little of Abdul-Jabbar. Tuesday night, to borrow a line Layden had used to describe the match-up in the middle, Tommy Lasorda struck out Babe Ruth.
Abdul-Jabbar made just 3 of 13 shots and scored 10 points. Eaton had twice as many rebounds, 12 to 6, 6 more blocked shots, and even 1 more assist (Abdul-Jabbar had none). Finally, after Abdul-Jabbar had the ball slapped away from him by Utah guard John Stockton into Eaton’s hands, then missed on a sky- hook, Laker Coach Pat Riley took him out of the game, sending Cooper in for the final 2:55.
The Lakers actually closed within two, 99-97, after the last of the three- pointers--Cooper’s heave from the corner--dropped in with four seconds left. James Worthy nearly stole the ensuing inbounds pass, but the ball bounced off his leg and out of bounds.
The Jazz called time, then in-bounded from halfcourt. Mark Iavaroni spotted Thurl Bailey for a lob pass that Bailey converted into the layup that finished off the Lakers. John Stockton had kept Utah from relinquishing their lead by making four free throws in the final 52 seconds--one resulting from a technical for an illegal Laker defense--and also feeding Bailey for a big layup with 10 seconds left.
“You have to take what the defense gives you,” Riley said, “and we lost our patience when we penetrated. We were too quick to make decisions to drive. You can’t take the ball to that guy (Eaton), unless you’re going to go to the rim.
“That was the key and our field-goal percentage proved it.”
This series, you may recall, had started out as a laugh riot. The Lakers held the Jazz to a playoff-record low 8 points in the first quarter Sunday, a game in which Utah distinguished itself only by Layden’s postgame comic routine.
“Maybe Frank set us all up,” Riley said. “Who knows? He wasn’t joking tonight.”
Layden was in no mood to kid around after getting less than boffo reviews in Salt Lake City, where the home folk apparently thought their quick-witted coach was taking this business too lightly.
“They said I didn’t care, that I was fooling around,” Layden said sharply. “Well, I’ve been coaching 33 years, and I know what I’m doing. I don’t have to apologize for anything.”
None of the Jazz, obviously, had anything to be sorry for, especially the key pieces in the Utah offense: Stockton, Bailey and power forward Karl Malone.
Stockton had 19 points and 13 assists, Bailey came off the bench for 20 points and 4 blocked shots, and Malone had a game-high 29 points and 10 rebounds.
Iavaroni was a surprise offensive contributor with 12 points, 10 in the second quarter, when the Jazz stretched a two-point lead to 11, 54-43.
“Iavaroni, your game just saved you a trade to Milan,” Layden said to his forward.
“Said Iavaroni: “At least I know the language.”
Malone had guaranteed that the Jazz would polish off the Trail Blazers after Utah won Game 2 in Portland in their first-round series, but stayed out of the prediction business here.
“I’m not putting my foot in my mouth,” Malone said. “Right now we’ve got the home-court advantage, but the Lakers are world champions and they don’t want little ol’ Utah beating them.”
But first, the Lakers must solve not-so-little Eaton.
“Imagine yourself in a Laker uniform or any uniform, and you’re driving to the hoop and there’s a guy 7-foot-4 and 300 pounds standing there,” Malone said. “What are you going to do--go right at him, or change your shot.
“He’s the biggest human being by far that I’ve ever seen in my life, and I’m from Louisiana, and they grow them big down there.”