Fabled finishes being nothing new to Magic Johnson, the memory of his buzzer-beating, Denver-defeating, 25-foot 3-point shot over Fat Lever in double overtime may fade long before next June, when the stakes are so much higher and junior, junior skyhooks are immortalized.
Tuesday night’s 148-146 victory over the Nuggets came in only the third week of an endless regular season, and the Lakers have become so accustomed to seeing such game-ending magic, they almost take the magician for granted.
“For Magic, a shot like that is almost a layup,” said teammate Tony Campbell.
A layup for Magic, maybe, but still a prayer for almost anybody else. Such is Johnson’s faith in himself, however, that given time to think about the near-impossible--he had 3 seconds left to overcome a 1-point Denver lead, which was time to take one dribble at the height of the 3-point circle and let fly with his shot--Johnson wondered why he hadn’t done it sooner.
“I had a chance to win it in the first overtime, too, and I thought that one was going in,” said Johnson, who missed a 15-foot jumper that could have broken a 137-137 tie at the end of the first regulation.
The Lakers will forgive the oversight, however, especially center Mychal Thompson, who thought a long night (the game went 2 hours 56 minutes) was about to become longer when Denver center Danny Schayes shoveled in a left-handed layup with 3 seconds to go, giving the Nuggets a 146-145 lead.
“When that shot went in,” Thompson said, “I wondered how in the world I was going to get to sleep tonight, because Schayes got it over me and I felt like I’d let the team down.
“But then Magic cured my insomnia.”
Thompson didn’t volunteer how the Nuggets were supposed to get any shut-eye after such a stunner, unless from sheer exhaustion.
“There was nothing I could do about it,” said Lever, who was on top of Johnson as soon as Michael Cooper had in-bounded the ball. “I didn’t want to foul him, but I’ve seen Magic make those shots before.
“It was a roll of the dice, and they rolled the right numbers and they got the win.”
The numbers had seemingly been rolling the wrong way most of the night for the Lakers, who fell behind by 16 points in the second quarter, 50-34, and Magic was limited to just 9 minutes in the first half because of foul trouble.
There were these other numbers to consider: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made his first 2 shots, then made just 1 of his last 9, and that was on a goal-tending call. A.C. Green had just 1 rebound in 32 minutes, Orlando Woolridge had 5 turnovers, Cooper 2 turnovers and was scoreless in 16 minutes.
But with unexpected contributions from rookie David Rivers and Campbell, the Lakers cut Denver’s lead to 8 at the half, 69-61. Byron Scott’s 11 points in the third quarter--Scott finished with 29--helped the Lakers take a 100-97 lead starting the fourth quarter, and the Laker lead was 9, 113-104, after a layup by James Worthy, who led the Lakers in scoring for the third straight game with 33 points.
The Nuggets, who are scoring points at a record pace--this was the fourth time in seven games they have exceeded 140 points--ran off 12 straight points to take a 114-113 lead.
The last 5 minutes of regulation belonged to Magic, though. When Michael Adams, who has made 3-pointers in a record 50 straight games, hit one to give the Nuggets a 4-point lead, 119-115, Magic answered with two free throws.
Scott’s game-tying jumper came off a Magic feed, and after Adams gave Denver another lead, 121-119, Magic countered with a turnaround from the low post.
Denver took its final lead in regulation on a shot by Lever, whose first attempt was rejected by Woolridge--1 of 15 blocks by the Lakers--with 37 seconds left. Worthy tied it when he picked up a loose ball in the lane and jammed it home with 24 seconds to go.
Denver had the ball last in regulation, but Magic blocked one shot by Alex English--who led Denver with 29 points but made just 11 of 31 shots--Walter Davis missed another, and English also missed at the buzzer.
Denver led by as many as 4 in the first overtime, but after Thompson made 1 of 2 free throws, Magic converted a 3-point play with 35 seconds to go. English and Magic then traded misses, and it was on to a second overtime.
What transpired, then, came as little surprise to even the newest of the Lakers.
“It just shows again how amazing Magic is,” said Mark McNamara, a Laker for little more than a month after signing as a free agent. “He answers the challenge every time.
“At another time in the game, that’s not Magic’s shot, but because it meant so much, you could see the whole way that it was going in. He could have been 10 feet away or 30 feet away, it wouldn’t have made a difference. He just has so much desire, he carries the team.”
Johnson didn’t think he’d get one last chance, not after Schayes’ shot. He said he had his hand on the ball before Schayes went up, but was afraid to commit a foul, especially with the Nuggets playing at home.
But in the end, he made his coach, Pat Riley, look brilliant again, on a night when the last shot was designed to be taken by Scott.
“Wow--that’s all I can say,” Riley said. “He had time enough to put the ball on the floor one time, and that’s what he did.”
That, and a Magic-sized layup, the final exclamation point on a night that Campbell and Rivers also rescued the Lakers. Rivers set up 3 baskets and scored another in 9 mistake-free minutes, and Campbell had 11 points, 3 steals and 2 rebounds in 10 minutes.
“Thank God we were able to come in and lift the team up and change things around,” Campbell said. “And thank God for Earvin Johnson.”