Swaying unsteadily in a barely conscious state, Xavier McDaniel then fell to the floor Friday night after colliding with Magic Johnson late in Game 3 of the NBA Western Conference semifinals.
Down and out went McDaniel and, eventually, his Seattle SuperSonics teammates followed. But not before putting up quite a fight after spending most of the night in a daze. The Lakers quelled a late Seattle uprising and secured a 91-86 victory that most assuredly was more difficult to attain than the two double-figure blowouts at the Forum.
“You have to give them credit,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “They could’ve thrown in the towel. But they didn’t. To me, it still was a great win. It was 91-86, and that’s all that matters.”
Looking as if they were on the verge of another early knockout and seemingly able to cruise to a three-games-to-none lead in the series, the Lakers nearly wasted a 13-point lead in the final eight minutes.
But right in the thick of the SuperSonic rally, McDaniel collided with Johnson while going for a rebound that SuperSonic forward Jerry Reynolds eventually converted to cut the Laker lead to one point with 1:22 to play.
McDaniel later returned, his lip bandaged. But from that point, the Lakers converted all of their free-throw opportunities and never let the lead dip below three points.
The Lakers now are one victory away from their second consecutive sweep in the playoffs.
No one expected Game 3 to be easy for the Lakers. They had lost here twice during the regular season, looking bad doing so.
But for much of this game, played before 14,541 at the Coliseum, the SuperSonics played even worse than they had in Games 1 and 2 in Inglewood. Entering the fourth quarter, Seattle had made only 34% of its shots.
Just when it seemed that victory was out of reach, the SuperSonics went into their standard form of counterpunching. They threw a half-court trap at the Lakers, which didn’t come as a surprise. How poorly the Lakers handled it was a surprise, however.
The last Laker field goal of the game came with 7:39 to play when Mychal Thompson scored inside to make the score 81-68, Lakers. After that, the SuperSonics went on a 12-0 run that slashed the lead to 81-80 with 3:37 to play.
Riley called a timeout but he could have used a corner man to salve the blows the Lakers endured during Seattle’s comeback. In eight possessions, his team committed four turnovers and missed four shots.
Playoff veterans that they are, the Lakers still seemed rattled by the SuperSonics’ pressure.
Included in that Laker lapse was a 24-second violation, Orlando Woolridge stepping on the end line while driving to the basket, Johnson missing a technical foul shot and Johnson and Michael Cooper throwing the ball away.
But the Lakers made 10 straight free throws in the final 3:19 to eke out the victory.
The Lakers might not have looked dominating in the fourth quarter after limiting the SuperSonics to 15 points in the third period, but they were pleased with the victory.
“As long as we won, that’s all,” said James Worthy, who made 10 of 16 shots for 20 points. “We have to put together a 48-minute defensive game. We didn’t do that, and they came back.
“They did a really good job of pressuring us (in the fourth quarter), and we didn’t attack it. We tried to play out the lead and it cost us.”
Laker players, a confident bunch, said they were never really concerned, even when the SuperSonics pulled within one point on the play during which McDaniel and Johnson collided.
No foul was called, although replays showed that Johnson clearly ran into a stationary McDaniel. Reynolds retrieved the ball and sank a jump shot to make the score 83-82 with 1:22 left.
What followed was a series of Laker free throws. McDaniel returned 40 seconds later and made a jump shot to cut the deficit to three points. But as long as the Lakers made their free throws, which they did, they prevailed.
Seattle was determined, it seemed, to go down firing. They shot only 36%, attempting 103 shots. With so many misses, it was not surprising that the SuperSonics held a 52-38 rebounding advantage.
Dale Ellis, averaging only 16.5 points in the first two games, scored a game-high 30. McDaniel added 20 points but made only 10 of 27 shots.
The Lakers shot 46.4%. They went from extremely hot during the impressive third-quarter surge, making 64.7%, to extremely cold in the fourth quarter, sinking only 27.3%.
Worthy was the only Laker who shot well but was not the only contributor. Byron Scott added 17 points, and Johnson had 10 points and 14 assists. The Laker bench outplayed the SuperSonics, holding a 28-8 scoring advantage.
“I’m not going to think about the last eight minutes,” said Riley, dismissing the notion that in Game 4 the SuperSonics would start the small lineup they finished with Friday night. “A lot of the time, when a team comes back on you like that, you could crumble. But we didn’t. We maintained it and got the win.
“We did a hell of a job in the third quarter to get the (15-point) lead. We didn’t let them convert their second shots--and they had a lot of shots. The bottom line was that we won, no matter what happened.”
Seattle Coach Bernie Bickerstaff, however, wasn’t conceding anything. Bickerstaff said the SuperSonics’ chances were diminished by a blocking foul called on Reynolds with 3:19 left.
The Lakers held an 81-80 lead at that point, and the foul sent Johnson to the free-throw line. Magic made both shots, and the Laker lead never dipped below three points thereafter.
“It could have gone either way, but they got it,” Bickerstaff said. “Jerry did a great job on that drive. Our guys are busting their tails and it’s disheartening (not getting foul shots).”
As was the case in Los Angeles, the Lakers held a significant advantage in free throws attempted. Friday, they made 27 of 35, while Seattle sank only eight of 17.
The only numbers that matter to the Lakers today, however, are 3 and 0.
They need only one victory to advance to the conference finals. They said they want it to come Sunday afternoon in Game 4.
“You don’t want to prolong it,” Worthy said. “You never know what could happen.”
Seattle point guard Nate McMillan, who missed most of Game 2 Wednesday because of a sprained left ankle, came off the bench Friday night and scored two points in 16 minutes. Sedale Threatt started in McMillan’s place and had 10 points and nine assists. . . . Xavier McDaniel suffered a deep cut on his upper lip during as a result of his collision with Magic Johnson in the final two minutes. After the game, McDaniel needed four stitches to close the wound. He will be available to play Sunday in Game 4.