NBA Playoffs : Deep Down, Lakers Knew They Could : L.A., Losing by 29, Runs to 97-95 Win
Had doctors performed an electrocardiogram on the Lakers early in the second quarter here Sunday, as doctors later did to a dizzy but eventually revived assistant coach Bill Bertka, the reading probably would have shown a straight, unbroken line.
No signs of life at all.
The Lakers were experiencing a dangerously feverish performance by the Seattle SuperSonics in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.
The Lakers trailed the SuperSonics by 29 points after 14 minutes. Their hopes of attaining a second consecutive playoff series sweep seemed out of the question. Merely surviving the afternoon seemed a reasonable goal.
But then, just when the crowd of 14,006 at the Coliseum was sensing the kill, the Lakers came to life. What followed was a massive revival unlike any those involved could remember, resulting in a 97-95 Laker victory over the SuperSonics, who had led, 43-14, at one point in the second quarter.
The Lakers, by sweeping the best-of-seven series, advance to the conference finals.
They did it by outscoring the SuperSonics 22-6 in the final 8:02 of the first half, and included in that surge was a 16-0 stretch in the final 5:20 that enabled the Lakers to cut Seattle’s lead to 11 points at halftime.
From that point, the SuperSonics lead and confidence steadily eroded until the Lakers put together an 18-6 run in the fourth quarter to take their first lead with 6:14 to play. They never relinquished it, aided by a three-point basket from James Worthy, a successful baseline jump shot from A.C. Green, a series of clutch free throws and an assortment of important defensive plays.
Had the Lakers seen anything comparable with Sunday’s stark turnaround?
“I can’t recall any in my time here,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “We’ve come back before, but not like this. And not in the playoffs. In the playoffs, when a team gets you down, forget it.”
And this from Magic Johnson, whose smile was as wide as the SuperSonics’ first-half lead:
“This has got to be the best one. Definitely, the one right here. The prime and heart (of the team) came out. We never panicked. We never pointed fingers at each other. We just never quit. That’s the thing.”
Worthy, who made 15-of-19 shots, led the Lakers with 33 points. Johnson, held in check by Seattle’s swarming defense, had 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Green had 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Mychal Thompson had 15 points off the bench.
Sunday’s game was filled with moments that will find a place somewhere in Laker lore.
There was the double-technical foul assessed to Bertka, the veteran assistant coach, after referee Jake O’Donnell ruled that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had stepped out of bounds near the Laker bench early in the third quarter.
Bertka, who vehemently argued the call, went to one knee and later said he was overcome with dizziness. Having been ejected anyway, Bertka was escorted to the locker room by Stephen Lombardo, a Laker physician. He was given an EKG, which was said to be normal.
Bertka accompanied the team back to Los Angeles Sunday night and will undergo more tests today.
Afterward, though, he joked with reporters and seemed in good health.
“I’ve heard of managers getting kicked out and coaches ejected to fire up their teams, but I’ve never seen this (fainting) act before,” Laker center Mychal Thompson said. “He had a head rush. We knew he was OK, but we decided to win it for him, anyway.”
More common forms of motivation came earlier.
The Lakers trailed 47-21 with 8:07 remaining in the second quarter when Riley was called for a technical foul for arguing with O’Donnell about a few perceived non-calls.
Whether drawing the technical was a strategic move, or merely one made out of anger, didn’t matter. The Lakers seemingly responded to it.
If it wasn’t that, then it was Johnson’s impromptu pep talk after Dale Ellis sank the technical foul shot for a 48-21 Seattle lead. SuperSonic Coach Bernie Bickerstaff called a 20-second timeout, during which Johnson could be overheard telling teammates, “Let’s just cut it to 15.”
That approach worked for the Lakers. Thompson made a short jump shot and, after an Ellis air ball, Worthy sank a turnaround jump shot to slice the SuperSonic lead to 23 with 7:03 to play in the half.
Perhaps fearing a letdown, Bickerstaff called a timeout. Temporarily, at least, that quelled the Laker threat. In the next 32 seconds, Seattle outscored the Lakers, 5-2 to regain a 54-27 lead on Derrick McKey’s two free throws.
That turned out to be the last Seattle points of the half. They went into a dry spell in which they commited five turnovers (including a 24-second clock violation) and missed shots on five straight possessions.
The Lakers, conversely, suddenly got hot after making only four of 20 shots in a 12-point first quarter.
Their 16-0 run, like many memorable comebacks, began with failure. In this case, it was a missed shot by Green. But Thompson, who had 15 points off the bench, tipped in the miss with 5:20 to play.
Twenty one seconds later, Thompson dunked--but missed the free throw after being fouled--to make it only a 23-point deficit. The teams then went 1:23 seconds without scoring, until Byron Scott completed a fast break by making a layup that turned out to be Scott’s only points of the game.
Bickerstaff, stalking the sidelines, called another timeout with his team leading by 21. The SuperSonics responded by commiting a 24-second clock violation as the Laker defense denied any open shots.
The Lakers then reeled off six more points--two free throws by Johnson, a 19-foot baseline jump shot by Worthy and Green’s inside shot off an offensive rebound--before Bickerstaff called his third, and final, timeout of the quarter.
By this time, the Lakers trailed 54-39, and Johnson’s goal of slashing Seattle’s lead to 15 points by halftime had been achieved.
But the Lakers were far from finished. Seattle’s final three possessions ended in two turnovers and a missed three-point attempt, while Worthy sank an eight-foot jumper in the lane with 55 seconds to play and then added a drive to the basket with four seconds left.
So, what had been a 29-point SuperSonic bulge was trimmed to an unsteady 11-point lead entering the second half.
The Lakers, through persistence, finally took control.
“Twenty nine points is lot, but 24 minutes (in the second half) is a lot of time,” Worthy said. “Now, if it had been the fourth quarter, and we were down by that much, it’d been a lot more difficult to do.”
Said Johnson: “When we cut it to 11 (by halftime), that was the key. That took something out of them. They were going good, very good. Everything was going their way. But then, late in the second quarter, here we come.
“We just started executing better against their trap and started playing better defense.”
Riley admitted that the Lakers were not ready to play at the start of Sunday’s game. He said they appeared “hung over” from having to scramble to win Game 3 on Friday after leading by 15 points in the fourth quarter of that game.
If the Lakers appeared to be in a daze in the first quarter, Riley tried everything to snap them out of it. After Ellis, who had 28 points, sank a three-point shot to give Seattle a 29-10 lead with 2:01 to play, Riley angrily called a timeout. He slammed down his clipboard and screamed at his team.
"(Riley) was saying stuff you’d never hear on ‘Sesame Street,’ ” Thompson said. “Let’s just say it was in very fatherly tones. He scolded us.”
He also benched most of the starters, going with a lineup that included Tony Campbell, Orlando Woolridge, Cooper, Green and Thompson.
Some of those players turned out to be contributors once the Lakers finally claimed the lead.
Woolridge, who had five points and five rebounds, gave the Lakers their first lead, 82-81, by sinking two free throws. The Lakers made it a four-point lead after two free throws by Johnson and one by Woolridge.
Seattle did not go quietly after suffering the embarrassment of losing such a big lead. Leading 85-83, the Lakers called a timeout with 3:15 to play.
Worthy then delivered his most important basket of the game. Perched in the right corner, he sank a three-point shot that gave the Lakers an 88-83 lead.
Worthy had made only two of 23 three-point attempts during the regular season, but he said he intend all along to make a three-pointer in that situation.
“I knew where I was supposed to set up,” Worthy said. “I don’t shoot it a lot, but I can make it. It’s just a different shot for me.”
Worthy’s long-distance basket did not shoot down the SuperSonics, though. After Worthy and Nate McMillan traded baskets, Xavier McDaniel sank a three-point shot with 1:29 to play to cut the lead to 90-88. McDaniel had a chance to tie it 41 seconds later but made only one of two foul shots to draw Seattle to within one point.
After a Laker timeout, Green sank a baseline jump shot after Johnson drew in the defense by driving through the lane. That made it 92-89, and the Lakers held off the SuperSonics thereafter by sinking nearly all their free throw.
“Hearts. That’s what it takes to do what we did today,” Thompson said. “You couldn’t have done what we did without a lot of heart and dedication. This just shows you can’t count us out. Not with Magic Johnson and James Worthy and all the other guys on this team. We never think it’s over.”
The Lakers are off until at least Saturday. That would be the earliest date the Western Conference finals would begin, provided the Phoenix-Golden State semifinal series ends either Tuesday or Thursday night. . . . Bill Bertka on his fainting spell: “I got up quickly after the call. I was extremely frustrated. Then, to get the technical, that really (set him off). Then, the second round put me down on one knee.” Bertka laughed. “Actually, I felt a little dizzy.”
The SuperSonics felt they didn’t squander the 29-point lead. Rather, they said the Lakers earned it. “They’re playing good basketball, and it’s going to be difficult for anyone to beat them,” Dale Ellis said. “They came to play. We seemed to be hungry for another title.” . . . Byron Scott made just one of nine shots and did not play in the final quarter and a half.