Lakers Prove They Have Plenty in Reserves : Bench Repels Suns, 127-119, in Game One

Times Staff Writer

During training camp in Hawaii last fall, Laker Coach Pat Riley boldly predicted that his promising corps of reserves would prove to be the deepest, most productive in his tenure.

Little that happened during the regular season supported Riley’s prediction. But in Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference finals Saturday, when it was needed the most, his bench helped lift the Lakers to a 127-119 victory over the Phoenix Suns before a Forum crowd of 17,505.

Thrust into lead roles by necessity, the supporting players had to perform if the Lakers were to overcome the Suns, who overcame a 16-point first-half deficit in the opening game of this seven-game series.


Magic Johnson was on the bench with five fouls, eventually fouling out late in the game. Byron Scott, also in foul trouble, spent much of the second half sitting next to Johnson.

And Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sat out the final five minutes because of an injured hip.

In came Orlando Woolridge, Mychal Thompson and Michael Cooper to rescue their more famous teammates.

“When your key guys are out,” Woolridge said, “everybody out on the court has got to do something extra. You have to.”

So, even though James Worthy scored 32 points and stifled counterpart Tom Chambers, nearly everyone concerned credited the Laker bench for the victory.

“It was the difference today,” Riley said of his reserves.

“(Woolridge) was outstanding. He paid his rent today. Coop ran the offense very well. We know it’s going to take eight men to beat these guys.”

Not eight at once, of course. But against a team with so many offensive resources, led by multi-talented point guard Kevin Johnson, Laker depth was essential merely to keep pace. Woolridge scored 11 of his 13 points in the second half and added seven rebounds, three assists, two blocked shots and a key steal late in the game.


Cooper ably ran the Laker offense in Magic Johnson’s absence and took over Scott’s unenviable task of guarding Kevin Johnson, who had 27 points and 18 assists in 46 minutes.

And Thompson, who had eight points and six rebounds in relief of Abdul-Jabbar, combined with Woolridge for what might have been the game-clinching play.

With two minutes left and Magic Johnson having fouled out, the Lakers held a 116-111 lead.

The Suns threw a half-court trap at the Lakers, and the best shot they could get was a baseline jump shot by Woolridge.

He missed, but Thompson grabbed the rebound. He then fed Woolridge charging through the lane for a dunk shot while being fouled by Tyrone Corbin.

Woolridge’s free throw gave the Lakers an eight-point lead with 1:35 left, and they were not threatened thereafter.

“Woolridge made the big plays,” Phoenix forward Eddie Johnson said. “Mychal got that offensive rebound that killed us, and then Woolridge got that big three-point play.


“We didn’t take advantage (of the Laker reserves). If we had someone come up and say to us before the game, ‘What would you like (to happen), we definitely would’ve took (having Magic and Scott in foul trouble). But we just didn’t do what we had to do to win in the fourth quarter.”

And the Lakers did.

Despite Johnson fouling out for the first time in the playoffs since 1981, and despite having Scott on the bench for an 11-minute stretch in the second half, the Lakers persevered and remained unbeaten in eight playoff games.

Dating to last season, the Lakers have won 10 straight playoff games, an NBA record.

Worthy continued his prolific playoff scoring, making 13 of 22 shots. He also held Chambers, averaging 26.1 points coming in, to 15 points. Chambers made only five of 19 shots.

“I’ve played and been around Tom a long time,” said Worthy. “I respect him, and you have to give him all your energy.”

All but four of A.C. Green’s 18 points came in the first half, when the Lakers made 61.4% of their shots. All told, he made eight of nine shots and led the Lakers with 10 rebounds.

Production from the forwards was needed because of the Lakers’ foul trouble. Johnson made only six of 13 shots for 18 points and Scott scored 24. After the Suns took a 100-99 lead on Eddie Johnson’s basket with 7:40 left, Johnson returned to the lineup, having been preceded by Scott one possession earlier.


Johnson scored five more points before fouling out with 2:23 remaining. Scott sank three straight jump shots, then made a driving layup with 1:16 left that gave the Lakers a 10-point lead.

Johnson received his fifth foul, for charging, with about four minutes to play in the third quarter. It came one possession after he incurred his fourth foul on a similar call.

“I think Earvin saw that he was coming out and wanted to give it one last drive,” Riley said.

Johnson was replaced by Woolridge.

“I think ‘O’ was the key,” Worthy said. “He made the big plays. He had some rebounds when we really needed them. And he can be an intimidator with his blocked shots.”

During his stay on the bench, Johnson was Woolridge’s biggest supporter. He waved his fist during timeouts and rushed over to offer congratulations and advice to Woolridge.

“Orlando gave us a spark we haven’t had,” Johnson said. “What I liked today was that he wasn’t just making the offensive plays. He blocked some shots, got a big steal (late in the game) and some rebounds, too.


“That’s what we need. Early and midway through (the regular season), our bench wasn’t (producing enough). But in the last week of the season and now the playoffs, we’ve got confidence in them.”

Said Woolridge, who also made five of six free throws: “In the past, I’ve been characterized as only an offensive player. But I’m working more on intangibles. I got a couple of rebounds and then (during a timeout), Magic came around and really pumped me up. Coming from a guy you respect, that gives you confidence and helps you to get to the next level.”

Riley said that, by the end of the playoffs, this could be remembered as the deepest Laker bench of the 1980s.

“Let’s just say it should be the best,” Riley said. “It should be productive. They are capable of doing that. Mychal and Coop always have known their roles. Orlando is starting to get into it. He’s starting to lend some support.”

Laker Notes

Cotton Fitzsimmons’ losing streak at the Forum now is 34 games. His last victory in the Forum came on Feb. 17, 1973, while coaching the Atlanta Hawks. . . . The Lakers have won 13 straight games, the last eight coming in the playoffs. Their longest winning streak during the regular season was seven games. . . . Kevin Johnson’s 18 assists marked a career high and a Suns’ playoff record. . . . The last time Magic Johnson fouled out of a game in the playoffs was on April 3, 1981, against the Houston Rockets. The last time it happened during the regular season was March 7, 1984, against Philadelphia in the Forum. . . . The Lakers shot 59.8% Saturday, their highest percentage of the in this playoffs. . . . Both teams wore black stripes on their jerseys in honor of Larry Fleisher, former director of the NBA Players Assn., who died in New York on May 11.