Divac’s Trickery Lifts Lakers : Pro basketball: After a poor first half defensively, his slick plays spark a 102-96 victory over Pistons in overtime.
Fate delivered the twice-defending NBA champion Pistons on a plate and the Lakers finally dispatched them Sunday, led by their tallest of all possible playmakers, the one, the only . .
No, not Magic Johnson.
It was Vlade Divac who trotted out a couple of the tricks he learned on the playgrounds of Prijepolje--tricks that the Lakers still haven’t been able to cure him of--leading them to a 102-96 victory in overtime.
Divac, shot up by James Edwards in the first half and benched by Mike Dunleavy, returned to make a key steal with the score 92-92 early in the overtime.
Then he drove across the lane, started to take a hook shot and scooped a wraparound pass to A.C. Green for a layup that put the Lakers ahead to stay.
Of course, that’s not exactly what his coach had had in mind.
“Vlade the magician,” Dunleavy said later. “He knows if he shoots the hook, I can’t say anything--but if he throws the pass away, I’ll be on his butt. But that’s the creative part of him. You’ve got to let him play.”
Relaxed as ever, Divac revealed after the game that he had gotten a death threat relating to this trip in a letter he received several months ago. The league office put on extra security in the Palace and the team’s hotel, but there were no incidents.
What, Vlade worry?
“No,” he said. “I feel good. I’m not scared for that reason.”
Divac was coming off a string of so-so games and several outright bad ones that had General Manager Jerry West so unhappy that reporters asked Divac about rumors that he would be traded for Benoit Benjamin. In light of the death-threat revelation, this raises the question of whether the Lakers considered getting traded to the Clippers a fate worse than death.
For the Pistons, it was hard times as usual. Missing Isiah Thomas, coming off an inglorious loss to the Charlotte Hornets, they took an 11-point lead in the first half while Edwards strafed Divac.
“James Edwards has . . . I can’t explain . . . unbelievable shot,” Divac said. “He goes in middle and goes back. I never saw before shot like that.”
He saw plenty of them Sunday.
Then the Pistons lost Joe Dumars early in the third period. Thomas’ replacement at point guard left the game because of a hamstring strain, forcing Piston Coach Chuck Daly to play the recently signed Gerald Henderson and guard Johnson with Dennis Rodman, leaving him only Mark Aguirre or John Long to guard James Worthy.
The Lakers caught up by the fourth quarter. With the score tied at 90, the Lakers had the last chance to win it in regulation, but Worthy’s 15-footer missed.
So they went into overtime.
The Lakers missed their first four shots and trailed, 92-90, before Worthy’s 15-footer tied the score.
At the other end, the Pistons lobbed the ball into Edwards in the low post, where he had been beating on Divac all day. But Divac did his favorite trick, gambling, slipping in front and stealing the ball.
The Lakers then posted Divac up. He drove across the lane, turned as if to launch his hook and slipped the ball to Green.
“Is very dangerous, that pass,” Divac said. “But I just do what I’m thinking about. When I go to shoot the hook shot and somebody come on me, maybe I can shoot over him--but is better if I pass. But many times I lose that ball.”
He wasn’t done yet.
The Pistons went low to Edwards again. This time Johnson came over to double-team, the ball was knocked loose and the Lakers ran a fast break. Green fouled, made two free throws and the Pistons would never again be closer than four points.
“Vlade made him turn and dribble it out,” Johnson said. “James was so concerned about Vlade coming over his shoulder. When he dribbled it, Vlade knocked it out to me.”
Johnson, Divac’s mentor, congratulated him warmly on the court. Vlade almost made it into the dressing room on that high note. However, he fouled Vinnie Johnson in the process of scoring a layup in the final seconds, prompting Johnson to deliver his 1,000th lecture of the season to his favorite exchange student.
His work done for the day, the great playmaker/thief rested.
So did Magic Johnson.
Magic Johnson had 31 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. James Worthy had 29 points. . . . Piston Coach Chuck Daly snapped, “What did I tell you?” at Mark Aguirre on his way off the floor after the first half. Aguirre did a long double-take until his buddy, Isiah Thomas, came over and talked to him. Later, Daly complained about a late three-pointer Aguirre missed. . . . Johnson, who played the first 36 minutes, left to start the fourth quarter for Tony Smith. A lineup with Smith, Elden Campbell and Terry Teagle took the Lakers from a 74-73 deficit to an 84-82 lead midway through the fourth quarter. Said Johnson: “You’ve got to give Elden a lot of credit. He played smart and he played hard. Tony gave us a big lift. To be on the bench and see them playing like that, it’s a big sigh of relief.”
* CLIPPERS WIN: New center Olden Polynice had 19 points and 12 rebounds to help defeat Denver, 129-112. C4.