Forget Shaquille O’Neal. Forget Robert Horry. Sunday afternoon at the Forum, the Lakers learned they could not live without Elden Campbell. At least not this Elden Campbell.
His impressive run against also-ran centers had continued into the matchup against an all-star center, Patrick Ewing, then kept right on going. Campbell again replaced O’Neal in stature and stats, but when he fouled out with 1:41 left in the second overtime the Lakers could not replace him, a 121-121 tie at that time turning into a 127-121 loss to the New York Knicks as Ewing countered with 34 points and 25 rebounds.
Coming in having averaged 21.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks in the four games since O’Neal went on the injured list, and 23 points, 10.6 rebounds and 2.57 blocks in seven total outings as the starting center this season, Campbell merely went for 40, 10 and four against the Knicks. The 40 was a career high, six better than the Feb. 5 output against the Bulls. The 40 also included the first three-point basket of his career.
It did not, however, include the two points that sat on the heel of the rim for at least a full second and then dropped off, the blown uncontested layup in the final instant of the first overtime that became the missed opportunity for the Lakers to win then. Instead, they got a second overtime, then their third loss in four games.
“It took me seven years to hit the three,” Campbell said. “And seconds to miss the layup.”
Which about describes the Lakers’ day.
“It’s a hard loss for us to take because the guys had worked so hard for it and had such a tremendous comeback, at the end of regulation and then almost got the win at the end of the first overtime,” Coach Del Harris said. “When you get that close, it really makes it hard on everyone emotionally.”
The Lakers got this close:
They were down 12 points with 8:34 left in the fourth quarter and 10 with 2:42 remaining, then recovered in time. Not that the Knicks didn’t do their part, missing four of eight free throws the final 36.8 seconds. None were bigger then when John Starks, declared out on Saturday because of a bruised thigh but in his usual role as sixth man after all, failed on both his opportunities from the line with 10.4 remaining.
One make by Starks gives the Knicks a 104-101 lead and forces the Lakers to go for a three-point basket. Two makes secures the victory.
Zero makes, it turned out, provided new life. George McCloud, in the lineup at a critical time of his Laker debut because of his three-point range, grabbed the rebound and pushed the ball ahead to Nick Van Exel, who got it to Eddie Jones. Jones drove the lane, headed toward a showdown five feet from the basket with Ewing the shot blocker, but lost control just before either had the chance to go for heroics.
Campbell to the rescue. Trailing the play, he gathered the loose ball and flipped it in with 2.5 seconds left. He had 14 points in the fourth quarter, going 10 of 10 from the line, and the Lakers had a 103-103 tie and overtime.
Campbell--of course--scored the first basket from there, a dunk off a drive-and-dish from Van Exel, one of his 16 assists. About a minute later, they teamed again: Van Exel tossing the ball into the post, Campbell finding no place to go and throwing it back out, the shot clock now down to six. Campbell then went out to the three-point line to set a screen for his point guard.
Pick and roll. The Knick defenders stayed with Van Exel, knowing, or at least figuring, Campbell could do no harm out there. So Van Exel threw the ball back to the open Campbell. One second was on the shot clock. Campbell launched.
The first three-point basket in 15 career tries for Campbell had given the Lakers a 108-103 advantage with 3:09 left. Then, when the Knicks’ final two possessions of the overtime ended with two more missed free throws, by Chris Childs, and a travel, by Childs again, Campbell went for the kill.
But this time, having gone around Ewing on the perimeter to drive to the basket, Campbell, coming along the left side, jumped off the right foot and used his right hand, decisions even he called stupid. The shot stayed on the back of them rim, then fell off at the buzzer.
End of the first overtime. The end of the Lakers, and their hold on the lead in the Pacific Division, wasn’t far behind. They had the tie at 121-all, Campbell having scored seven of the first 11 points of the second overtime, but then he fouled out with 1:41 left.
“That was the clincher right there,” Van Exel said.
The Knicks proved it by going on a 6-0 run for the victory. Ewing, after going four of 13 from the field the first three quarters, scored 10 of his 34 points in the second overtime.
* RANDY HARVEY: A classic confrontation in the middle between Patrick Ewing and, yes, Elden Campbell. C2
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
Knick center Patrick Ewing and Laker center Elden Campbell were key factors in Sunday ‘ s double-overtime game. Ewing’s point and rebound totals were season highs, and Campbell’s point total was a career high. How they compared:
CATEGORY EWING CAMPBELL Minutes 51 46 Field Goals 12-25 12-24 Free Throws 10-12 15-19 Points 34 40 Rebounds 25 10 Assists 4 4 Fouls 5 6
HOW McCLOUD FARED
The numbers for George McCloud in his Laker debut:
Field Goals: 2-4
Free Throws: 0-0