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Fox’s Playoff Return Got All Fouled Up

TIMES STAFF WRITER

So where was Rick Fox, before being so rudely interrupted?

Oh, yeah. The playoffs.

It wasn’t much of a return for Fox on Friday night--nine points, three rebounds, three assists in a foul-plagued 20 minutes--but it was a return nonetheless, from back before someone thought it wise to draft Eric Montross over Eddie Jones, tangle a salary cap for the honor of signing Pervis Ellison and Dominique Wilkins, and let M.L. Carr coach. From back in his previous life.

It had been five years since his previous postseason showing, to be exact, though it would have been four if not for the bone spurs in both ankles that knocked him out in 1995, the last time the Boston Celtics made it there.

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Fox’s first appearance since pretty much came in name only, which is why he told a couple of approaching reporters after practice Saturday: “What’s up, fellas? You coming to see my first playoff game tomorrow?”

He was being self-critical, so angry was he for the foul troubles that turned him largely into a spectator, but he was also playing, at least in this way.

The starting power forward was not about to discount what Friday’s 104-102 victory meant, to the team and to himself. A 1-0 lead over the Portland Trail Blazers in the best-of-five first-round series that continues today at the Great Western Forum, and a return to the living.

“A long time,” Fox said of the wait. “A real long time. The first thing that came into my mind was, now I understand why veterans hang around so long. Or why sometimes veterans, as they get older, the regular season is hard for them to play games, because you’re playing for the playoffs, to get to the playoffs, but it’s not the same feeling.

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“I’ll give you a classic example. When the [public-address] announcer [Lawrence Tanter] came on, he was like, ‘This is the NBA playoffs. It’s the first round of four rounds, five-game series, the remaining three being seven games.’ He was going through the whole spiel.

“I’m listening to him: ‘It’s the first team to 15 wins to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy.’ I’m saying to myself, ‘I don’t know who the hell Larry O’Brien is, but I want that trophy.’ I was just listening to him as he was saying it. I don’t even think they said that at the Garden when I was playing with the Celtics. It was almost like taking the pot of gold and sitting it in the middle of the Forum and saying, ‘OK, somebody’s going to get that. Who wants it more? Who wants it bad enough.’ ”

He got caught up in the P.A. announcements--"The most beautiful words I’ve heard, ever.” It was that kind of night, at least for the first 6 minutes 48 seconds, at which point he picked up his second foul and was replaced by Corie Blount.

So much for the storybook night. Fox came back for the start of the second quarter and played nine minutes without getting another personal, but things turned bad for him again in the third, with two quick fouls and a bad pass.

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“I’m ready to pull to out my hair, but I don’t have any,” Fox said. “I really, really don’t like taking myself out of a game that way.”

He got back in for the fourth quarter. Sort of. Foul No. 5 came with only 75 seconds gone, soon sending him back to the bench and creating the opportunity for the Lakers’ small lineup to spark the win, with Kobe Bryant scoring 11 of his 15 points in the quarter while playing forward.

“I felt great, I felt fine,” Fox said, insisting his troubles didn’t come from being too hyped. “I expected to be over-anxious, I expected to be too emotional. I really expected all those things, but I really took some time during the day to sit down and visualize and calm myself down and really picture what I thought would happen throughout the course of the game.

“I was just sitting with a lot of deep breaths, going over their plays, going over our plays, watching myself run the plays, watching myself shoot free throws, shoot the free throws. But I didn’t visualize myself not fouling. That’s where I messed up.”

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That and not knowing O’Brien is a former NBA commissioner.

“Thanks,” he said. “I was wondering.”


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