There have been moments during this NBA championship final when it has appeared that the Lakers have come down from a higher league. The Celtics are mere bowling pins flying off to the sides as the Lakers roar down the lane with unstoppable force and finesse.
Yesterday, near the City of Angels, the Lakers administered one of the worst beatings in the long and storied playoff history of the Boston Celtics . When the smoldering Forum floorboards had finally cooled, the Lakers were 137-104 winners and began looking ahead to Wednesday night's Game 4 with a 2-1 series lead.
Have you ever been caught in a ferocious undertow? A typhoon? A white tornado? A black tornado? . . . If yes, then you know what the Celtics are feeling.
Oddly enough, Boston led, 40-35, with 7:20 left in the first half. That was before the Lakers ripped off 18 in a row, then singed the Celtics with a (championship-final) record-breaking, 47-point third quarter.
Post-mortems centered on two themes: LA's supremacy and Boston's curious and embarrassing lack of heart.
Start with Laker supremacy. Let's face it: If not for a bonehead pass by James Worthy in Game 2, the Lakers would be up by 3-0 and everybody would be making plans for a Thursday parade down Rodeo drive.
It should worry the Celtics that the Lakers were able to win by 33 on an afternoon in which Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (24 points) failed to convert a single sky hook.
LA's cause-and-effect elements of defense and rebounding vaporized the Celtics yesterday. Records are unavailable, but it would be hard to fathom any pro team scoring 58 points by converting 28 of 32 fast breaks in a single afternoon. Only four of those points came from jump shots. The rest of the scoring was done with uncontested ease: layups, dunks, free throws.
Magic Johnson had 14 points, 11 rebounds and a championship series-record 21 assists. "It's a great feeling when you're running like that because you feel like you can't be stopped," said Magic. ". . . When we can make 'em turn it over or take a shot they didn't want to take, we're gone."
Sunshine Superman Kurt Rambis (7 for 7, 17 points), firestarter Worthy (13, 11 in the first half), Michael Cooper (17) and Bob McAdoo (21) were Magic's relay running mates.
When they weren't running, the Lakers managed to outrebound the Celtics, 63-44. That's like letting Nolan Ryan beat you with his bat. It should never happen.
"We played like sissies," said a disgusted Larry Bird, who scored 30 points but has been held to 10 assists in three games - which says something about LA's defense. "They just came out and did the same old things they've been doing for three games. They ran right by us . . . I know the heart and soul of this team, and today the heart wasn't there, that's for sure. I can't believe a team like this would let LA come out and push us around like they did. Today I didn't feel we played hard. We got beat bad, and it's very embarrassing."
Cedric Maxwell chimed in with, "You can always be outrun and outshot and outrebounded, but to basically be outhustled and not have the heart is not a genuine Celtic characteristic . . . There is no excuse in the world when you get beat by 33 points."
Jack Webb is said to be searching for Boston's inside game. Kevin McHale made only five of 13 shots, Maxwell was held to six shots and nine points, and Robert Parish came through with a lethargic 3 for 9 from the floor and nine points.
K.C. Jones continues to rush to Parish's defense ("The defense is the reason for Robert's offensive problems"), but it's increasingly clear that Parish is either hurt, tired or not a playoff ballplayer. He was without a field goal in 20 minutes of the first half yesterday and is forcing the Celtics to play four-on-five at the offensive end.
Parish had a lot of teammates wrestling him for his goat horns, however. Gerald Henderson played only 16 minutes. Scott Wedman missed 11 of 18 shots. Dennis Johnson went 2 for 8 and played only 14 minutes, two in the second half. With DJ in the game, the Celtics were outscored, 48-16 - perhaps the most incredible stat in a game loaded with believe-it-or-nots.
LA bolted to an 18-4 lead in the first six minutes. Worthy was doing his frightening highwire act off the break, and the Celtics helped out with poor shot selection and a general failure to get back on defense.
Bird (12 in the first quarter) rallied his troops, who cut it to 29-26 at the end of one. Boston's finest moments came early in the second quarter. With Wedman and Quinn Buckner manning the backcourt, the Celtics carved out a five- point lead.
Boston led, 40-35, with 7:20 left in the half when the Lakers took over. In a 5 1/2 -minute stretch, LA outscored Boston, 18-0, for a commanding 53-40 lead. In 13 consecutive possessions, the Celtics missed 10 shots, committed five turnovers and one offensive foul without scoring a point. At the other end, Rambis, Cooper, Magic and Worthy scored with ease.
LA led, 57-46, at intermission. Magic took over again at the start of the second half, and it was 73-52 with 9:15 left in the third. It was 104-79 after three, and garbage time had already started. LA's Mike McGee managed to get off 15 shots in 14 minutes. The Lakers closed with 11 straight points, assuring the worst margin of defeat for a Celtic team in an NBA final. (The Knicks dealt Boston a 33-point conference-final loss in 1973).
"Every guy in this room has got to be embarrassed," said McHale. "But I just don't feel in my heart that they are that much better than us."