Maybe he has a special kind of elegance and maybe he can hit those 20-foot shots, but yesterday he was simply awful.
Maybe he was taken out of his game with three early fouls and maybe the guards didn't get him the ball, but Ralph Sampson played more like a bird of pray yesterday than the Rockets' red glare.
"He picked up three fouls and never recovered; his game was out of synch," said Bill Fitch of Sampson's 2 points, 7 rebounds and 4 turnovers in 27 minutes.
As long as we've come to bury him, let's be honest. There wasn't any pressure on Sampson to make that shot in Los Angeles. OK, OK, he did make six free throws down the stretch, but nobody expected a twisting, off-balance 10- footer at the buzzer to win the conference final. Yesterday, there was pressure.
"I just wasn't getting into the offense," said Sampson, showing more emotion in the locker room than he did on the floor. "I didn't touch the ball for the first five minutes."
Sampson picked up his first foul 3 1/2 minutes into the game. Kevin McHale drew the second foul 33 seconds later, and Sampson fouled Larry Bird just moments after that.
"The game was over for him early," said McHale, whose long arms and 225 pounds wore heavily on Sampson. "No one plays well with that many fouls that early."
Jim Petersen came in to rewrite the script, but McHale scored 7 of the Celtics' next 10 points. While Petersen worked to adjust, Sampson got comfortable on the bench.
"I think we survived Ralph's foul trouble," said Petersen, "but the Celtics showed what a great team they are in the second half."
After trailing by two at intermission, 61-59, the Rockets went back to Sampson in the third quarter. He missed a shot that could have tied the game at 67-67, his next shot was blocked by Robert Parish, and he was stripped of the ball the next time downcourt. Houston trailed by seven, 74-67, and Sampson still hadn't scored.
"Ralph did not have a good day today," said Fitch simply, not wanting to exacerbate the situation. "Because of his limited minutes, we had to use him more like the seventh or eighth guy on the team than the starting forward."
When Olajuwon went out with five fouls at 4:49 of the third, Sampson moved to the pivot, but hammered his next shot. The 7-foot-4-inch Twin Tower missed 12 of 13 from the field, his worst performance since Nov. 24 against Portland, when he also finished with 2 points.
"Ralph got off to a rough start and never recovered," said Mitchell Wiggins. "We don't mind him taking those 20-footers; he hits them in practice."
Parish said he was glad to see Sampson so far from the hole.
"We kept pushing him away, pushing him away," said Parish. "He was forced to take those 18-footers."
With 3:59 left in the third quarter, Sampson stole Bird's pass and dropped a 7-foot hook at the other end. It was his first and last basket.
"My shots weren't falling," said Sampson with a shrug. "Next game, they'll have to."
Was it the physical jolt of playing Parish, McHale and Bill Walton after the relatively gentle nature of LA?
"No," said Sampson. "It was just one loss against the Boston Celtics. We've got a lot more games to play."
Was it his worst game ever, Sampson was asked?
"I don't keep stats," he answered.
But did it feel like a pretty lousy game, a television reporter asked?
"I said, I don't keep stats," Sampson fumed, "and I don't want to eat that microphone, either."
Last week's hero found a nasty twist of plot before he must have expected it. He found it on the very next page.
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