Jabbar vs. Parish: It was Pivotal
January 19, 1981
The game was brought to you straight from turnover heaven. It was a grocery bag filled with errant passes, traveling violations and mental miscues. Here they come downcourt . . . whoops . . . there they go back the other way . . . look out, here they come back again.
It was not an aesthetic triumph, hardly the Michelangelo of hardwood encounters. And if it had been, say, the New Jersey Nets vs. the Detroit Pistons, it might have had no redeeming qualities.
But the basketball game at the Garden yesterday was on a higher level than Nets vs. Pistons. This was Lakers vs. Celtics, last year's champion against a team making serious gestures toward being this season's champion.
The turnovers came not from lethargy or talent deficiencies but from a gimlet-eyed intensity that forced players into doing what they didn't want to do. The playoffs are still miles away, a dim light shining in the distance, but it would not be encroaching on credibility to say that the Garden was filled with playoff electricity.
Celtic assistant coach K.C. Jones, no stranger to playoff electricity, said the afternoon was "a mind game between two thinking basketball teams."
Jones scouted Los Angeles last week against the Bullets (a Laker loss) and the Nets (a win), and said that in both those games, the Lakers pretty much went through the motions compared to the effort they put out yesterday.
This analysis may be small comfort to those who shelled out 12 bucks to watch the Lakers in Landover, Md., or Piscataway, N.J., but it is doubtful anybody in attendance at yesterday's punchout will ask for his money back.
Even the occasional purist who might have been displeased with the mistakes must have been satisfied watching the game within a game.
I'm talking about Robert Parish vs. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 7 feet of pleasant surprise against 7 feet 2 of acknowledged legend.
Parish may be two inches shorter - four is more like it - than Jabbar, but he is six years younger and seldom stops running.
Jabbar never was one to gallop from one end of the court and back again at full speed, and at 33 has become even more of a halfcourt player. When you can do the things offensively that Kareem can - sky-hook, jump, dunk, pass, intimidate - coaches will settle for an occasional halfcourt blah.
Fresh new guns are always showing up to test the great Lakers' center, of course. I can remember the anticipation at the Garden in Kareem's second season in the league, when Celtic rookie Dave Cowens was tossed at him for the first time.
However, yesterday's quick draw was different, in the sense that Parish is not a fresh new gun but an existing model with certain refinements and improvements.
Though Parish had deflected a couple of passes intended for Jabbar, the early rounds went to the veteran. He sky-hooked three quick baskets, and indications were that Double Zero was in for a long afternoon.
Celtic coach Bill Fitch said he had talked with Parish about the delightful chore of trading elbows and other amenities with Jabbar. Fitch advised the Celtic center not to be too aggressive at the beginning.
"The officials might be looking for something early," Fitch said, "and we couldn't afford to have any feel-'em-out fouls."
As the game barreled along, however, the pluses and minuses evened up. Jabbar got his points - nobody stops him in that department - and he wound up with 32, but Parish had only 10 fewer.
Parish also got the ultimate compliment. The Lakers began to double- and triple-team him.
As Nate Archibald pointed out, the Lakers generally let Jabbar take his man on a one-on-one basis. Legends don't need help. However, in the second half yesterday, Jabbar needed and got some.
All teams try to surround Jabbar, of course, and yesterday Chris Ford spent much of the afternoon doing a dance on the great man's forearms whenever the ball came in to him.
The strategy, if that's what it was, drove Jabbar to the edge of Frustration Cliff. Parish or Ford stripped the ball from him several times, sometimes gracefully and other times brutally.
After the first couple of robberies, Jabbar glared and growled at referees Joe Gushue and Bob Rakel. But toward the end, his only outlet was a baleful stare at the ceiling as the Celtics hurried downcourt with another theft.
Afterward, a couple of Los Angeles writers asked Fitch about Parish.
"You know," the Celtic coach said, "that was the worst game he's had this week."
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