Magic's Misjudgment


May 31, 1984

Since Earvin (Magic) Johnson unveiled his passing ability for pro basketball audiences five years ago, his name has become synonomous with court sense.

But in the final 13 seconds of regulation play Thursday night at Boston Garden, Johnson showed little of his basketball smarts as his magical hands dribbled the ball too long before passing it. The mistake paved the way for a 124-121 overtime victory by the Boston Celtics over the Los Angeles Lakers and sent the teams to California yesterday tied at 1-1. Game 3 will be tomorrow afternoon.

Johnson's misjudgment was not the only one by the Lakers in the closing seconds of regulation play. James Worthy, whose 3-point play tied the game at 111- 111 with 72 seconds remaining, also made a mistake, only his involved passing the ball too soon.

Two free throws by Johnson with 35 seconds left gave the Lakers a 113-111 advantage. Fifteen seconds later, Kevin McHale of Boston was fouled, then missed both free throws and a chance to tie the game. Those were the eighth and ninth foul shots missed by the Celtics in the period, and that appeared to seal a Laker victory.

Worthy Pass Picked Off

Los Angeles called time, and when play resumed, Johnson inbounded the ball to Worthy, who attempted a foolish cross- court pass to Byron Scott. Gerald Henderson picked off the pass and drove in for the tying basket.

"My vision wasn't in order," Worthy explained later. "I never saw Henderson double back. He's just so quick. He was coming, and I just never saw him."

"The key to my steal," Henderson said, "was our pressure, which kept the ball out of Magic Johnson's hands. We didn't want him handling the ball or making the pass."

With the game tied and 13 seconds to go, another Laker timeout followed, this one to design a play for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to get the ball down low and shoot for the victory. The play never came off, because Johnson dribbled away 11 seconds before passing the ball to Bob McAdoo. By that time, it was too late to get off a shot.

Wedman Gets Clincher

"We were going to Kareem if we could," Johnson said, "but Parish was playing him pretty good. He was overplaying a little bit. I didn't want to take a chance on them getting the steal and then being able to get a shot off. They had the lanes closed up. The next option was to get the ball to McAdoo. I knew the clock was running down, then it finally ran out."

It ran out for good in the overtime, after the Lakers failed to hold a 121-120 lead. A corner jump shot by Scott Wedman with 14 seconds left in the five-minute period, and two free throws by Larry Bird with 2 seconds to go put the Lakers away.

Worthy, who shot 11 for 12 from the field and scored 29 points, was upset by the defeat. "We should've had this one," he said. "The game should've been ours in regulation."

Coach Pat Riley of the Lakers termed the loss "letting them out of the grave twice." Then he added: "In the five years I've been here, this has never happened to us. We just didn't handle the last 20 seconds well at all. I never remember us failing to get a shot off like that. Boston's pressure had more to do with it than our not getting the shot off. We wanted to get the last shot with about six or seven seconds left.

"But that's not the play that bothered me; the one before did." What Riley was saying was that he was more annoyed by the pass Worthy made than the one Johnson failed to make.

4,000 for Abdul-Jabbar

The 20 points by Abdul-Jabbar enabled him to reach exactly 4,000 points in N.B.A. playoff competition. He is the second player to hit that plateau. Jerry West, the Lakers' general manager, holds the mark with 4,457 points.

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