The Lakers Don't Play Eastern Conference Basketball
May 31, 1987
The seeds for Boston's loss to the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA finals were first sown on April 17, when the Celtics took the floor to face the Washington Bullets in their first-round series.
Washington was the first of three Celtics' opponents whose chosen playing style was of the walk-it-up variety. For all four games of the Washington series, all seven of the Knicks' series and all five of the Milwaukee series, the Celtics were dealing with slow-tempo basketball, and yesterday they paid the price - defensively.
Playing teams that eschew the fast break has two important ramifications. The first is that you risk frustration because you can't run enough to suit your personnel. The second is that you lose the fear that the other guy will run you. For six weeks and 16 games the Celtics seldom had to worry about being victimized by the quick hitter, as Tom Heinsohn might say. And then came the Lakers.
How long did it take for this to become a factor? Try, oh, 20 seconds. The Celtics scored on their first possession, 15 seconds into the game, when Larry Bird took a pass underneath. LA took the ball out of bounds, and faster than you could say "Bob Cousy," Magic Johnson was feeding a streaking Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, of all people, for a sneakaway lay-up three-point play. Five seconds had elapsed after the Bird basket. And what was Kareem doing barreling downcourt? Most teams assume they can run him, not the other way around.
"We run, too," he said. "I'm not usually the guy running, but it worked out like that."
It worked out for eight more fast-break points as LA was stepping out to a 28-10 lead. The Celtics' offense-to-defense transition was, to be polite, wretched.
"In those first three series," pointed out LA assistant coach Dave Wohl, "the Celtics didn't face a consistent running team. They obviously weren't used to the transition. They weren't adjusting mentally to our movement. By the time they did, we had already taken two strides. And we stressed running. In the huddle we'd keep telling our guys, Push it, push it.' "
"That's the best I've ever seen a team run," said star forward Larry Bird. "They got anything they wanted. They always had three guys spread out, and they got a lot of easy baskets. We like to run, but there's no way we can run as good as them."
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