June 5, 1987
LA PUMMELS CELTICS AGAIN IT'S ANOTHER ROUT, 141-122
A good, solid first quarter that would have earned a 10-point lead over any other team in the league? It meant nothing.
Three starters over 20 points? Meant nothing.
Shooting 55 percent for the second game in a row? Meant nothing.
Playing with dignity? Meant nothing. The way the Lakers played in these first two games of the best-of-seven NBA Finals, nothing the Celtics do means anything. Their good deeds are instantly forgotten. The Celtics go out and play a good basketball game -- no matter what they may tell you -- and all it gets them is a 141-122 loss and the realization that they will need a lot more than merely a set of white uniforms to prevent the Lakers from sweeping this series.
History will place the Lakers in the proper context, but you don't need your PhD in Hoopology to know that if the Lakers continue to play this way, the argument for them being the best thing ever will be strong. "I'm elated," said LA coach Pat Riley. "Ecstatic. We're playing championship basketball."
The Lakers blasted their way into the record books, too. Michael Cooper, one of five Lakers crashing the 20-point barrier, sneaked in there twice by making an astonishing six (6) three-point shots and by handing out eight (8) second-quarter assists, which tied a record. He was quickly joined by Magic Johnson, who came up with eight third-period assists. The five men over 20 points is, of course, another record.
But the most important LA accomplishment on this particular evening was in taking what may be the best the Celtics have to offer and dismissing it as inconsequential. For Boston had jumped into a 14-8 lead. There were eight first-quarter lead swaps, seven of them from 22-21, LA, to 29-27, LA. It was still a competitive game at 47-42, LA, 3 1/2 minutes into the second quarter.
So for 15 minutes, it was a high-level championship series game. "That doesn't matter," said Larry Bird. "It's a 48-minute game. It doesn't matter what you do in the first quarter if you lose by 20 points."
Reporters from Presque Isle to Palos Verdes huddled around the Bird locker, awaiting his arrival following the game. He has become the unquestioned team spokesman, and what he had to say was sobering. "What we have to do," he said, "is get home, regroup and find out where our team's at. There's no question that right now we're not playing very well."
Not well enough to beat the Lakers, anyway. LA has become one of the great offensive machines of all time. "Right now," said Riley, "our best defense is our offense." In other words, the Celtics are so worried about what will happen if they should happen to miss a shot that they can't function normally on offense.
The final lead swap in the game came, fittingly, on a Cooper three-pointer that made it 29-27, LA, with 3:14 remaining in the first period. He caught the Celtics in a nonexistent defensive rotation and casually drilled a set shot from the left wing. Five of his three-pointers were in the half-court. The sixth was a neo-Bird pull-up on the break in the second quarter. In no case was there anyone within 10 feet of him when he shot.
"He had time to study the shot and test the wind," said a disgusted Danny Ainge. "There was nobody running at him. We've got to make some adjustment."
Cooper's bombardment changed the game. "He broke our backs," said Bird. Agreed Riley, "The key to the game was Coop. He really opened up their defense with those three-pointers."
This was as beautiful a mix of inside-outside and transition/ half-court offense as the NBA could possibly provide. Start with LA's 33 first-half fast break points. Factor in a bunch of hook shots by the revived Kareem Abdul- Jabbar (23), some spectacular drives by James Worthy (23), perimeter sniping by Byron Scott (24) and the usual choreography by Magic, who had 22 points and 20 assists, the latter figure a typically upgraded Forum handout total. The Forum stat crew is to assist exaggeration what Argentina is to inflation. Ah, well . . .
Anyway, the Celtics were hanging around nicely at 47-42 (thanks to a strong 12-point, 7-rebound opening period by Robert Parish) when LA struck with one of those machine-gun bursts that continually disrupt a game and render everything preceding it superfluous. The "skirmish" began when Magic responded to a Bird reverse layup with a short running hook. Cooper then stuck in the aforementioned fast break home run ball. And when Parish missed a jumper, Kareem sneaked off to dunk a fast break opportunity. Boston called time. LA had scored 7 straight in 55 seconds, and the game would never be competitive again.
By halftime, the margin was 19 at 75-56, and LA had just gotten through hitting on 24 of its final 35 shots of the half. Worse yet, the Celtics had finished the half without Kevin McHale, who had rolled over his right ankle with 47 seconds remaining in the half by stepping on Parish's foot as he backpedaled away from a Bird air ball.
McHale limped off the court, but when the second half began, he was back out there and was instrumental as the Celtics enjoyed another decent period of play, riding the inside play of McHale, the all-around play of Bird and the jump shooting of Dennis Johnson to a 36-32 period advantage and a respectable 101-87 deficit as they entered the final quarter.
Before that gruesome exercise was over, however, they had to endure the indignity of fans chanting, "We Want Detroit!" It was vintage Forum Show Time. Hell, Mike Smrek even banked a turnaround, for all you ECAC North aficionados.
When it was over, Bird was left to assess the damage. "Can the Lakers be stopped?" he was asked.
"Not yet," he replied. "At this point, it's very questionable."