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The Lakers Strike Back: Never Rile a Giant

Bill HareCorrespondent IApril 29, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers makes a move on Thabo Sefolosha #2 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the first quarter during Game Two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on April 27, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The overwhelming Lakers’ 111-87 victory over Oklahoma City in a contest even more overwhelming than the final score indicated was reminiscent of what happened with another Los Angeles team a generation ago.

The 1984-1985 team coached by Pat Riley was becoming traumatized by losing world championship finales to the mighty Boston Celtics.  On May 27, 1985 the Lakers and Celtics met at Boston Garden in Game 1.

The result was one of the greatest humiliations in Lakers’ history, as the Celtics romped 148-114.  The Boston press, never known for its gentleness, laced into a Lakers team it accused of choking whenever the title was on the line and Boston was the opponent.

Much pounding was directed at then 38-year-old veteran center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  According to the critics Father Time had caught up with the former UCLA great and Game 1 proved it.

Before Game 2, Pat Riley ordered a closed door meeting with his players at the hotel where the Lakers were staying.  The only mystery to hotel patrons and employees was why Riley bothered to bolt the doors shut on the meeting.

Everyone in the nearby vicinity heard the angry shouts and curses of a thoroughly disgusted Riley berating his team.

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Riley told his players that the dominance of the Celtics over the Lakers had become so embarrassing that some of the greatest players in the franchise’s history were avoiding attending playoff games between the two teams.

The exhortations to rise to another level was taken to heart by team captain Abdul-Jabbar, who came out and dominated Game 2 as the Lakers evened the series with a 109-102 victory.

This was the linchpin that made championship success possible as the Lakers triumphed in six games, taking the deciding battle at Boston Garden in front of the Celtic faithful and, yes, media, making the victory all the sweeter.

M.L. Carr, a Celtic player who would later become the team’s coach, had a gift for clever comment.  Carr said relative to the Boston press, “They made the big guy (Abdul-Jabbar) mad.  If we’d had a newspaper strike in this town we would have won.”

That important game some 25 years ago that meant so much to the development of championship Lakers basketball was reminiscent of comments concerning current star Kobe Bryant in the wake of a lackluster loss to the youthful Kevin Durant led Thunder in Game 4 in Oklahoma City.

On ESPN Radio the afternoon of Game 5 an NBA expert said that Father Time had finally caught up with Kobe Bryant.

While 31 is generally not an age where this occurs, in Bryant’s case, according to the expert, he had played so many minutes of playoff games along with busy regular season and international play regimens that his body had worn down.

The program host was not buying the idea.  “When I’ve seen athletes get hit by age I see a gradual winding down,” he said.  “I see a sprinter lose speed.  I haven’t seen any sign like that from Kobe Bryant.”

A few hours later Kobe Bryant proved the ESPN commentator’s point.  Operating in the manner described by Phil Jackson during Game 4 of playing more of a team game and passing to teammates, encouraging them to take more shots, Bryant was an exemplary field general.  His game was a mix of taking shots and generating assists.

The Lakers strategy against a young running club was to dominate the paint, to outmuscle Oklahoma City.  They dominated the paint, as Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum had great nights.

As for Ron Artest, there had been worries about him not measuring up either based on earlier series play.  Not only did Artest perform defensively, but added to the offense as well.

Not only were the critics refuted when it came to winning, or taking command of the game inside; the Lakers even beat the younger team at its own game of forcing turnovers and generating fast breaks. 

When hands were thrust out the ball was taken away, followed by a fast break and a score, it was not the youthful team doing the damage.  It was  the Laker veterans who, according to many, had past their primes.

The veteran Lakers would remain a solid choice playing at Staples Center for a series deciding seventh game.  A much younger, less experienced team would be faced with the necessity of winning a finale on the road in a series in which each home team had held serve.

As such, a Thunder victory would be unlikely.

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