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The Playoff Heat : Is Magic Shooting for Redemption?

May 26, 1985|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

When Magic Johnson needs some peace and quiet, he tries to chill out, which is what he calls his time alone. This usually works, but in the National Basketball Assn. championship series, Johnson knows the heat is never going to be too far away.

Last season, Johnson even got burned. The Lakers lost to the Celtics and Johnson was widely identified as the person responsible for three of the defeats.

Fair or not, for the third time in his career, Johnson is taking the rap for something he didn't do.

In 1981, the Lakers lost to Houston in the first round of the playoffs because Johnson didn't make a last-second shot.

Early in the next season, Paul Westhead was fired as the Laker coach because Johnson didn't keep quiet. Instead, Johnson said he couldn't play for Westhead any more. Westhead was quickly dismissed and Johnson took the rap for it.

In 1984, Johnson's biggest error of omission was in the NBA finals against Boston. Again, Johnson didn't do something.

He didn't win.

He made four critical errors at equally critical times. Each mistake was judged to be harmful to the Lakers' chances of winning an NBA title, one that even Larry Bird thought the Lakers should have won in four games.

So once again, less than a year later, the heat is on Magic. Will he be roasted or will he be cool? Will he ever forget?

Game 2, Boston Garden, May 31, 1984. With 11 seconds left in the game, the score is tied and Johnson has the ball. But he doesn't do anything with it except dribble. He doesn't pass the ball to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. With three seconds left, he finally forces a pass to Bob McAdoo, but McAdoo can't get off a shot. The Lakers lose, 124-121, in overtime. Game 4, the Forum, June 6. The Lakers blow a five-point lead in the final two minutes and the Celtics once again send the game into overtime. But Johnson misses two free throws in the last 35 seconds of overtime. The Lakers lose, 129-125. Game 7, Boston Garden, June 12. The Lakers trail by three points with a minute to go, but Dennis Johnson steals the ball from Magic. When the Lakers get the ball back, Magic loses it again on a turnover. He finishes the game with seven turnovers and only five field goals in 14 attempts. The Lakers lose, 111-102, and the championship goes to the Celtics. Now, it is 1985 and the Lakers and Celtics are playing again.

Magic Johnson, what are you going to do this time?

"I don't have to do anything," he said. "I just play. You're gonna' make mistakes. I made them. It's over. It's a new day. It's a new chance. You just come back and play.

"I don't have to redeem myself because everybody knows what I can do. So I'm just going to be out there playing and hopefully don't make those mistakes."

If there is a general undercurrent to this year's championship rematch of the Lakers and Celtics, it is this idea of redemption. Johnson must redeem himself. The notion is a popular one, although it has limited appeal in some corners.

Of course, Johnson wasn't the only Laker guilty of goofs. James Worthy's pass intercepted by Gerald Henderson in Game 2 and his missed free throw in overtime of Game 4 are a couple more. Then there was Game 7 in which the Lakers were outrebounded, 52-33, when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had only six.

No, Johnson's mistakes weren't the only Laker errors, but they were easily the most noticeable. Laker Coach Pat Riley doesn't believe in calling them mistakes at all.

"I don't consider what happened in any game last year mistakes on the part of players," Riley said. "You make decisions. You don't make mistakes. Some of those decisions are good and some of the others don't turn out the way you would like."

Riley said that the very great players, a group in which he includes Johnson, are always singled out for closer attention than others

"That goes with the territory," Riley said. "Magic and Kareem are our leaders. They have the creative powers to make our team really great. What goes with territory is taking the heat and getting a minimal amount of credit. It's all taken for granted that the heat would be a lot more if something goes awry.

"I've always said this about great, great players who get a bad rap," Riley said. "The only thing they're ever guilty of is trying to win. Sometimes they miss, sometimes they don't."

Laker owner Jerry Buss said it is sad that the memories lingering from last season's championship are about Johnson's misses. Buss sprang quickly to Johnson's defense. He insisted that Johnson didn't play that poorly.

"As far as I'm concerned, he was the MVP last year and I expect he will be this year as well," Buss said, who believes the portrayal of Johnson as some sort of culprit for the Laker defeat to be totally off base.

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