OAKLAND — First, the Lakers won by 9 points. Then they won by 15.
Then they discovered what they've been doing wrong.
"If there's any weakness in our game at all, a weakness in our personality, it's staying strong-minded when we're ahead," Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "It's tough to do that for 48 minutes in an intense playoff atmosphere."
Tough, but not impossible, as the Golden State Warriors learned to their considerable regret Saturday afternoon. The Lakers, playing in a hostile Oakland Coliseum Arena where they'd lost twice during the regular season, flaunted their superiority in a 133-108 win that gave them a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinal series.
How much did the home-court edge mean to the Warriors? Well, they did score first . . . but that was their last lead of the game.
The Lakers, with James Worthy and Byron Scott responding to their early wakeup calls, overwhelmed the Warriors with a 38-point first quarter to open a 14-point lead. Worthy scorched Golden State for 14 points, and Scott, who had been in a shooting slump, threw in 13.
The Warriors never got closer than 8 after the first 88 seconds of the second quarter, no closer than 11 in the second half.
"Thursday night, I thought we beat ourselves, but today, I think the Lakers were unbeatable," said Warrior Coach George Karl, whose team's first playoff exposure in 10 years could end with a loss here today (Channel 9 and WTBS, 3 p.m.).
It didn't even help that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played exactly 84 seconds in the second half: the first 15 seconds of the third quarter, when he picked up his fourth foul, and 69 seconds of the fourth quarter, when he drew No. 5.
Mychal Thompson, who usually is busy booking a flight home to the Bahamas this time of year, came off the bench to score 23 points and grab a team-leading 12 rebounds, while Warrior center Joe Barry Carroll all but vanished, especially on defense.
"I don't want to let these guys down," Thompson said. "I'd rather have to face an IRS auditor than face these guys."
Worthy finished with a game-high 28 points, matching his output in Game 1. Through the first six games of the playoffs, Worthy is averaging 24.1 points, almost 5 above his regular-season average.
Magic Johnson had his second playoff triple-double--20 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. Michael Cooper had 19 points, including four more three-pointers, and Scott finished with 17 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists.
The Lakers, who turned the ball over 25 times in Game 2, committed just 3 turnovers in the first half Saturday, 14 in the game. They also pounded the Warriors on the boards for the third straight game, 51-35.
"Every guy was focused today," Johnson said. "We didn't play well in the first two games. We had the one great quarter (49 points in the third quarter Tuesday), but otherwise we've been playing in spurts. Today, we came ready."
No one was as ready as Worthy.
"James was so animated today that I thought it was a different person," Cooper said. "The last time I heard James talk so much was in the '85 finals against Boston.
"He was rapping to me so much today, it made me even more hyper."
And when Cooper is hyper, of course, it's hard not to notice. Just ask Warrior guard Eric (Sleepy) Floyd, whose annoyance at having Cooper clinging to him like Spandex peaked in the fourth quarter. That's when, after being called for a foul following a loose-ball scramble, Floyd flipped the ball toward referee Mike Mathis but struck Cooper instead.
Cooper, who prefers that his passes come from Magic Johnson, said something to Floyd, who answered in kind, if not kindly. That kind of point-counterpoint has been going on all series.
This time, however, talk gave way to more intimate contact, as Cooper and Floyd closed in on each other before being separated by teammates, referee Mathis and Laker Coach Pat Riley, who pushed Floyd away.
Floyd was called for a technical--Cooper shot and made the free throw--but the ill will didn't end there, even if the game at that point (the Lakers led, 106-91) was all but over.
During the next TV timeout, the two exchanged shouts en route to their respective benches. When Floyd was called for a foul after knocking Cooper off-balance, Cooper tried to hand him the ball.
The Warriors closed to 13 at 106-93, but Cooper just beat the 24-second clock with his fourth three-pointer and thrust his fist in the air. Shortly thereafter, Floyd fouled Cooper by sticking his leg into him, and Kurt Rambis had to step between them.
Cooper took his own revenge shortly thereafter, when he overtook Floyd from behind and made a leaping block of Floyd's layup attempt. Cooper was called for a foul on the play, but that didn't keep him from demonstrating his pleasure as Floyd was sent stumbling all the way to the Laker bench.
Referee Joe Crawford finally hollered at Cooper to knock it off, and the Laker guard was Emily Post-perfect in his decorum thereafter, especially in the dressing room following the game.