Seattle Coach Bernie Bickerstaff took his SuperSonics home after being beaten by the Lakers, 92-87, in the first game of the National Basketball Assn.'s Western Conference finals Saturday at the Forum.
"That's no knock on your city," he said. "I just don't think this is a safe place for a basketball team until Tuesday."
The SuperSonics, who normally light up a scoreboard faster than Chick Hearn can talk, could have ordered drinks for two and still had enough fingers left on one hand to count the baskets they scored in the fourth quarter.
Down five at the start of the period, 77-72, Seattle's idea of a stretch run was to make 11 straight trips down the court without scoring a point. That covered the first 5:40 of the fourth quarter.
Dale Ellis, the SuperSonic guard who had averaged 28.9 points a game in the playoffs, did not make a basket in the game's last 33:23. In the last 12 minutes, Seattle made 3 of 18 shots. For those of you without an abacus, that computes to 16.7%.
Yet, the SuperSonics were still within a three-point shot of catching the Lakers with 53 seconds to go. How was that possible?
Because the home team was matching them basket for basket for basket. The Lakers, who won despite scoring 35 points below their playoff average (127.5 a game), made just 3 of 13 shots in the fourth quarter. That's 23.1%.
After opening a 13-point lead, 85-72, on a driving basket by Byron Scott with 7:41 left, the Lakers went silent for the next 5:11. They threw the ball away three times; Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was called for a lane violation, and Scott and Magic Johnson each missed a pair of free throws. James Worthy, who led the Lakers with 27 points, didn't take a shot in that stretch.
When Magic was called for a double-dribble with 38 seconds left and the Lakers leading, 90-87, the SuperSonics had the ball and a chance to tie.
But Tom Chambers, who led the SuperSonics with 28 points, missed a tough shot from the base line while being pressured by Worthy. Magic Johnson slapped the rebound away from Seattle center Alton Lister and tied up Xavier McDaniel in the ensuing scramble.
McDaniel tipped the ball twice, but it went to Laker Michael Cooper, who re-directed it to Abdul-Jabbar. The ball was returned to Cooper, who was fouled, and with 10 seconds left, he made the free throws that put the game out of reach.
The final tally for the fourth quarter: Seattle 15, Lakers 15. Only once in NBA playoff history have teams combined to score fewer points in the last quarter.
"If both teams play like they did today," Cooper said. "We might have a 59-50 game."
And when was the last time that happened?
"Junior high," Cooper said.
So, just what did we have here, shirt-tearing defense, or hair-pulling offense? The kind of playoff intensity that coaches love, or the kind of playoff foul-ups that would make even Eddie Murphy--who was present Saturday--blush?
Naturally, it depended on the tint of your sunglasses.
"(The Lakers) did a great job defensively, probably the best they've done in the whole playoffs," said Ellis, who finished with 11 points on 3-of-13 shooting.
Laker Coach Pat Riley returned the compliment to the SuperSonics.
"They don't concede you anything," he said. "If Bernie's done anything, it's to make them proud of their defense."
As for his own team, Riley said he was "totally elated" by the defense.
"In a game like that," said Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who scored 20 points, 16 in the second half, when Seattle stopped double-teaming him, "you've got to accept the fact that they took everybody out of their offensive set and created a lot of turnovers.
"They're a very good defensive team. I'm not surprised we only scored 92 points. But we were able to hold them down."
Is it possible that these teams, which combined to score 87 points in one quarter during the regular season, will pin each other down again?
"I don't think it'll happen," Magic Johnson said. "Both teams were off. Both teams shot around 40% (Seattle 41.8%, the Lakers 45.6%). Even the free throws were off (Seattle missed 8 of 26, the Lakers 10 of 40).
"That slowed the game down. If you're off, you slow it down and make sure you get a good shot."
Johnson, who had 19 points and 11 assists, made just 5 of 18 shots. And as commendable as he found the Seattle defense, he had another explanation for his performance.
"It just happened I played bad," he said. "I'm glad my defense wasn't bad, in terms of double-teaming and all, but offensively I was bad."
It didn't help that Magic was awake by 6:30 a.m. Saturday.
"Way too early," he said. "But I couldn't wait. It's been a long time getting back to this point from last year.
"I was so up, I was too up. I was rushing doing things. And I relaxed too late.
"But I guess it's better to be too early than not ready at all."
For Bickerstaff, it's better to be in Seattle.
"We'll live to play again," he said.