Laker invincibility finally took it in the short pants Sunday night in a 124-116 overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks, who ended the Lakers' season-opening winning streak at eight games and, in the process, nearly put a shine on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's scoring streak, too.
The Bucks may no longer have Don Nelson's fish-embroidered ties, but under new Coach Del Harris, they still have a throat-tightening defense, which limited the Lakers to four points (one basket) in the last 5:21 of regulation, enabling them to come from 10 points down, 103-93, to force a 107-all tie.
The Bucks also have a monopoly on players from the University of Montana (two)--one of whom, Larry Krystkowiak, came by way of Italy and made the second of two free throws with two seconds left to send the game into overtime.
And they also have an ample supply of ice--in this case, one Jerry (Ice) Reynolds, who scored a career-high 25 points, 8 in overtime, and made a Laker-crushing steal when he deked Michael Cooper into throwing away a backcourt pass.
The Bucks were leading by four, 118-114, after Terry Cummings' layup off a great feed from Jack Sikma, when Cooper took the inbounds pass and looked cross-court to Magic Johnson.
"We're so used to giving it to Magic to bring the ball up, and I lofted a lazy pass over there," Cooper said.
Reynolds, meanwhile, was headed back on defense--or so it seemed. Instead, he anticipated the pass and went in for an easy jam that made it 120-114.
"I've been doing that for years," Reynolds said. "I act like I'm not interested, but out of the corner of my eye I'm waiting for the guy to make a bad pass. I've been doing that for a long time."
Johnson, who had 26 points--including 6 of the Lakers' 8 points in overtime--had no time to warn Cooper.
"He (Reynolds) just turned real quick," Johnson said. "It was a great play."
It was a play that never would have happened if the Lakers had been able to hold onto the ball in the last 54 seconds, after Johnson had taken a charge from Paul Pressey with the Lakers clinging to a 107-106 lead.
But with 38 seconds left, Johnson's pass through a crowd went off the hands of Abdul-Jabbar, who had scored eight points in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the game but went without a point until his skyhook 3:50 into overtime gave him his ninth and 10th points.
That kept alive his streak of 783 consecutive regular-season games of scoring in double figures.
After the Laker turnover, Sikma, who had 18 points and a game-high 17 rebounds, missed a 20-footer, with A.C. Green grabbing the rebound with 18 seconds to go.
But after a Laker timeout, Reynolds slapped the ball away from Cooper, and then after Johnson retrieved it, Pressey stuck in a hand and the ball wound up in the hands of Cummings with six seconds to go.
Cooper said a foul could have been called on either player.
"There were so many hands in there," Johnson said. "I won't say anything. I lost it, that's it."
But Johnson had plenty to say when referee Earl Strom called him for fouling Krystkowiak with only two ticks left.
"He traveled first and I didn't do anything," Johnson said.
How much was it asking of Krystkowiak to hit the free throws after just arriving back in the United States on Wednesday from Florence, where he had gone after spurning San Antonio in a contract dispute?
"He hasn't even seen the fans in Milwaukee," Harris said. "If he'd missed both foul shots, they would have introduced him at his first home game and he would have been booed out of there."
Krystkowiak was spared that experience when his second shot dropped, but he still may be in for a surprise when he gets to Milwaukee.
Said Harris: "We told him he was traded to Miami. We figured, hell, a guy from Montana won't know the difference."
For the Lakers, the fourth quarter Sunday wasn't a whole lot different than the fourth quarter against Dallas on Friday night, when they were nearly squandered a 27-point lead to the Mavericks.
"For three quarters we've been playing good ball, but the fourth quarter has been killing us and that's usually our time," Johnson said. "We've got to execute a little better. Everybody thinks we're playing real well, but we're not."
The Bucks, who were outrebounded in Seattle, 62-35, two nights ago, beat the Lakers on the boards, 56-45, with Sikma grabbing 17 rebounds and Cummings 14. Randy Breuer, a long-time backup center promoted to starter with Sikma shifting to power forward, scored 19 points.
But it was defense--the Lakers shot 48.5 % to Milwaukee's 50%, the first time all season they have been outshot by an opponent--that turned it around at the finish.
"I don't think they were expecting that type of pressure," said Reynolds, who was first called Ice back in grade school because of all the crazy-looking shots he took. "I think they were just a little cocky, thinking 'We're going to win, no problem.' But our defensive pressure was intense."