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Byron Scott Earns His Merit Badge by Helping the Celtics Out the Door

February 15, 1988|SCOTT OSTLER

Evidently the Lakers have some sort of secret initiation ritual, whereby a select few are allowed to become real Lakers, members of the Malevolent Brotherhood of Crunchtime.

When you are deemed worthy, they probably make you wear a funny hat and recite a pledge, then dunk you in a vat of analgesic balm. You earn a pair of purple wings, they teach you the secret handshake, and you're one of the boys , inside the inside. From then on, in clutch time, they look for you and you look for them.

Evidently, Byron Scott has made that club. He finished out last season as a nice player, a helpful guy and hard worker. This season he has been elevated to an even higher status. Sunday was an example. The Lakers beat the Boston Celtics, 115-106 at the Forum, and Byron scored 38 points.

He missed 4 shots, sure, but he did make 15, and he had 4 steals.

And did I mention that he did it against the Celtics? The team that used to reduce Scott to mediocrity and below?

Sunday he drilled his jumper, and when Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge rushed out to challenge that shot, Scott drove to the hoop. He also ran the wings on the transition game, as a key transistor.

He was the star of a game that was more exciting than a 10-man, side-by-side luge.

When the Celtics closed to within five points with six minutes left in the game, Scott dumped in a three-point bomb, two free throws and a jumper in Ainge's face off the fast break, for a 107-91 Laker lead.

He gave Boston the Byron Bye-Bye.

"Byron's kind of an 'X' factor on that team," said Celtic Kevin McHale. "Whenever Byron plays well, they win. He's the player that can make that team swing. I don't think the Secretary of Defense could've stopped him today, if we have one. Do we still have a Secretary of Defense, or did he get fired, too?"

I assume McHale was referring to Michael Cooper, who is fired up , but still employed by the Lakers. It was Sec. Cooper who put this game into perspective. Just another NBA payday?

"These are the games you live for," said Cooper, grinning like a wolf.

Asked to rate this with other Laker performances this season, Cooper said, "This has to be numero uno."

It was for Scott. This is the guy, remember, known to disappear through trap doors against the Celtics.

"He could have 10 good games in a row and have a bad game against Boston and you'll hear about it," said Laker Coach Pat Riley. "He's going to have to live with that."

Maybe Scott has learned to do that.

"I didn't think this was a 'need' game for Byron Scott," Byron Scott said. "You just got to try to think of Boston as another team, which is hard."

It used to be. But maybe this really is the new Byron, Member of the Club.

"I think Magic and Kareem and James know that in crunch time, if they need a basket, they can go to me also," Scott said. "They install a lot of confidence in you."

No free installation in this club, though. Scott replaced the lovable and dangerous Norm Nixon, and there have been dues to pay.

Not until this season, his fifth with the club, has Scott really made a difference in the crunch.

"It used to be if you could stop Byron in the transition game, you could stop Byron Scott," Danny Ainge said. "Now they're running plays for him, doing things for him. I guess they need him more now, Kareem's getting older.

"Byron had to earn some credibility and confidence from the players and coaches."

And as Laker General Manager Jerry West pointed out, the better the team, the harder it is for a new guy to earn that acceptance. Sure, the other Lakers would go to movies with Byron, let him buy the popcorn, share their tape-cutters with him. But in the clutch, did they look for him? And he for them?

As West said, "With a good team, players have to really earn their position. You've got to be tested."

This season fans are seeing the Byron Scott that Jerry West has been raving about for five years, ever since West traded Nixon for Scott in a move that is still debated.

West feels good about the trade. To West, Byron is the key to maintaining the Laker dynasty, a powerful yet fragile beast.

"When you look at a team," West said, referring to the Lakers, "you say, 'How can this team get better?' (The answer is that) the young players have to play better."

Enter Byron Scott: The Difference.

"He's made us a different team from any other season," Magic Johnson said Sunday. "He's a threat all game long. So now we've got another player down the stretch."

Another member of ultra-hip, super-chic, brutally exclusive Club.

Byron's membership is good for a lifetime, or until the Lakers play the Celtics again, whichever comes first.

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