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NBA Playoffs : Deep Down, Lakers Knew They Could : L.A., Losing by 29, Runs to 97-95 Win

May 15, 1989|SAM McMANIS | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — Had doctors performed an electrocardiogram on the Lakers early in the second quarter here Sunday, as doctors later did to a dizzy but eventually revived assistant coach Bill Bertka, the reading probably would have shown a straight, unbroken line.

No signs of life at all.

The Lakers were experiencing a dangerously feverish performance by the Seattle SuperSonics in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals.

The Lakers trailed the SuperSonics by 29 points after 14 minutes. Their hopes of attaining a second consecutive playoff series sweep seemed out of the question. Merely surviving the afternoon seemed a reasonable goal.

But then, just when the crowd of 14,006 at the Coliseum was sensing the kill, the Lakers came to life. What followed was a massive revival unlike any those involved could remember, resulting in a 97-95 Laker victory over the SuperSonics, who had led, 43-14, at one point in the second quarter.

The Lakers, by sweeping the best-of-seven series, advance to the conference finals.

They did it by outscoring the SuperSonics 22-6 in the final 8:02 of the first half, and included in that surge was a 16-0 stretch in the final 5:20 that enabled the Lakers to cut Seattle's lead to 11 points at halftime.

From that point, the SuperSonics lead and confidence steadily eroded until the Lakers put together an 18-6 run in the fourth quarter to take their first lead with 6:14 to play. They never relinquished it, aided by a three-point basket from James Worthy, a successful baseline jump shot from A.C. Green, a series of clutch free throws and an assortment of important defensive plays.

Had the Lakers seen anything comparable with Sunday's stark turnaround?

"I can't recall any in my time here," Laker Coach Pat Riley said. "We've come back before, but not like this. And not in the playoffs. In the playoffs, when a team gets you down, forget it."

And this from Magic Johnson, whose smile was as wide as the SuperSonics' first-half lead:

"This has got to be the best one. Definitely, the one right here. The prime and heart (of the team) came out. We never panicked. We never pointed fingers at each other. We just never quit. That's the thing."

Worthy, who made 15-of-19 shots, led the Lakers with 33 points. Johnson, held in check by Seattle's swarming defense, had 17 points, nine rebounds and nine assists. Green had 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Mychal Thompson had 15 points off the bench.

Sunday's game was filled with moments that will find a place somewhere in Laker lore.

There was the double-technical foul assessed to Bertka, the veteran assistant coach, after referee Jake O'Donnell ruled that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had stepped out of bounds near the Laker bench early in the third quarter.

Bertka, who vehemently argued the call, went to one knee and later said he was overcome with dizziness. Having been ejected anyway, Bertka was escorted to the locker room by Stephen Lombardo, a Laker physician. He was given an EKG, which was said to be normal.

Bertka accompanied the team back to Los Angeles Sunday night and will undergo more tests today.

Afterward, though, he joked with reporters and seemed in good health.

"I've heard of managers getting kicked out and coaches ejected to fire up their teams, but I've never seen this (fainting) act before," Laker center Mychal Thompson said. "He had a head rush. We knew he was OK, but we decided to win it for him, anyway."

More common forms of motivation came earlier.

The Lakers trailed 47-21 with 8:07 remaining in the second quarter when Riley was called for a technical foul for arguing with O'Donnell about a few perceived non-calls.

Whether drawing the technical was a strategic move, or merely one made out of anger, didn't matter. The Lakers seemingly responded to it.

If it wasn't that, then it was Johnson's impromptu pep talk after Dale Ellis sank the technical foul shot for a 48-21 Seattle lead. SuperSonic Coach Bernie Bickerstaff called a 20-second timeout, during which Johnson could be overheard telling teammates, "Let's just cut it to 15."

That approach worked for the Lakers. Thompson made a short jump shot and, after an Ellis air ball, Worthy sank a turnaround jump shot to slice the SuperSonic lead to 23 with 7:03 to play in the half.

Perhaps fearing a letdown, Bickerstaff called a timeout. Temporarily, at least, that quelled the Laker threat. In the next 32 seconds, Seattle outscored the Lakers, 5-2 to regain a 54-27 lead on Derrick McKey's two free throws.

That turned out to be the last Seattle points of the half. They went into a dry spell in which they commited five turnovers (including a 24-second clock violation) and missed shots on five straight possessions.

The Lakers, conversely, suddenly got hot after making only four of 20 shots in a 12-point first quarter.

Their 16-0 run, like many memorable comebacks, began with failure. In this case, it was a missed shot by Green. But Thompson, who had 15 points off the bench, tipped in the miss with 5:20 to play.

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