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Smith Takes It to Bank as Lakers Win at Buzzer

November 19, 1994|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Pressure? The Lakers had played poorly the previous four games, three of which were losses, and now, after holding Cleveland to 31 points in the first half and leading by 12 at the start of the fourth quarter, they trailed by one in the final seconds.

Pressure? The final shot belonged to Tony Smith, a defensive specialist, the guy Coach Del Harris had chosen to play down the stretch ahead of Cedric Ceballos, Eddie Jones and Anthony Peeler. This was an option, only not the first or second.

But Smith made it work, banking in a three-pointer from the left side at the buzzer to give the Lakers an 82-80 victory over the Cavaliers on Friday before 10,177 at the Forum.

"If it was an easy shot, I'm sure he would have felt the pressure," Nick Van Exel said. "But a shot like that, it was a prayer."

The shot, over a charging John Williams, the Cavaliers' 6-foot-11 center, was also huge for the Lakers no matter the expectations.

"The game was on the line," Smith said after making the first game-winning shot of his NBA career. "You've just got to do what comes naturally. You've just got to throw the ball up."

The Lakers had started the play--after a full timeout and a 20-second timeout in succession--with 2.6 seconds to go when Smith threw the entry pass to Sedale Threatt. Smith got the ball back with time running out and Williams running at him. Another defender, Chris Mills, was approaching from the right side.

Smith fired high to avoid Williams and banked it off the glass.

"I couldn't see it," said Smith, who made three of four shots, including two of three three-pointers, en route to eight points in nine minutes. "John Williams was all over my face. I couldn't see it until it was coming off the glass."

Said Harris: "I could see it all the way. But I didn't think it was going in."

When it did, the Lakers had a shot in the arm as much as a victory.

"This is the kind of game a young team is not supposed to win," Harris said. "We were outscored early in the fourth quarter. Usually, when one is taken away from you like that, a young team won't snatch it back. That's what makes you feel so good about this one."

In the low-scoring affair, the Cavaliers missed several close shots while shooting 34.8% in a 19-point opening quarter . . . and then started to struggle.

Playing the night after an 81-80 victory at Portland, Cleveland lurched through the second quarter at 25%, good for only 12 points, the fewest given up by the Lakers in a quarter this season.

Even for Coach Mike Fratello, who wanted to slow down his Cavaliers to conserve energy during the latest rash of injuries to key players, this was an extreme: 31 points by intermission, only five better than the all-time Laker record for defense in a half, set Nov. 15, 1991 against Houston. The top three Cleveland guards--Mark Price, Bobby Phills and Terrell Brandon--were a combined two of 15, with seven assists and six turnovers.

The Lakers weren't much better, only 37.5% in the first half, but that was worth a 41-31 lead. Van Exel had 15 of the points, making all three of his three-point tries.

The Cavaliers cut that to a one-point deficit, 46-45, with a 14-5 run to open the third quarter, but could not claim their first lead of the game. The Lakers withstood the pressure, even as late as 55-53, then pulled away again for 67-55 advantage at the end of the quarter.

Laker Notes

Nick Van Exel scored 22 points, making four of five three-pointers. . . . George Lynch began the night having made only 23.3% (seven of 30) of his shots the previous five games, but he has lost more than his shooting touch since being replaced as the starting power forward. Lynch said he has lost some of his confidence, an opinion seconded by his play of late as he looks out of sync with the offense and lacking his usual aggressiveness in going after rebounds. "Things have changed for me," he said. "My minutes, a different spot in the rotation. And we're not trapping and pressing as much as we did at the start, when I was at the top of my game. But I'm just going to keep working hard and fight through it." Lynch played only 16 minutes in Wednesday's blowout loss to the Knicks, after playing 14 against the Clippers and 16 against the Warriors last Saturday in what was his final start. He played 11 versus the Cavaliers, getting three points and one rebound as Elden Campbell started for the second game in a row.

Lakers On-Line

The TimesLink on-line service has team stats, player bios, team history, the '94 season schedule and team notes supplied by the Lakers, as well as a collection of Times feature stories. Sign on and "jump" to keyword "Lakers."

Details on Times electronic services, A6.

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