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Lakers have dug their way out before

In 1969 (Warriors) and 2004 (Spurs), Lakers were able to rally from 0-2 holes to win series. However, they lost in the NBA Finals both times.

May 19, 2012|By Ben Bolch
  • Derek Fisher hit a turnaround jumper as time expired to take a 3-2 series lead over the Spurs in 2004.
Derek Fisher hit a turnaround jumper as time expired to take a 3-2 series… (Kin Man Hui / Associated…)

If a few glorious slivers of their playoff history are to be repeated, the Lakers' joy ride could just be getting started.

Only twice in franchise history has the team rallied from a two-games-to-none deficit to win a postseason series, something the Lakers put themselves in much better position to do again with a 99-96 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 3.

Game 4 in their Western Conference semifinal series on Saturday night at Staples Center ended too late for this edition.

Both times the Lakers shrugged off a 2-0 deficit to win a playoff series, in 1969 and 2004, they went on to prevail in the next four games. Lakers fans remember Derek Fisher's turnaround jumper with 0.4 of a second left that beat the San Antonio Spurs in Game 5 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals, inexorably shifting the momentum in the series.

Only longtime followers may recall the exploits of Bill Hewitt and Johnny Egan.

The reserves were thrust into a prominent role after the Lakers dropped the first two games of their Western Division semifinal series against the San Francisco Warriors in 1969.

"I'm not going to stick with the same thing and lose three games in a row," Lakers Coach Bill van Breda Kolff said at the time of his starting lineup.

The Lakers had eventual Hall of Famers Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor that season, but they weren't getting enough from starters Mel Counts and Keith Erickson in the first two games, both losses at the Forum.

Enter Hewitt, a rookie from USC, and Egan into Van Breda Kolff's starting lineup for Game 3. Egan scored 19 points and Hewitt exhibited toughness, continually fighting through screens to help the Lakers pull out their first victory in the series.

Game 4 was such a rout, with the Lakers holding leads as large as 28 points, that Times writer Mal Florence wrote the game "should have been called in the second quarter as a technical knockout."

The Warriors were on the verge of defeating the Lakers late in Game 5 after West fouled out with 4 minutes 43 seconds left. But Chamberlain had 27 rebounds and 10 blocked shots and Egan made three of four late free throws to help the Lakers hold on, 103-98.

The Lakers completed their series comeback with a 40-point blowout in Game 6 behind West's 29 points and Chamberlain's lockdown defense on counterpart Nate Thurmond, who was held to three points.

"In the last four games," Van Breda Kolff said, "we've been better than any other team that has ever played in Los Angeles."

Perhaps, but after defeating Atlanta in five games, the Lakers still couldn't trump the dreaded Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. After winning the first two games in the series, the Lakers fizzled like the balloons owner Jack Kent Cooke was unable to release from the ceiling of the Forum after his team's Game 7 defeat.

The Lakers appeared headed for more gloom after dropping the first two games of their 2004 Western Conference semifinal series against San Antonio.

ThenShaquille O'Nealnearly logged a triple-double with 28 points, 15 rebounds and eight blocks during the Lakers' Game 3 rout.

Game 4 involved double duty for Kobe Bryant, who pleaded not guilty to a felony sexual assault charge in Colorado before flying back to Southern California and donning a figurative cape in a 42-point effort.

Fisher then reeled in the Spurs with his turnaround jumper at the buzzer of Game 5, sprinting off the court in hopes that the officials wouldn't disallow the basket.

The shot stood and so did the Lakers, who polished off the Spurs in Game 6 at Staples Center with harassing defense and a 32-point fourth quarter.

"It feels good to get revenge," said Bryant, whose team would go on to lose to Detroit in the NBA Finals, "but there's many more obstacles to overcome."

The current cast of Lakers can relate.

Times correspondent Mark Medina contributed to this report.

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