After his team had unraveled in the opener, Laker coach Del Harris studied film until 4 a.m. Friday, all by himself, and concluded that Los Angeles's problem was spacing, both mental and physical. He believed that after dropping seven of their last eight games during the regular season, the Lakers had lost focus and confidence. They were also bunching up on the court, which led to fewer open shots. "We worked on that in practice, which I thought helped produce much better passing in Game 2," Harris said. "Then we took a lot of shots so that the players could get a feel for that court and get some confidence back in their shooting."
The extra work benefited All-Star forward Cedric Ceballos, who had scored two points on just 1 for 10 shooting in the opener but came through with a team-high 25 points in the second game, despite fleeing the court briefly in the third quarter when he became sick to his stomach. "I didn't want to be gun-shy," said Ceballos, who knocked down six three-pointers. "I wanted to keep taking my shot."
What the Sonics could not do, Mother Nature could. Late in the fourth quarter the Lakers were thwarted briefly when lightning struck near the Tacoma Dome, causing a blackout that delayed the game for 23 minutes with L.A. leading by eight points. ("That's an old trick," Harris said. "You get behind, and the lights go out.") When the lights were restored, Ceballos continued to shoot them out, draining his final three-pointer, and the Lakers withstood a Seattle charge to escape with an 84-82 triumph.
The Sonics insisted the lights would not go out prematurely on their season. But like Orlando, Seattle was in jeopardy of flopping in the first round for the second year in a row. "This game has nothing to do with what happened against Denver last season," declared Sonic forward Detlef Schrempf, recalling Seattle's embarrassing loss to the Nuggets. "We fell apart as a team last year, but that isn't going to happen this time."
Don't talk to the Cleveland Cavaliers about falling apart. This is a team that lost two of its starters (center Brad Daugherty and guard Gerald Wilkins) to injury even before the season started. Then, on the eve of the playoffs, another key player, All-Star forward Tyrone Hill, developed a serious fear of flying. After a hairy flight home from Cleveland's final regular-season game in Charlotte, the petrified Hill opted to take an eight-hour auto ride to New York instead of traveling the unfriendly skies. Come to think of it, all of Hill's teammates looked as if they'd suffered through a bad bout of turbulence after the Knicks' blowout 103-79 win in Game 1 on Thursday.
But the Cavaliers, whose playoff losing streak had now reached eight games, finally broke it Saturday by transforming the second game into an eyesore. Cleveland coach Mike Fratello ordered his team to slow the tempo to a near standstill and to limit possessions. The Cavs prevailed despite taking only 53 shots, a playoff-record low. (Four were successful three-pointers by Cleveland forward Chris Mills, whose final trey with 20 seconds left iced the game.) That scarcity was the result of just two offensive rebounds, another playoff record for futility, and 24 turnovers. "You could probably say that everybody in the United States is shocked, everybody but the guys on this team," said Cleveland center John (Hot Rod) Williams. "We don't quit."
For their part the Knicks, who have recently been known to do a little talking to their opponents on the court, began barking at one another on Saturday. "We got rattled and started bickering with each other," New York center Patrick Ewing acknowledged. The sniping centered around a common theme for these Knicks, the lack of ball distribution. The disagreement led to a postgame team meeting organized by oft-gunning guard John Starks—"Of all people," one Knick told the New York Daily News. He added, "We've got selfish guys on this team, guys who want to score all the time."
After the bitter loss Knick coach Pat Riley seemed to speak for his team and others when he said, "You know, in just 36 hours you go from being one of the great teams with one of the great performances to total humility."
Meanwhile, facing a flight back to Cleveland, Hill held out his left hand, and the Cavs' team doctor passed him a sleeping pill, which moments later took its desired somnambulant effect.
The Magic, Sonics and Knicks already knew the feeling.