McCray had 12 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and one turnover in 48 minutes, a terrific line for a point forward. "Rodney has been the X factor of the series," said Riley. "Rodney has held them together. It seems like he never shoots the ball unless it's the proper time."
The same cannot be said of Sampson, who still launches too many outside jumpers and spends too much time juking for position away from the basket. But don't think for a minute that things would be going this well for the Rockets if Sampson were not on the floor. To put it in the simplest terms, he occupies someone, and that someone is the 7'2" Abdul-Jabbar.
"Where they have Ralph down at the four-man [power forward], we have Kurt," said Kupchak. "It's got to make a difference. It hasn't been a glaring problem during the season because we've been able to compensate with [James] Worthy. But it's glaring against these guys." Kurt? Kurt who? Ah, Kurt Rambis. In the two games in Houston, Rambis was 1 for 1 from the field, with five rebounds. Clark Kent had entered a telephone booth and emerged as Lois Lane.
The other thing that Sampson accomplished, of course, was to keep Olajuwon away from Abdul-Jabbar on defense. As a result the Dream had only three personal fouls on Sunday. Yet, by sliding off the man he was guarding (Rambis or Lucas) and sneaking over from the weak side, Olajuwon could still harass Kareem. He had four blocks Sunday, two of them on Abdul-Jabbar. "He [Olajuwon] used to guard me during the season, and that didn't work out too well for them," said Abdul-Jabbar. "Now all he does is sit underneath and block shots. It makes it tough."
Tough isn't the word. The word may be impossible. For the Lakers to come back against the Rockets, someone besides Abdul-Jabbar, Magic and Worthy (who had 26 points despite a strained neck on Sunday) had to emerge quickly. Houston is confident and tough, so tough that the soft-spoken Reid, an avid follower of the Pentecostal religion, was talking in Gothic images. "The Lakers are thinking that we've cut them deep, very, very deep," said Reid. "There's lots of blood, and now we want to go for the kill."
And everyone in Laker Land knew which Rocket was holding the knife. They just didn't know how to make him put it down.