The club eventually gave in, granting Dantley a three-year extension at $900,000 a season. But Layden didn't begin the reconciliation process until after the All-Star break. "I can't condone what he did, but I wouldn't be so vocal or demonstrative again," says Layden, who eventually restored Dantley to co-captain along with Griffith. "I just alienated myself from a star player. We're both intelligent professionals with the same goals in mind. Adrian's playing now like he's trying to make up for what he did."
Dantley had scored 34 points in Utah's 115-101 Game 1 victory, though he and all the Jazz were stifled in Game 2, a 122-96 Houston blowout. (Layden, reasoning that "they weren't listening to me," invited Utah Sen. Jake Garn, fresh from his Discovery space shuttle mission, to the Jazz locker room at the intermission, evidently figuring Garn knew something about the workings of Rockets.) Dantley squeezed off a crucial last-minute 20-footer in Utah's 112-104 victory in Game 3, and moments later alertly left his man, Lewis Lloyd, to tie up Sampson for a jump ball. Dantley's play was typical of the Jazz game plan of defending Sampson and Olajuwon by sending smaller people down to help out. "We don't have the good weakside rebounding you need to front people," Layden says, "and there's no sense in fronting when we have Mark Eaton."
Fans at the Salt Palace post a large black "B" behind one basket each time Eaton, who won the league's shot-blocking championship over Olajuwon by a more than two-to-one margin, swats away a shot. Seven Bs hung from the mezzanine facade at halftime of Game 4, after Eaton staked the Jazz to a 49-38 halftime lead. The Rockets, in turn, out-scored their hosts 26-4 in one stretch of the third quarter, and led 94-83 with 1:19 remaining.
But Griffith lobbed home three straight three-point shots within 25 dizzying seconds, and only Olajuwon's block of Stockton's drive as time ran out—this after Olajuwon had foolishly shot instead of holding the ball moments earlier—preserved Houston's 96-94 win. "I realize I should just hold ball," Akeem said afterward. "But I shoot it, so I have to make up for it." Said Fitch, who was at once seething and relieved to be going home with the series tied, "The last two minutes were a nightmare. We can't have this attitude that the good Lord always takes care of the devil Irishman." Especially when devil Irishmen are coaching both sides.
Olajuwon did finish a spectacular series with 32 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks in Game 5. But he may have connected on one shot too many when, with 6:44 left, he dealt Paultz a sucker punch to the face. Olajuwon would say later that Paultz had pushed him "six times" and gone unpunished for it. The officials, preoccupied with a Sampson dunk at the time, missed the face job. But instead of retaliating, Paultz asked Akeem, "Is that the best you've got?"
It evidently was. "Billy knew he had more license to muscle Akeem after that, because the refs knew they'd missed something," Kelley said. "All of a sudden you could feel Houston getting tighter. They'd take turnarounds from 12 feet out instead of eight. If there's one thing Billy and I know how to do, it's lean on people."
From their passing game, the Jazz began to go right where Houston had been all series: the offensive boards. Roberts made one of Utah's three fourth-quarter tip-ins and played until he lost a contact lens with 1:48 remaining. Meanwhile, the Jazz continued to sink their foul shots. "That's where we snuck up on them," said Paultz. The Game 5 free-throw figures—28-of-32 for the Jazz, 15-of-30 for the Rockets—were representative of the series. Over the five games, Dantley alone made 53 free throws, including six in the final 16 seconds of the final game.
"That team on the floor was our green team with Captain Kelley!" Layden yelled in the locker room. "It beats our first team regularly!
"The good Lord helped me out," Layden went on. "He made the contact lens fall out of Roberts' eye so I got to put Dantley in."
Which only goes to show that He does indeed take care of the devil Irishman. And that you've got to forgive. It's a league rule.