Archaeologists sifting the rubble could have found a clue. They could have uncovered evidence that there would indeed be life for the Los Angeles Lakers after their 148-114 loss to the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the NBA Championship Series. The hint was buried deep inside an abject utterance from L.A. coach Pat Riley after the Celtics had beaten his Lakers. "I have never seen a team, except ours at times, shoot from the perimeter like that," Riley said.
Except ours at times. What a marvelous little phrase! His players had just gotten their keisters kicked, but Riley was saying the roles could easily have been reversed. And when the Lakers did turn the tables last week, twice bouncing Boston—by scores of 109-102 and 136-111—to take a 2-1 series lead, they did it with a most unlikely mix. To be sure, there were the sudden spasms of speed and the elegant skyhooks of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But the Lakers also beat the defending champions at their own physical game, matching them bang-for-bang and body-for-body. They even went bark-for-bark with the Celts' best-in-show woofing. "They expected us to crawl into a hole," said Laker assistant Dave Wohl. "It's like the bully on the block who keeps taking your lunch money every day. Finally you get tired of it, and you whack him."
The Lakers' turnaround highlighted two truisms: 1) If you're going to lose a game in a playoff series, let it be the opener. It tends to exorcise. 2) If you're going to lose in any particular fashion, let it be by blowout. It tends to motivate. After Game 1, even the Celtics wondered what consequences awaited them for having won so totally. "It's definitely a time to back off [talking trash]," said the Celtics' Cedric Maxwell. "It's not like backgammon or cribbage, where if you beat someone bad enough you get two wins."
To get those victories, L.A. paid its dues. Forget all the silly propaganda about the Lakers being avocado-powered pantywaists who shirk work. Why, their entire starting frontcourt, with its protective eyewear, looks less fit for a basketball arena than a machine shop. And while L.A.'s fast break seems so natural—Boston coach K.C. Jones likens it to the waves crashing onto the beach at Rio—a certain minimum of human pounding is necessary before the surfbreakers can pound, too. "Our break starts with good, tough defense," said forward Kurt Rambis. "That forces teams out of their offense. Then we must control the boards. That's where the work comes in. If we do those two things, the fast break is the easiest part."
L.A. neither rebounded nor defended in Game 1. Not only did Magic Johnson get only one rebound, but his teammates didn't haul in many either, largely because there were so few to be had. "When you're always pulling the ball out of the net, you can't run," Abdul-Jabbar said. As the Celtics began notching the benchmarks of their 34-point rout, they also set a few Championship Series firsts and bests, noted by a nettle (*):
Score 26-12, Celtics. By now, both Abdul-Jabbar and forward James Worthy have hoisted bricks, and guard Byron Scott, who entered the finals shooting 56.5% for the playoffs, has gone 1 for 4. Boston's Danny Ainge, Scott's counterpart, will close out the first quarter with six straight field goals and 15 points.
Score 54-29. Celtic reserve Scott Wedman launches the first of his 11 shots, all of which he'll make,* including four three-point attempts.
Score 97-69. Jones, whose Celts would shoot 60.8%,* said: "It was one of those days where, if you turn around and close your eyes, the ball's gonna go in." Here Boston's Larry Bird, after leaping to take a pass in the lane, demonstrates.
Score 144-112. A couple of urchins steal onto the court and execute a Modified Fun Bunch Flying Five.* They linger until the Laker fast break, in its most impressive achievement of the afternoon, chases them off.
Final score 148*-114. Seven minutes after the buzzer sounds, a fire is reported on the Garden roof. Hot as he was, Wedman will not be charged with arson.