- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The only matchup that was consistently hurting the Lakers was at the big forward spot, where Kurt Rambis and Bob McAdoo were getting murdered by the Spurs' Mike Mitchell. McAdoo, who had been a key reserve in last year's drive to the title, gave Los Angeles a big emotional lift in the first game when he returned from a three-month layoff caused by a toe injury. But McAdoo was unable to get his feathery jumper off cleanly—he shot 6 for 19 in the first two games—and even after a 6-for-11 performance in Game 3 he remained frustrated. "Physically, I'm too far behind," the Doo moaned. "It's going to be a struggle."
Before the series began, L.A. Coach Pat Riley had figured that Mitchell's 45-pound weight advantage over sixth-man Michael Cooper meant the Lakers would have to depend on the slower but beefier Rambis to shut Mitchell off. McAdoo's return helped, but in Game 2 Mitchell lit up Los Angeles for 27 points and 16 rebounds. Most alarming to the Lakers was the fact that Mitchell got most of his baskets while San Antonio was running rings around what one Spur now contemptuously called "the vaunted L.A. fast break." The Lakers knew what they had to do to get back on their game as the series moved to San Antonio. "Ice is going to get his points," said Nixon, "but if we can control Mitchell, we can contain their running game."
In Game 3 Mitchell started uncontrollably. He scored 12 points in the first quarter before foul trouble cooled him down, but L.A. still trailed by one at the half, despite having limited Gervin to a single shot in the second quarter and Gilmore to three. Jamaal Wilkes, who was preoccupied with guarding the Iceman, didn't even get off a shot until 4:10 remained in the first quarter, and when he missed it, it appeared as if he were headed for another mediocre shooting performance. He'd been 13 for 32 from the field in the first two games.
In the locker room at halftime, Riley reluctantly decided to start the second half with Cooper on Mitchell, also hoping to inject some life into the Lakers' running game with a trapping, halfcourt defense. The strategy worked immediately; Cooper made two of his five steals that night during the first two minutes of the third quarter, and Wilkes converted three fast-break layups and a pair of free throws in less than five minutes for a 66-57 Los Angeles lead. The Lakers got 19 points during the third period from their running game alone—they would finish with a stunning 51 for the night—and Cooper simply turned the game around with his defensive work. Mitchell was flustered, but impressed. "Whenever I got the ball I felt good," Mitchell said, "but he wouldn't let me have it. If I ran out to get it, he ran out with me. I don't think he even cared about rebounding; he was just assigned to me."
Twice the Spurs seemed to be on the verge of breaking the Lakers' momentum with rallies of their own, but they were repelled. Abdul-Jabbar, who would score 25 points, crushed one surge with a left-handed jump skyhook when San Antonio drew to within three with 8:07 left in the third period. Then when the Spurs were within seven points with 2:04 left, Nixon drilled a three-pointer as the shot clock expired. Cooper followed with a three-point play off the most scintillating fast break of the evening—the ball going from Cooper to Magic Johnson to Nixon to Cooper without ever touching the floor. "That stretch," Cooper said, "reminded me of the four games we played the Spurs last year." Wilkes also regained his shooting touch, hitting 11 of 21 from the field (he would bang home 12 of 19 in Game 4) for 26 points.
Moore had been able to hold his own against Nixon through the first two games, after having been dominated so thoroughly by him last season that the Lakers began calling him " Johnny Nixon," as if he were Norman's son. But in Game 3 Moore was horrendous, failing to get the ball to Gilmore (13 shots) and Gervin (12) while shooting 4 for 18 himself. "When that happens," Mitchell said, "it makes us think, why ain't Ice getting the ball?" Nixon, meanwhile, had 22 points and 11 assists, and Moore had to leave the game because of a bruised left calf muscle.
Nixon added 13 points in Game 4, bringing his average for the series to 23.2 points, and Johnson scored 31 and had 17 assists. Gervin had another subpar game, shooting 9 for 22 from the field for 20 points. "We thought we could get two out of this home stand," Mitchell had said. San Antonio got two all right—in its face.