The Lakers alternated Wilkes and Cooper on Gervin, and in Game 2 he was held to just seven of 21 from the field and 18 points. "What's winning the games for us right now is defense," Cooper said. "When one of us gets beat, the rotation begins and everybody else helps out."
In Game 3 on Friday night at San Antonio, the Spurs fell behind by 15 points in the second quarter, then pulled to within seven midway through the third. At that point Nixon and Cooper began to ram the ball up the middle of the floor, widening the gap from seven to 14 points in two minutes and 44 seconds. Gervin finally popped loose for 39 points, but the Lakers had devoured every loose ball and turned them into easy baskets. "They shoot more layups than any team that's ever played the game," said San Antonio Assistant Coach Morris McHone.
Albeck was sick over what was happening to his team, but he couldn't help admiring the Lakers' fast break. "I don't know if any of the great Boston teams back in the '60s and '70s ever advanced the ball this quickly," he said. "We've tried everything—keeping two men back, going to the offensive boards, slowing it down—everything the book says you're supposed to do, and still we couldn't stop them."
One reason the Lakers' running game is so effective is that there are a lot of people who can execute it. "We've got a unique situation here," explained Nixon, who popped for 30 in the clincher, "in that we've got two guys [he and Johnson] who can take the middle and create something. And each of us runs a different kind of break, creates a different set of problems for the defense. Magic takes it right to the hoop even on big guys, and if he misses the shot he'll tip it in. I'm a jump shooter, and teams know that even when I'm running they have to come up on me." Which leaves plenty of room for the wing men, whistling down the sidelines for dunks, layups and, in Cooper's case, the terrifying Coop-a-Loop thunderdunk. "I really don't feel any team in the NBA can run with us," says Cooper.
The Spurs tried again on Saturday, but when Gervin (38 points) fouled out with 6:11 to play, he took what remained of San Antonio's hopes with him. McAdoo was almost beyond belief in the final game, hitting 12 of 16 shots for 26 points, to go with eight rebounds and three blocked shots. He also stole an inbounds pass and dunked in the final seconds.
"They've a lot of ammo over there," said San Antonio Forward Mark Olberding. "We would have had to play the best series ever to even stay with them. That's how good they were."
What remains to be seen is if that's really how good they are. And how good they can be against Boston or Philadelphia. Maybe the best ever.