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West, who had never averaged in double figures until this season (10.5), was superhuman in Game 1, scoring 24 points, getting 16 rebounds and blocking seven shots. Meanwhile, the Lakers' two centers, Thompson and Vlade Divac, combined for 13, 10 and three. It didn't help that Magic shot four for 14 or that Cooper, mired in a playoff slump, went scoreless for a third successive game by missing all five of his shots. Said Thompson, "We played like a first-year playoff team."
Fitzsimmons was careful not to put too much stock in an opening-game victory in a best-of-seven series. "Heck, we could just as easily start another 37-game losing streak," he said.
A losing streak did begin, but it lasted exactly one game. Worthy propped up the the Lakers' mystique in Game 2 with 27 points in a fast-paced 124-100 L.A. romp at the Forum. Divac scored 16, West only nine. KJ, who had suffered a hip pointer in Phoenix's first-round series against Utah and had scored nine points in Game 1, was subpar again.
Everybody, even the Suns, agreed that this was closer to the way the series was supposed to shape up. "I told you they were going to throw a fast train at us, with smoking engines," said Fitzsimmons. Rambis, cooling his tender feet in a pail of ice water after the game, allowed that there was a certain inevitability when it came to Laker basketball. "Everybody in California knows an earthquake is coming," he said, "but they don't move out of state. We knew what was going to happen to us."
What to do?
"Well, first, I'm going to burn this shirt, baby," said Fitzsimmons.
By the time the series got to Phoenix, Game 1 was generally regarded as an aberration. The Suns, however improved, were looking like another failed contender (see the Dallas Mavericks and the Jazz of recent seasons), and KJ's chest-butts with his teammates, an odd new form of congratulation, appeared headed for America's Funniest Home Videos .
But on Saturday, KJ started getting in Laker faces instead of in Sun chests. Said Magic, "Seems like the first five times he touched the ball, he drove." The results were immediate: KJ had six first-quarter points en route to 22 for the game. But more important, forward Tom Chambers, Phoenix's leading scorer in the regular season, recovered from a nine-point effort in Game 2 to score 34 points. "Kevin and I were embarrassed by our play [in the first two games]," said Chambers afterward. "We're both All-Stars, but if you watched us in the last two games, you wouldn't pick us out of a crowd in a million years."
Actually, Chambers and KJ, the Suns' headliners, were overshadowed by Hornacek, who had brought a career playoff scoring average of 14.7 into the series only to stun the Lakers with his sudden offensive surge. He made 10 of 16 field goal attempts in Game 3 as Phoenix shot 60%. "He was in a groove," said Magic. "He was on fire. He did anything he wanted." Even then, the understanding among the Lakers was that Hornacek's outburst was a fluke, to which any player was entitled. Yet privately there was a growing concern because the Suns, one by one, seemed to be having these kinds of moments. Reminded that L.A. had been down 2-1 before and survived, Thompson said, "This is different. Phoenix is a better team than that Utah team."
In Game 4 the Suns were better than that Los Angeles team. Hornacek made his first six shots and scored 16 points in the first quarter, during which Phoenix scorched the Lakers 36-22. None of the other Suns missed much, either; Phoenix shot 76% in the period. Throughout the game, KJ, who would finish the day with 30 points, drove at will to the basket—and when he wasn't scoring off these moves, he kicked the ball out to Chambers, Hornacek, whomever, for open shots. Meanwhile, West scored all seven of his baskets in the first half, three of them rattling dunks off offensive rebounds.