Lakers reached new level of intensity in playoff win
Los Angeles — The real beauty of this year's National Basketball Association championship finals between Los Angeles and Philadelphia was that the Laker triumph, in a best-of-seven series that went six games, was not the work of any one man.
But before we get into that, the fact that LA won Tuesday's deciding game in the Forum by 10 points (114-104) in no way indicates how hard Philadelphia played or how close the score remained until near the end.
Even though the Lakers' Magic Johnson was named the series most valuable player (and rightly so since his intangibles were even more important than his statistics), Johnson was not without his helpers.
Mostly there were six - center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar; forwards Jamaal Wilkes and Kurt Rambis; reserve forward-center Bob McAdoo; and Norman Nixon (who starts in the backcourt with Magic), plus reserve guard Michael Cooper.
Those six, plus Johnson, logged so much playing time during the final series that all that was left for their teammates were cameo roles, although all will share equally in the winner's playoff pool of $372,000.
Defensively the Lakers played through a total of 14 playoff games about as well as any NBA team can. In the final, for instance, they forced numerous turnovers that they later converted into baskets. But the thing that probably helped the Lakers most was Head Coach Pat Riley's trap-zone defense, which game officials occasionally found illegal, but which was so effective that part way through the series 76er Coach Billy Cunningham also began using it.
Offensively the Lakers' running game opened things up inside for a lot of easy baskets. And on those occasions when the 76ers were able to stop their fast break, they simply got the ball in close to 7 ft. 2 in. Abdul-Jabbar, who either mailed in his two points or ended up going to the foul line.
Explained San Antonio Coach Stan Albeck, whose Spurs lost the Western Conference playoff finals to the Lakers in four straight and who was at the Forum for the deciding game:
''As good as LA was during the regular season, we were able to win three of our five games against them. But once the playoffs started, the Lakers li&ted their game to such a high level of intensity that nobody could stay with them. Basically that's how they won eight straight playoff games against Phoenix and us, and why a Philadelphia team good enough to beat Boston couldn't cope with their interchangeable parts.
''I think you have to give the Lakers a lot of individual credit for the way they prepared themselves mentally for the playoffs,'' he added. ''A coach can talk about this, but it's the players who have to do it. I also think a lot of people forgot that only two years ago LA was the world champion, so most of their players knew what to expect. They are awfully good at picking each other up when one of their regulars is having an off night. And then there's Magic Johnson, who has matured to the point where you won't find a better leader in the NBA.''
Johnson demonstrated what Albeck meant by adjusting his own game and making only three field goal attempts when an injured hand limited his shooting effectiveness in the finale.
Asked about the injury, Magic replied: ''I told my hand before the game - 'Hand, you gotta be ready tonight.' ''
Then while leaving the shooting to his teammates, Magic made his presence felt in other ways, getting 13 rebounds and 13 assists, only nine assists fewer than the entire Philadelphia team.
Johnson was also a key man in a strategy the Lakers used in both the Western final and the championship series - and which Albeck said he hadn't seen another team do all year.
''Whenever an LA player sensed he was going to have trouble controlling a rebound, he'd somehow manage to tap the ball into an empty space near the top of the key where Magic would suddenly appear and pick it up,'' the San Antonio coach said. ''Of course Magic wasn't the only Laker who did this, except most of the lime it looked as though he was getting every loose ball.
''I think another thing people overlook was the high number of hard playoff games Philadelphia had been through coming into this series,'' he continued. ''First the 76ers had to beat Atlanta; then there were six games with Milwaukee; and after that seven more with Boston. By the time Philadelphia got to Tuesday's final with the Lakers, it had already played 20 post-season games. The 76ers had to be tired and under a lot of pressure and I'm sure this contributed greatly to their defeat.''
Without taking anything away from Philadelphia's other players, guard Andrew Toney and forward Julius Erving both had an outstanding series on offense. Toney shot with the confidence of a man raiding his own refrigerator, while Erving stayed in the air so long on most of his drives to the basket that people were beginning to question Mr. Newton's law of gravity.
For the Lakers, McAdoo took his reputation as a selfish shooting star only interested in scoring points and made himself into the ultimate team ballplayer. And rookie forward Kurt Rambis, who played in Greece last year, became the folk hero of every working man who carries a lunch pail and wears blue-collar shirts.
In describing Rambis, who stands 6 ft. 8 in., weighs 220 pounds, and wears horn-rimmed glasses, one Philadelphia paper said he looked like Clark Kent, rebounded like Superman, and shot like Lois Lane. On the contrary, though, Curt not only threw his weight around under the boards but hit better than 50 percent of his field goal attempts and averaged eight points per game compared to his regular season norm of 4.6.