Thursday, June 17, 2010
Game 7 loss stirs memories for Magic
By Steve Springer Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com
Magic Johnson spent the entire summer of 1984 in his house.
Never left the property. Didn't want to go anywhere. Didn't want to see anyone.
Such is the pain and isolation that can result from a loss in a Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
Magic Johnson on Game 7 loss to Boston in 1984: "I failed and I just didn't want to see anybody that summer."
Johnson took that defeat particularly hard because of his own disappointing role in the Boston Celtics' 111-102 victory over the Lakers at Boston Garden, the last time these two teams met in a seventh game.
After the Lakers had cut a 14-point deficit to three with a little more than a minute to play, Johnson brought the ball into the frontcourt only to have it stripped from him by the Celtics' Dennis Johnson.
Then, after the Lakers got the ball back, Magic Johnson tried to throw one of his bullet passes to James Worthy, but came up shooting a blank when the Celtics' Cedric Maxwell hit his arm. Dennis Johnson again recovered.
The Lakers never did.
"I just didn't perform," Magic Johnson said on Wednesday, the old hurt still lingering more than a quarter century later. "We had a chance at the end and I turned it over after we had played so well to come back."
Johnson hit just five of 14 shots from the floor that night and had seven turnovers.
"It was a tough situation," he said. "I failed and I just didn't want to see anybody that summer. That's what happens when you lose a Game 7. I love this game and I love to win. When I don't, I react like that."
There were better times ahead for Johnson, "Winnin' times" as he liked to call them. A year later, with Johnson back at the controls, the Lakers not only beat the Celtics for the first time in the Finals, but did so at Boston Garden in Game 6.
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In 1987, the Lakers again beat Boston in the Finals with Johnson making his game-winning "junior, junior sky hook," as he named it, in Game 4 of a series that ended in six.
And in 1988, Johnson got his second chance at a Game 7 in the Finals and, this time, ran off the court with a smile that lasted all summer after the Lakers beat the Detroit Pistons 108-105. The Lakers had won a seventh game in the NBA Finals for the first time in six tries and became the first team to win three Game 7s in the same postseason.
But the Lakers have suffered through a tortured history when it comes to the Celtics and Game 7s. It's not just that they have lost all four against Boston, but it's how they lost. Along with Johnson's travails in 1984, there was:
The balloon game. Then-Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke, confident of victory, put balloons in the rafters of the Forum, to be released at the final buzzer.
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When Boston general manager Red Auerbach spotted the balloons, he said, "Those things are going to stay up there a hell of a long time."
The Lakers trailed by seven points with a little more than five minutes to play. It was then that center Wilt Chamberlain, complaining of an injured knee, took himself out of the game.
With a minute to go and the Lakers within one, Chamberlain volunteered to go back in. His coach, Butch van Breda Kolff, still fuming at the center's decision to sit down, told Chamberlain to stay put.
"We're doing well enough without you," van Breda Kolff said.
With Boston leading 103-102, the Celtics' Don Nelson took a shot from the free throw line, but the ball hit the rim. It went straight up in the air about four feet and came back down through the hoop.
Final score: Celtics 108, Lakers 106.
As Auerbach had predicted, the balloons stayed up in the rafters.
The Celtics led Game 7 in Boston by 10 points with only 40 seconds to play. But the Lakers staged an improbable comeback, cutting the lead to two with four seconds remaining.
It was to be Auerbach's last game as head coach and his Celtics desperately wanted to send their coach out a winner, puffing his victory cigar.
Boston's John Havlicek escaped from a crowd of defenders to dribble those precious final seconds away, enabling Auerbach to light up.
Boston 95, Los Angeles 93.
"I would have loved to have stuffed that damn cigar down his throat," said Lakers coach Fred Schaus.
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The memory of this one hurt for years. With the game tied at 100 in the closing seconds, the Lakers' Frank Selvy, who once scored 100 points in a college game, had an open 15-foot jumper.
The ball clanked off the front of the rim as time expired and the Lakers lost in overtime 110-107.
In the locker room afterward, Lakers center Ray Felix stood up and told his teammates, "Don't worry, we'll get 'em tomorrow."
There was, of course, no Game 8, but Lakers guard Hot Rod Hundley didn't let Selvy forget what might have been in Game 7. For years afterward, he would call Selvy and utter only two words before hanging up: "Nice shot."
There will be exuberant winners and agonized losers again after this season's Game 7.
"I've tasted both sides," Johnson said. "I know what these guys are facing, an absolutely miserable summer or the greatest summer of their lives."
Steve Springer is a freelance journalist and the author of eight books, the last three best-sellers. He was an award-winning sports writer with the Los Angeles Times for 25 years.