Saturday, June 11, 2011

The night Magic and Barkley both had 30-20 games

Late November NBA games are usually forgotten by early December. It's the first month of an eight-month season and barring a season-ending injury, the results are all-but inconsequential, at least in terms of division races or playoff positioning. But special performances, even at the start of the season, will be remembered long after the end of it. And thanks to dedicated fans with internet connections, old game tapes and time on their hands, those games are now preserved decades after they were played.

Such is the case with a game between the Lakers and Sixers on November 28, 1988. The Lakers won a close one, but the individual performances from a pair of Hall of Famers are what stand out. Barkley played all but one minute and scored 31 points - despite making only 5 of 14 free throws - grabbed 23 rebounds and had six assists. Magic kept pace with 32 points, 20 assists and 11 boards.

The '89 season was a strange one for the Lakers, one that marked the end of a career and an era. It was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's final season and there was no doubt it was time. Kareem was no longer the Kareem of 1975, or even '85. In 1987, at the age of 40, he scored 32 points in Game 6 of the Finals. A year later, again in Game 6, the Lakers went to him in the closing seconds and he hit a pair of free throws as the Lakers held off the Pistons and clinched their second straight title in Game 7. But he struggled throughout his final campaign, a season that saw him honored and celebrated in cities throughout the league. Before the games would begin, the teams would present Kareem with gifts - some heartwarming, some corny, some ridiculous - honoring his efforts and unparalleled career. He often played like the old man he'd become, averaging only 10 points per game.

As a team, the Lakers were now firmly under Magic's control. He won his second MVP in 1989, averaging 22 points, 12.8 assists and 8 rebounds a game. Michael Jordan - the second-best player in league history after LeBron James - finished second in the voting, despite averaging an absurd 32 points, eight rebounds and eight assists for a Bulls team that went 47-35.

The Lakers started the 1989 season 15-3, but soon lost six of seven and meandered through the remainder of the never-ending campaign. They finished 57-25, but found their game in the playoffs, sweeping the first 11 games before facing the Pistons in the Finals, in a series where David Rivers and Tony Campbell played prominent roles. It didn't end well. I forget the details.

But all that was still far down the road when the Lakers traveled to Philly. The Lakers had lost their previous game to Detroit and Magic must have suffered some type of leg injury - his season of course ended with a hamstring injury against those same Pistons - as Chick Hearn says, early in the game, that Magic isn't limping.

The Sixers managed to win 46 games in 1989, despite running out a lineup that had prominent roles for Mike Gminski and Chris Welp. Barkley was, of course, the star, averaging 25 and 12 rebounds. He still had a lot of the roundness that gave rise to his nickname and he was still a year away from a season that saw him finish second in the MVP voting. But he was certainly a force.

To the tape.

* I always loved watching games on television from Philadelphia's Spectrum. The games somehow looked different in the famous old arena, whether it was the distinctive color scheme or having the benches on the near-side, so we see the back of Riley's perfect hair instead of his strained face.

* Magic starts the game with several patented drives, showing off his ability to slide through the defense with the ease of a player six inches shorter. Perhaps the short shorts helped by providing less resistance as he flew through the paint.

* At the 2:20 mark, a low point for Kareem - Mike Gminski easily blocks the Captain's shot. It wasn't a hook, but humiliating nonetheless. The all-time leading scorer, one of the most dominant forces in league history, perhaps the most dominant college player in history (I know, I know, Walton was a "better" college player, but Kareem's the one with three NCAA titles), and now, here, in his 20th season, he's rejected by Mike Gminski. A Dukie. It was time to retire.

* I love the pass from Magic to A.C. Green at the 3:05 mark. Green was no Worthy on the break. Still, he often found easy baskets by running down the middle of the court, ahead of Magic, who had the ability to laser or lob a pass to the power forward. Passes like the one at the 40-second mark of this video. Green had a reputation, deserved, for blowing layups. At least he converts this one.

* Worthy put up 14 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter. Never known as a great rebounder, Worthy proved it by grabbing only three more the rest of the game.

* At the 5:12 mark, a Scott Brooks sighting! Scrappy, short, not very good. The player Timberwolves fans would come to know in the coming years. Michael Cooper easily rejects Brooks' shot at one point, a play that looks like me defending my 11-year-old niece. Create, Scotty. Pass. Scrap. Annoy. Don't shoot.

* The game is a dunkathon for Barkley, who one minute, as he wanders up the court after a rebound, looks like a 54-year-old banker trying to keep up with a 21-year-old at a noon YMCA game, but the next looks like the heaviest sprinter in Olympic history as he rumbles down the lane, filling it in a way that A.C. Green could never imagine.

* Brooks defends Magic. Forget this looking like me going against my 11-year-old niece. This looks like my 11-year-old niece trying to guard Magic. Not the highlight of Jim Lynam's coaching career.

* Stu Lantz is now in his fourth decade as an analyst for the Lakers. Today he talks constantly on broadcasts, dominating the conversation. He's the analyst in this game with Chick. He doesn't get many words in, other than providing wrong information five seconds into the broadcast when he says the Lakers have won seven straight games in Philly. Chick corrects him - they'd won seven straight overall. Otherwise, Lantz delivers three-second remarks while Chick carries the broadcast in his unique way, commenting that the mustard's off the hot dog after an errant fancy Magic pass and controlling the pace of the broadcast with the type of ease and confidence Magic used while controlling the game on the court.

* Magic's assist pace actually faltered. He picked up his 12th at the 5:20 mark - of the second quarter. But as he did in so many Lakers games, especially when he took over as the primary scorer from Kareem, he looked for his own offense when the game got tight in the closing minutes.

* The force of nature Barkley displays his jaw-dropping abilities at the 10:20 mark, making the steal, pushing it upcourt and delivering a perfect behind-the-back pass for a layup. Awesome to watch.

* After the Sixers take their first lead of the game, Magic responds with a 3-pointer, which Chick says is just his third of the season, in 16 attempts. The '89 season would actually be the first when Magic showed any real ability to threaten from beyond the arc. He made 58 three-pointers total his first eight seasons. He made 59 in 1989, 106 the following season. In 1988 he hit 19 percent of his three-pointers. Horrific, yet quite a bit better than 1983, when he went 0 for...21! By 1990 he was hitting 38 percent. Yeah, he worked on his jumper in the pros.

* At the 14:29 mark, with 30 seconds left in the game, Magic throws in an impossible lefty shot in the lane that puts the Lakers up six. Chick, somewhat surprisingly, puts the game in the refrigerator, even though it was still only a two-possession game. The Sixers still had a shot, actually. They had Hersey Hawkins, a threat from deep. They still had Barkley who could barrel to the lane quickly and turn it into a free-throw shooting contest.

But Chick still puts in the fridge, shuts the door with the light off and the eggs cooling. Why? Because he knew the Lakers had Magic.


Jerry said...

Barkley was tremendously underrated. With him only being 6-4 he could battle with anyone and had a skill set not often seen today. Stu is just trying to get in all the owrds he couldn't when he was with Chick. Easy to do when most of what he said in those days was "That's right, Chick."

Shawn Fury said...

Barkley's ass nearly killed Kareem at various points in this game. For my money, Stu Lantz was never better than when he was saying, "That's right, Chick."