The depleted Los Angeles Lakers floundered and finally succumbed to wave after wave of pressure from the Detroit Pistons Tuesday night.
With guard Byron Scott sidelined because of a torn hamstring, and with early foul trouble visiting three starters, the Lakers' simply did not have enough bodies and ability Tuesday night to prevent a 109-97 loss to the Pistons in Game 1 of the National Basketball Association championship series.In lieu of Scott, out perhaps for the entire series, the Lakers gave us Michael Cooper and, later, Tony Campbell. When A.C. Green and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar got in early foul trouble, Orlando Woolridge and Mychal Thompson were summoned earlier than usual and asked to play more prominent roles.
So bereft of reserves was Laker Coach Pat Riley that he called upon seldom-used Jeff Lamp in the first half. And, by the final buzzer, Campbell had played more minutes Tuesday night (25) than he had in the Lakers' 11 previous playoff games.
What resulted was a stilted, out-of-sync Laker offense, which was a death sentence against defensive demons such as the Pistons. Passes missed their intended targets and shots were forced. Even the Lakers' trapping defense was thrown off.
"That's what happens," said Magic Johnson, who played 41 minutes. "You've been playing one way all season long, and when you lose Kareem and Coop to foul trouble, everyone is not familiar with the game plan. It's hard when you're playing guys who haven't been out there."
Those same guys figure to be asked to play similar roles, and play them better, here Thursday night in Game 2. If they don't, the Lakers, whose playoff winning streak was stopped at 11, could be victims of another overwhelming Piston effort.
They made 55 percent of their shots and outrebounded the Lakers, 45-32. The Pistons led by as many as 21 points in the second half behind guards Isiah Thomas, Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson, who combined for 65 of Detroit's 109 points.
"Byron's loss hurt us, and (the early foul trouble) hurt us early, but I think the difference in the game was that we could not control their (shooting) guards," Riley said.
"We had stressed that in practice all week."
Not coincidentally, Scott is the Lakers' shooting guard. And, in addition to averaging 19 points, he would have been assigned to guard Thomas, who had 16 of his 24 points during the first half, and probably would have provided defensive help on Dumars and Johnson.
The Lakers had the Scott excuse at their disposal, but most declined to use it, mainly because they almost have resigned themselves to not having him in the series. They also asserted that, given some time for preparation, they can overcome his loss.
Still . . .
"Whether we had Byron or not, we took a butt-whipping tonight," Cooper said. "But when you lose key players, it throws a wrench into your engine. There were times when we were just out there running and ambling around."
Even Detroit Coach Chuck Daly acknowledged that the Lakers looked like a different team without Scott.
"We can do more things (defensively) with Scott out," Daly said. "He's a great player."
The Lakers had a day to absorb Scott's absence and prepare to play without him. But he is the Lakers' main outside shooting threat, the player whom the Lakers fall back on when other options in their half-court offense are not available.
Perhaps it was overcompensation, or perhaps merely another example of the Pistons' stifling defense, but the Lakers made only 46.7 percent of their shots, most coming from the perimeter.
James Worthy, guarded by power forward Rick Mahorn early in order to force him outside, missed his first five shots and never recovered. He sank only 6 of 18 shots and finished with 17 points, tying Johnson for Laker scoring honors.
Cooper, limited to 25 minutes because of foul trouble, had three points - about 16 fewer than Scott gives the Lakers at that position. Campbell overcame some early rustiness to score 12 points, and Thompson had 15, but the Lakers were never able to establish their offense.
"Without Byron, all we had to do is move the basketball and try to get the open shot," Cooper said. "We weren't able to do that. A lot of it was their defense. We couldn't get our fastbreak going because they were hitting the boards so well."
"You have just seen our best game in the playoffs," Daly said. "We have to work defensively, rebound well and the key is not giving up second shots."