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The Nats "Smoke" Mikan and the Lakers to Even Series
(Syracuse Nationals 91, Minneapolis Lakers 85, April 9, 1950)
The inspiration for the Nats' Game 2 victory was actually provided in the Minneapolis Lakers' locker room shortly after Game 1 ended at the Minneapolis Auditorium. Fresh off his 37-point performance, Lakers superstar center George Mikan shared a confessional with reporters that made headlines in the Syracuse papers the next morning.
George Mikan is allergic to smoke.
Yes, you can say the fans were quite stoked prior to Game 2 as smoke waffled through the State Fair Coliseum air. It appeared as if all 8,280 in attendance were lighting up in unison as they welcomed Mikan and the Lakers onto the court.
"All the fans came out smoking cigars," said Mikan.
Added Lakers head coach John Kundla, "You could hardly see across the floor. It was filled with smoke."
Unfortunately for the Syracuse fans, the smoke didn’t serve as a deterrent as Mikan still scored 32 points - but that wasn’t enough for the Lakers to take a 2-0 lead. Syracuse’s second-quarter surge - and not cigar smoke - ultimately won the game as it sprinted to a 20-point lead in that quarter. The Nats eventually won, 91-85, as Syracuse center-forward George Ratkovicz smoked the Lakers for 17 points.
Seymour Sets Up, Then Stuns Lakers from 43 Feet Away | Watch
(Nats 62, Lakers 60, April 9, 1954)
It was the "bandage brigade" vs. the NBA’s first dynasty. The Syracuse Nationals swept past the Boston Celtics in the Eastern Division Finals, but the series victory came at a cost. All-Star power forward Dolph Schayes joined teammate Earl "Big Cat" Lloyd as the second member of the Nats to be fitted with a cast due to a fractured hand - not exactly ideal when you’re going against the powerful Lakers front line of George Mikan, Vern Mikkelsen and Jim Pollard.
A Lakers' sweep? Why not? The Lakers were going for their fifth title in six years and the Nats were less than full strength, so most basketball observers predicted four and out. And after the Lakers won Game 1, 79-68, who could blame them as Schayes and Lloyd combined for three points.
Game 2 would prove that the series would be anything but a foregone conclusion as the Nats’ uptempo attack resulted in a 16-1 run to start the third quarter that provided a 48-38 lead heading into the fourth. With the Nats barely hanging on, they suffered yet another injury as Mikan inadvertently broke guard George King’s wrist as the 6-1 guard drove under the hoop. Exit King.
After Mikan tied the game at 60 with 18 seconds remaining, the Nats’ chance to upset the Lakers resided in Paul Seymour’s hands. The All-Star swingman pulled up about 43 feet from the basket and with seven seconds remaining, launched a set shot that swished, silencing the 6,277 fans in the Minneapolis Auditorium. Nats 62, Lakers 60.
It was an impressive shot and victory, especially considering the Lakers had not lost a playoff game at the Minneapolis Auditorium in seven seasons.
When Pollard asked Seymour why he didn’t take a shot closer to the basket - especially with time remaining - Seymour appropriately responded, "I was open."
Milwaukee’s Finest: Kareem Swats Cowens and Celtics’ Chances
(Milwaukee Bucks 105, Boston Celtics 96 (OT), April 30, 1974)
It would have been the perfect send-off for whom many regarded as the perfect player. Prior to the 1973-74 season, Bucks All-Star guard Oscar Robertson announced he would be playing in his final season. What more appropriate farewell party befitting the legendary "Big O" than a championship celebration?
The ’74 Finals gave Robertson that opportunity as it featured teams with contrasting playing styles – the Celtics and their celebrated running game versus the league’s premierhalfcourt team led by MVP center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The series also featured two of the best centers - the smaller, quicker Dave Cowens versus the 7-2 Abdul-Jabbar.
After the Celtics shocked the heavily favored Bucks, 98-93, in the opener in Milwaukee, Game 2 would feature Abdul-Jabbar as the focal point of the offense as he set picks, found the open teammate and outplayed Cowens, skyhooking his way to 36 points. Abdul-Jabbar also frustrated Cowens all evening on defense, limiting him to 3 of 13 from the field.
Despite the play of Abdul-Jabbar, the Celtics had an opportunity to win it when Cowens swooped into the lane, only to watch his running hook shot get swatted by Abdul-Jabbar, forcing the game into overtime.
In OT, the Bucks took over, winning 105-96 and drawing three games closer to winning it for Oscar.
Henderson Steals One From The Lakers | Watch
(Boston Celtics 124, Los Angeles Lakers 121 (OT), May 31, 1984)
It was desperation time at the Garden as the Celtics trailed, 113-111, with 18 seconds remaining and the prospect of heading to Los Angeles down 0-2 appearing very much real. With Magic Johnson inbounding the ball to James Worthy and the Lakers looking to run out the clock, it was Gerald Henderson who provided the Garden heroics.
Henderson swooped in, picked off Worthy’s soft crosscourt pass to Byron Scott and easily drove in for the layup, tying the game and forcing overtime.
In OT, Henderson once again made a key play, this time finding Scott Wedman on the baseline for a jumper to help the Celtics preserve a come-from-behind victory.
For Lakers head coach Pat Riley, Henderson's steal had a devastating impact.
"What will I remember most from that series?" Riley said upon reflection. "Simple. Game 2. Worthy's pass to Scott. I could see the seams of the ball, like it was spinning in slow motion, but I couldn't do anything about it."
A 6-11 Three-Point Exhibition: Laimbeer Stars While Portland Glides to Victory
(Portland Trail Blazers 106, Detroit Pistons 105 (OT), June 7, 1990)
After staging a fourth-quarter comeback in Game 1, the Detroit Pistons were poised to do it again with the intent of dropping the Portland Trail Blazers in an 0-2 hole in the 1990 Finals.
While Isiah Thomas played the hero in the first game, Bill Laimbeer officially submitted his application for the role in the fourth quarter of Game 2. After scoring a mere seven points over the first three quarters, the 6-11 Laimbeer let it fly from the arc, nailing three-pointer after three-pointer before ultimately tying the Finals single-game record of six.
Clyde Drexler, the hang-gliding All-NBA guard, wasn’t about to watch his Blazers lose control of the series as his relentless play kept the Blazers in the game, providing a classic Finals finish.
After John Salley's tip-in gave the Pistons a 94-91 lead, Drexler and point guard Terry Porter combined for three free throws to tie the game at 94. Thomas' three-pointer at the buzzer missed, sending the game into overtime.
The Pistons fed off the home crowd and took the lead in OT, thanks to James Edwards and back-to-back three-pointers from Laimbeer. The Blazers didn’t back down as a pair of free throws by Porter brought Portland within two before Drexler nailed a 17-footer to tie the game.
The frenetic back-and-forth continued as the Blazers grabbed a a 104-102 lead and the Pistons had all of nine seconds to score. Eight ... Seven ... Six ... Five – Laimbeer hoisted a 27-foot three-pointer – his sixth of the game – that stunned the Blazers and their bench. Head coach Rick Adelman who looked at the 4.1 seconds remaining and called timeout.
"After I hit the shot, I looked at the clock and saw there were four seconds," said Laimbeer. "And in the NBA, four seconds is an eternity."
Fortunately for the Blazers it was enough time for Drexler to go to work on Dennis Rodman, who had been hobbling on a sore ankle and fouled No. 22.
Drexler’s two free throws gave the Blazers breathing room, and Clifford Robinson’s block of Edwards jump shot preserved the victory as Portland reclaimed home-court advantage and serving notice to anyone paying attention that the series was only beginning.
Mutombo Anchors Nets' First Finals Win
(June 6, 2003, New Jersey 87, San Antonio 85
He was the Nets' forgotten man. A four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year who languished on the bench after tearing ligaments in his wrist, missing 56 regular-season games. A proud man who felt the pain of losing his 40-year brother to an unexpected death right before the playoffs. A man who finally healed physically but still was on the outside looking in when it came to playing time as he watched his team ride a 10-game winning streak to the NBA Finals without him. This certainly wasn’t the season Dikembe Mutombo had envisioned when the Nets acquired him on August 6, 2002.
"For some reason, I've been praying more than I have done in my life," said Mutombo. "I haven’t seen so many things happen in my life as have happened to me this year."
Mutombo didn’t lose faith or focus on the championship mission. When head coach Byron Scott called his number in the second quarter, the center who played a productive six minutes in Game 1 provided New Jersey with a huge lift and was instrumental in securing the franchise’s first NBA Finals victory.
Mutombo was inserted into the second quarter and immediately provided a spark - offensively and defensively - as the Nets outscored the Spurs, 22-17, to take the halftime lead. The tireless center immediately scored two quick baskets to give New Jersey the lead and was a defensive menace, limiting San Antonio’s penetration and second shot attempts as the Spurs shot just 6 for 18 in the quarter.
Most importantly, Mutombo, who also saw action in the fourth quarter, helped slow down NBA MVP Tim Duncan, who dominated the first game with a 32-point, 20-rebound performance. Duncan was limited to 19 points and 12 rebounds.
What Mutombo was to the Nets defensively, Jason Kidd was offensively. The All-Star point guard shook a 4 for 17 shooting slump in Game 1 and scored 30 points, including the last seven for New Jersey.
The Spurs did make a comeback, rallying from a 15-point deficit late in the third quarter. Stephen Jackson hit a three-pointer with 9.7 seconds remaining to bring San Antonio within 86-85. After Kidd was fouled and split the free throws, Spurs point guard Tony Parker found Jackson on the left wing behind the arc for the game-winner, only to watch it bounce off the rim.
While the Nets celebrated their landmark victory, the Spurs could only lament the number of turnovers (22) and poor foul shooting (14 of 25) that plagued their performance.
"I think we wasted a game," said Parker.
Inspired Play: Luke and Kobe Rally the Lakers
(Los Angeles Lakers 99, Detroit Pistons, 91, OT, June 8, 2004)
In a mere 48 hours, the mood in Southern California had shifted dramatically as the heavily favored Lakers were now confronted with a 0-1 series deficit, thanks to an 87-75 Game 1 thrashing by the Pistons. Suddenly, the boundless optimism and dreams of championship parades along Figueroa Street that ran rampant before Game 1 were now replaced with a nervous sense of anticipation at Staples Center.
With his team trailing 11-10 and in desperate need of an infusion of positive energy, Lakers head coach Phil Jackson looked to his bench – a supporting cast that had underperformed in Game 1 with just four points – and inserted the first sub into the game with 3:30 remaining in the first quarter.
Jackson went to Luke Walton, a promising rookie out of the University of Arizona. It was a curious move, given that Walton posted back-to-back DNPs in the two previous playoff games. Tapping into his playmaking abilities, Walton was everywhere, moving the ball, draining rainbow jumpers, going coast to coast, finishing in transition and diving for loose balls as the Lakers took a 44-36 lead into halftime.
The Pistons rallied and held an 89-83 lead with 47.8 seconds remaining. A Lakers flurry narrowed the deficit to three with 10.9 seconds to go. On the brink of going down 0-2, Bryant went to work on the left wing, staring down defender Richard Hamilton and unleashing a 28-footer that tied the game.
The Lakers rode the wave of momentum into overtime, overwhelming the Pistons, 10-2, as Bryant contributed eight points, helping to even the series.
"You can talk about my shot all night long," Bryant said after the game. "But without Luke in the game playing as well as he did, we wouldn’t be in that position."