Lakers - Warriors: 1991 Retro Diary

The 1991 Lakers opened the playoffs on a 4-0 roll, sweeping through the Houston Rockets 3-0 before taking a 1-0 lead on the “Run TMC” Golden State Warriors of Chris Mullin, Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway, each of whom averaged over 20 points per game in the regular season. A strong Purple and Gold team that won 58 games was led by Magic Johnson in what turned out to be his final full season, one with aspirations of the team’s first championship of the new decade.

We took some notes of the contest, which many will remember as an amazing offensive showdown between Magic and Mullen, shown on NBATV’s “Greatest Games” series in the days before Mullen joined Magic in the Hall of Fame.

Lakers: Magic Johnson, Byron Scott, Sam Perkins, James Worthy, Vlade Divac
Warriors: Tim Hardaway, Mitch Richmond, Chris Mullin, Mario Elie and Alton Lister*
*We should point out that this is not Alton from the “Real World,” perhaps the greatest of MTV’s reality franchise.

12:00 In his first year in the NBA, we have Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy, who actually played for Warriors coach Don Nelson (then in his 14th year) for two years (at Milwaukee in 1983-84). Serving as color commentator is (even then terrific) Doug Collins, fired by Chicago in favor of Phil Jackson (who’d go on to win the Bulls’ first title that year) and among the refs is Joe Crawford, then not fully bald (though he did have a large bald spot).

9:00 The killer crossover was in full effect for Tim Hardaway, who was making whoever guarded him (usually Byron Scott) look silly, reaching five points early on with a pull-up leaner off glass to make it 13-9 G.S. It was a game full of mismatches at both ends, neither team especially equipped to stop the other at any position (no, really, not even a little bit).

4:00 Magic’s fourth assist came on a beautifully run pick-and-roll resulting in an easy layup for Perkins. No one needs to be reminded how easily Johnson created easy buckets for his teammates, but to be precise, Magic averaged 12.5 dimes in the regular season and 12.6 in the postseason. Doing much of the scoring for L.A. was Worthy, who dropped 14 of his team’s 32 points, three fewer than the 35 of Golden State as Run TMC splashed the net with ease.

8:00 Playing a nice role for the Lakers was second-year center Vlade Divac of the former Yugoslavia, who was on the precipice of going through a great deal of personal turmoil as his country broke out into civil war. He averaged 11.2 points and 8.1 boards on the season, but played only 13 minutes, mostly early, in this one.
*We spoke to Divac, talking from a Basketball Without Borders camp in Slovenia, for a piece last week.

3:00 Liking his matchup with Mullin, Magic turned into a scoring machine in the second quarter, even dropping an improbable hook shot from the left elbow to make it 63-54, his 13th point of the quarter. We are thus reminded that Johnson averaged 19.4 points during the season, second only to Worthy’s 21.4. Unrelated: the Laker Girls used to sit in the corners of the baseline, instead of their current place closer to the hoop behind the photographers. Thought you should know.

0:00 To reiterate: there was very, very little defense played in the first half, L.A. holding a 67-58 edge as the teams sauntered into the Forum locker rooms. Look no further than the perimeter FG stats: L.A. 12/21 (57%) and G.S. 21/35 (60%), thanks in part to Mullin’s long-range bombing.

12:00 The control of the game exhibited by L.A. early on was due in large part to interior scoring, which it dominated with a 41-14 mark (related: Mario Elie was playing PF, and Nelly was coaching). Run TMC, meanwhile, had a total of 41 points, led by Mullin’s 16 on 7-of-11 shooting on the other end. Helping the Warrios off the bench was Lithuanian Sarunas Marciulionis, among the first really effective Europeans in the NBA.

9:40 Nearly as fun to watch as the plateau of Mullin’s flat top was the early-third-quarter action, including back-to-back triples from unguarded Mullin and Hardaway, plus a Magic facial slam on the other end. Then came a Timmy driving scoop after an obvious carry (Joey Crawford sure wasn’t calling that) to cut L.A.’s lead to just three. Where’s the D?!

4:00 Hardaway looked like he was just going through a typical run on his hometown streets of Chicago, smoothly sinking a transition three to give G.S. its first lead since early in the contest. Speaking of smooth, Scott’s J was the opposite of “The Situation” in a Florence night club, as he swished a transition jumper of his own moments later to put L.A. back on top at 85-83. Both clubs would continue to score at ease until five straight points from Mullin allowed G.S. to close the quarter up 99-97, highlighted by his insanely deep pull-up three in transition (with zero hesitation).

8:00 It continued to be a terrific show of Magic-Mullin on offense, the St. John’s product sinking another silky J to reach 38 points, and the Michigan State National Champ a driving dunk to push his game-high total to 39, keeping L.A. up by just a bucket. Magic had his back turned to Mullin in back-down mode more often than Brandon and Dillon fought over girls on “90210”.

3:30 The Lakers went ice cold from the field at the wrong time, with Worthy, Magic and Scott all missing good looks, allowing the Warriors to tie it up at 116. While Run TMC had scored nearly all of the Bay Area squad’s points, unheralded backup big Jim Peterson* was coming up huge for the Warriors defensively and on the glass, his latest offensive board giving Hardaway a chance for a stupid crossover (yet again) and reverse lay up through traffic.
*Peterson, one of my personal favorite guys in the NBA, is now the Minnesota Timberwolves color commentator and a WNBA-leading Minnesota Lynx assistant coach.

0:39.0 Using his elite b-ball IQ, Magic threw his body into a helpless G.S. defender after getting around Mullin yet again, drawing a foul to shoot his 20th and 21st free throws, matching a career playoff high with 44 points to make it 124-120 L.A. in the final minute.

0:04.0 A rare collapse in the clutch at the Forum began with a failure to secure a defensive board, resulting in a Rod Higgins and-1 put-back to get G.S. within one. Worthy then missed a wide-open 18-footer produced by Magic’s penetration, and L.A. fouled Mario Elie with four seconds left while trying to get a rebound. Oops. Elie hit both FT’s, making it 125-124, Warriors. L.A. still had a chance for a game-winning shot, but Worthy’s inbounds pass was deflected, Hardaway securing his eighth steal of the game, allowing the Warriors the Game 2 victory.

A terrific win for G.S., though L.A. would bounce back to win games three and four at Golden State to take the series 4-1. Next was a 4-2 defeat of Portland in the Western Finals, before the Lakers fell to the Bulls 4-1 in the Finals.

On your way out, check out these impressive/inflated stat lines:
Magic Johnson: 44 points (20-of-22 FT’s), 12 rebounds, 9 assists
Chris Mullin: 41 points (16-of-21 FG’s, 4-of-4 3-pointers), 5 assists, 4 rebounds
Tim Hardaway: 28 points (10-of-20 FG’s), 14 assists, 8 steals
James Worthy: 23 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists


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