INGLEWOOD, Calif. — They were clawing back, scratching a hole in the hurricane that was the Forum on Thursday night. A nine-point lead had been whittled to seven, seven to five, the clock was under two minutes. The Pistons were charging when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put up a hook shot. It missed. Badly. James Worthy grabbed the rebound, swung it outside . . . and Dennis Rodman stole the ball!
He stole the ball? Look out. Off he went for an easy lay-up. One step. Two steps . . .
False step. The officials blew a whistle and blew a call. It’s one of those things that happens, but it happened at the worst of times. Play stopped. An argument began. And when it was over, the Detroit momentum had been pricked like a needle through a balloon.
“One second I was off and the next, it’s like I don’t even know what’s going on,” Rodman would say after the 108-96 defeat in Game 2 of this National Basketball Association final, a game that was not determined by — but certainly influenced by — that whistle. “I thought there was a 24-second violation or something.”
What happened here? Why were the Pistons screaming and slamming their hands and holding their heads in disbelief? The officials claimed Jabbar’s shot did not hit the rim. As such, the 24-second clock should not have been reset. But it was. Jess Kersey, the official, saw the fresh 24, stopped play — even as the errant pass was landing in Rodman’s hands — and subsequently declared the Lakers would retain possession with five seconds left on the clock.
You know what happened next. Magic Johnson took a back-door pass, drove the baseline, got fouled by Joe Dumars (with one second on the shot clock), made his free throws — 99-92, instead of 97-94 — and essentially snuffed the flame of return from the Pistons camp.
As far as whistles go, they blew it. That was the problem. Replay conclusive
“It was a very, very big play,” said Pistons coach Chuck Daly, although you got the feeling “big” would not be his first choice of words if he weren’t talking to the media. “It gave them the ball and their score took us out of a position to win. We had the ball and we were going in on a steal for a lay-up. They said it was a bad call. You can’t have a bad call at that point in the game.”
Oh yes you can. The replays showed the ball did indeed hit the rim, and so play never should have been stopped, the pass should have been left alone, the Pistons should have scored the lay-up . . . and we should all win the lottery tomorrow and retire. The fact is, what’s right and what we want doesn’t always happen. It’s just that, in the Pistons’ case, it seems not to happen an awful lot in the fourth quarter.
“It’s like I’ve been saying all throughout these playoffs,” said Bill Laimbeer, shaking his head. “We never do anything the easy way. It’s always hard. We keep having these flukey calls. One of these days, the flukey calls are going to be for us instead of against us.”
Now. Before people from LA read this and yell “Crybabies!” know this: The Pistons are fresh off the Boston series, which featured more funny plays than a Neil Simon anthology. And the whistle was indeed incorrect. And it did indeed have an effect on the momentum of the game.
Having said that, let us say this: It was simply something that, well, as they say out here, disrupted the flow.
“It took a lot of air out of us,” said Isiah Thomas. “We were on a real high, we were coming back, we had more or less seized the momentum. Then instead of 97-94, it’s 99-92. When we came back on the floor, we were obviously still thinking about it.”
And this morning, no doubt fans are thinking about it still. But here’s something else to mull over: OK. The Pistons lost. The series is tied up coming back to Detroit for three games.
But if the Lakers are supposed to be proud, strong, intimidating champions, well, I’m sorry. I just don’t see it. That was not terrific basketball they played Thursday night, a night they had to win. And they sure didn’t show me anything in Game 1. If not for the flukey call and some bad play by the Pistons, they might well be coming to Detroit looking at the itinerary for their funeral. Pistons not shivering
Is this the team that everybody bet on before this series began? The team that runs and guns and leaves you eating its dust? Not so far. In Game 1, the Lakers were awful. In Game 2, they improved a bit (to 45 percent shooting). But I did not see a killer instinct in this team. I did not see anything that would make me shiver were I a Piston headed back to Detroit.
“This is not a depressed locker room,” someone said to Dumars as the Pistons dressed.
“There’s no reason to be depressed,” he said. “We won one game here, we gave ourselves a chance to win the second one. As long as we can continue to do that, we feel confident.”
So back it goes. To the Silverdome for Games 3, 4 and 5. For now, the Pistons have the home-court edge. They have no fear of flying in this NBA final. They have the Lakers thinking. And they have some 40,000 screaming fans to look forward to come Sunday.
Hey, folks. In the fourth quarter, make as much noise as you can. With any luck, you’ll drown out the whistles. CUTLINE
Los Angeles Laker Michael Cooper falls under the defensive pressure of Detroit’s Isiah Thomas during Thursday’s game at the Forum.