Bloggin' to the Oldies: 40 Million Daggers
This post marks the second in our “Bloggin’ to the Oldies” series, for which I watch one of the “NBA’s Greatest Games” and both relate that game to the current NBA and revise common impressions of the players and style of play. Today, I’ll be talking about Game 2 of the 1991 Western Conference Semifinals between the Warriors and Lakers. Some brief background on the game: the Warriors won 125-124 in the final minute, tying the series, which clearly motivated the Lakers, who won the next three (two in Oakland) to close out Golden State. Chris Mullin went out of his mind to lead the Warriors, missing just a few shots attempts on his way to more than 40 points. Magic Johnson had around 40, too. (Unfortunately, I can't find a box score anywhere.)
As a Warriors fan, I came into this game most interested in how much Nellieball has changed over the years. Defensively, things look just about the same. The Warriors used an undersized starting lineup with Alton Lister at center and Mario Elie, Mitch Richmond, and Chris Mullin at the forward spots, requiring double-teams to the post and general swarm nearly identical to the defensive tactics that characterized last season’s team. Of course, all that running around led to a lot of open looks for the Lakers, but Nelson and the players seemed plenty content to let that happen if it meant for chances for running.
At the offensive end, the Run-TMC team looked like they had a plan in a way that the current team does not. I’m not sure that difference has anything to with the team’s actual game plan, though—I stress that it just looked that way. In reality, Hardaway, Richmond, and Mullin were so clearly leaders of the offense that they necessarily had to take more shots. If Nellie’s system works because it gives players opportunities to score, then the best players on the team would logically have more opportunities to score just because their skills allow them those chances. Stephen Jackson and Al Harrington, while very good, are not on the same level as Richmond and Mullin, so it makes sense that the current team would have a more balanced look. I’m sure that would have changed had Mullin been able to trade for Kevin Garnett.
Chris Mullin was a great player, and I’m sure he would have thrived in any system, but the nature of his amazing performance in this game is part of what has me so excited about Marco Belinelli. Mullin hit an unbelievable number of his shots in this game, but most of them were the sort of looks that Nellieball creates for everyone. Last year’s Warriors team didn’t have an objectively great shooter; Jackson, Baron, Barnes, Harrington, and J-Rich can all make them fairly regularly, yet none would ever participate in a three-point shooting contest. Marco, however, has the chance to be one of the best shooters in the NBA. Additionally, while Mullin hit a decent amount of shots with hands in his face, he did so because of his extraordinarily quick release, and Marco has the same type of trigger. I doubt that he will ever get to Mullin’s level, but all Marco really has to do to be a valued member of the team is hit open shots, and there should be a ton of those.
Moving on to the Lakers, I now better understand why Jerry West’s reputation as a GM is as strong as it is. I always knew he did a great job putting together the 80s Lakers, but looking at this team—the second wave of the Lakers dynasty had Magic not contracted HIV—it’s clear that West had a clear vision with this group, as well. The frontline of Vlade Divac, Sam Perkins, and James Worthy was incredibly versatile, capable of scoring from the perimeter or post, running or playing a slower game, etc. This is something I’ll talk about more when I get to the Bulls/Lakers series from the same year, but it’s unreal that the Lakers could play such a fast-paced game against the Warriors and then beat the Bulls in the first game of the finals by slowing things down with the exact same lineups on the floor. It would’ve been interesting to see how long the Lakers could have kept up their regular runs to the finals with Magic still playing. Alas.
It bears noting that the Warriors won this game because of a ridiculously questionable foul call on Elden Campbell with three seconds left. Elie grabbed the board, Campbell got his arm tangled, and some bozo zebra called the foul. The Lakers lose, fans have to watch free throws instead of a potential game-winner, and an amazingly entertaining game comes down to the referees instead of the players. Referees seemed to be more consistent than they are now, in general, but it’s nice to know that they’ve always sucked in some areas.
Some random notes on the game: The score was 99-97 Warriors after three quarters. More evidence that a Suns/Warriors playoff series would have been the greatest thing ever. … I’m pretty sure Tim Hardaway’s early years will somehow get lost in the shuffle as the years go by, but, like Kevin Johnson, at least those who saw him will remember. … There are few sights that make me as happy as that of Sarunas Marciulonis barreling into the lane. He’s the reason I get upset about the Spurification of Ginobili. … I’m not sure there will ever be a player again like this incarnation of James Worthy, a small forward who spends a healthy chunk of his time in the post. … The Warriors could definitely use a guy like Tyrone Hill, a reasonably athletic power forward who doesn’t really need to do anything other than rebound and defend. I expect bigger things out of Brandan Wright eventually, but maybe he can be that type of guy for the next year or two. ... Jack Nicholson attended the game sporting dark, slicked-back hair, a moustache, and a dark suit. He looked more like Dan Aykroyd from the old SNL bad toy sketches than the coolest guy in the world.