Looking at how Lakers overcame 0-2 deficit in 1969 first-round matchup with San Francisco Warriors
A somber feeling permeated throughout the Lakers' locker room, at least the ones remaining after falling to a 0-2 deficit against the Dallas Mavericks.
Lakers center Andrew Bynum immediately divulged his feeling that the team has deeply rooted "trust issues." Lakers forward Pau Gasol uncomfortably admitted his own shortcomings, and outward optimism about the team's resiliency seemed forced, given the tepid and squeaky tone he delivered it. And though Lakers guard Derek Fisher maintained a stoic and calm demeanor, he acknowledged that this adversity feels different.
"We don't like being in this position. It's not familiar. But we are where we are," Fisher said. "We have to make sure we stay together as a group and figure this thing out. We're trying to make history here, and that's not easy."
It certainly isn't. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant and Fisher can draw on their experience in 2004 when the team overcame a 0-2 deficit to the San Antonio Spurs before winning the series in six games, but those two losses came on the road. Only three times in NBA history has a team won a seven-game series after losing the first two home games, and only 14 times out of 238 seven-game series in NBA history has a team overcome a 0-2 deficit. One of those teams includes the 1969 Lakers, which beat the San Francisco Warriors in the first round after losing the first two home games.
These history lessons aren't exactly inspirational tales. The Lakers' 2004 team lost to Detroit in the Finals in five games, and ended with Jackson being let go, Shaquille O'Neal being traded, Fisher leaving via free agency and Bryant left alone without much talent around him. The Lakers' 1969 team faced the Boston Celtics in the Finals that year and lost in seven games, incidentally enough after winning the first two. But for the sake of the Lakers' quest to get out of their current jam, beginning with Game 3 tonight at Dallas' American Airlines Arena, they can at least lean on that Lakers' squad 42 years ago for a bit of perspective.
"If you want to make history," Bryant said, "you have to do historic things."
Below the jump is how it all went down.
Game 1: Lakers' 99-94 loss
The Lakers entered this series with San Francisco with plenty of reasons to feel optimistic. They had clinched the Western Division title a week before the season ended, won 12 of their last 15 games and had home-court advantage against the Warriors. Yet, that didn't mean anything after the Warriors handed them a 99-94 loss March 26, 1969, before 10,697 fans at the Forum. The third-place Warriors overcame a six-point deficit in the final 5 1/2 minutes. Rudy LaRusso, who had played for the Lakers before being traded, took revenge on his former teammates by scoring a playoff career-high 32 points and scored 13 of San Francisco's 27 fourth-quarter points. The Lakers were 36.1% from the field.
"We play 82 games and we finally start playing well together," Lakers Coach Butch Van Breda Kolff told The Times' Mal Florence. "Then we go kaboom, kaboom, kaboom. We were standing around again, and we took a lot of bad shots."
Game 2: Lakers' 107-101 loss
The Lakers' loss caused so much distress that Van Breda Kolff threatened to make changes to the lineup.
"I'm not going to stick with the same thing and lose three games in a row," he told Florence.
There was plenty to dislike in this effort. Aside from Jerry West scoring 36 points for the second consecutive game in a row, the Lakers lacked any supporting cast. Mel Counts and Elgin Baylor shot a combined 14 of 45. Wilt Chamberlain also was outperformed by Nate Thurmond, scoring only 10 points on four-of-10 shooting and allowing Thurmond to score 27 points on 11-of-18 shooting, enough for Thurmond to reveal, "Wilt is recognized as the greatest center there is and I want to be eventually recognized in the same way."
Even with the Warriors holding a 2-0 lead, Thurmond acknowledged that he still "fears" the Lakers.
Game 3: Lakers' 115-98 win
The warnings that Van Breda Kolff would make lineup changes proved to be just venting or empty threats. Bill Hewitt, a rookie from USC, and Johnny Egan replaced Mel Counts and Keith Erickson, respectively, in the starting lineup. The changes proved more deeply rooted than lineup shuffling, however. Eagan's 19 points and Hewitt's tenacious effort in fighting through screens proved impressive enough for Van Breda Kolff immediately to say after the game that they'd start again in Game 4.
The battle between Chamberlain and Thurmond changed course as well, with Chamberlain equaling Thurmond's points, but outrebounding him 28-20. It was no easy task for sure, with Chamberlain arguing, "Thurmond is the greatest defensive center I've ever played against and I mean this as no slight to Bill Russell." The Lakers' defense improved, holding San Francisco scoreless for five minutes in the third quarter, commanded an 18-point lead early in the fourth quarter and their concern shifted from whether they'd be swept to wondering when Baylor would end his shooting slump, scoring only seven points on two-of-10 shooting.
Still, the effort proved well enough for Florence to describe them as the "real Lakers."
Game 4: Lakers' 103-88 victory
This game proved to be so lopsided that Florence argued the game "should have been called in the second quarter as a technical knockout."
The Lakers went on a 16-0 run to open the second quarter, led by as many as 28 point, held the Warriors to a 28% mark from the field and limited San Francisco to a season-low 35 points in the first half.
It featured every ingredient the Lakers would want in a dominating victory. West, who had averaged 34.3 points in the series leading up to this game, scored 36 points, made timely passes and drew the frustration of Warriors Coach Greg Lee, who argued the official give him favorable treatment, saying, "every time he's ready to shoot, they're ready to blow the whistle." Hewitt's 12 points gave Florence to believe he should remain a starter. Chamberlain's defense became instrumental in limiting Thurmond, blocking seven shots and grabbing 14 rebounds. And the Lakers left Oakland with more depth than the Warriors, who lost Jeff Mullins from a bruised right knee.
Suddenly the idea of having home-court advantage seems overblown.
"It meant something five or six years ago," van Breda Kolff told Florence, "but not so much now. There are not so many strange places, as these players have been around for a long time and have played everywhere."
Game 5: Lakers' 103-98 victory
At this point, the Lakers were far less concerned with the effort and more worried about the result. Having a 3-2 series edge proved satisfying enough, even if it featured a few aggravating moments, such as West fouling out with 4:43 to play, Eagan needed to convert three of four free throws in the final 10 seconds and the Lakers blew 18-point third-quarter lead.
Even if West disputed his fouls and both he and van Breda Kolff called out Lee's assertions that officials give him favorable treatment, the Lakers' didn't have to worry too much about Mr. Clutch's absence since Chamberlain remained effective, posting 27 rebounds and 10 blocked shots. But it didn't come without consequence, as Florence observed, "this let-Chamberlain-do-it-all-attitude almost cost the Lakers the game."
"We were shooting from the outside later and every shot we threw up, we had a tendency to expect Wilt to get the rebound," van Breda Kolff told Florence. "You're supposed to check your man first."
But the Lakers didn't, leading their 20-4 second-quarter effort largely helpful in securing a game that ended in close fashion. San Franciso's Bill Turner and Joe Ellis carried the team back into the game, but Ellis could only hit one of three free throws in the final 10 seconds to cut the Lakers' lead to 100-98. Chamberlain grabbed one of his many important rebounds, setting up Eagan's three of four free throws and an ever important series lead.
Summed up Florence: "life in the closing minutes without West can be perilous at best for the Lakers."
Game 6: Lakers' 118-78 victory
Not exactly the way the Lakers envisioned sweeping a team, winning four consecutive games after losing two in a row, but they demonstrated enough dominance to lead Lee to argue the Lakers would win the NBA title.
The Lakers' effort proved both "humiliating" and "degrading" in Florence's eyes. They led 61-38 at halftime, had as much as a 42-point lead and held San Francisco to its lowest playoff output in the franchises's history. This marked the first time any NBA team won a seven-game series after losing the first two contests at home, an achievement later held by the 1994 Houston Rockets and 2005 Dallas Mavericks. The Lakers "made history," as Bryant hopes this current team will, by featuring an equally threatening offense (West's 29 points) and defense (Chamberlain holding Thurmond to three points and drawing praise as the toughest player he played against.
"In the last four games, we've been better than any other team that has ever played in Los Angeles," Van Breda Kolff said. "Perhaps we needed to lose two games. We figured we'd win, but we forgot to play."
We'll soon find out if the current Lakers' squad reacts the same way.
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Photo: Lakers guard Jerry West drives against the Warriors’ Ron Williams, who was a rookie during the 1969 NBA playoffs, during a regular-season game. Credit: Associated Press.
Photo: Lakers center Wilt Chamberlain proved largely instrumental on defense in the Lakers' semifinal victory over the San Francisco Warriors in the 1969 NBA playoffs. Credit: Larry Sharkey/Los Angeles Times.
Photo: As coach of the Lakers, Bill van Breda Kolff, left, had Hall of Fame players in Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West. Credit: Art Rogers.