Hey, wait a minute — why did Kareem Abdul-Jabbar make his way into the headline for an article about Game 1 of the NBA Western Conference semifinal series between the San Antonio Spurs and the Oklahoma City Thunder?
Shouldn’t we be talking about the Spurs shooting 69 percent in the first half of Game 1 on Saturday night in the AT&T Center, the place where they lost just one game all season?
Shouldn’t we be talking about the Spurs’ ability to hound Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook into (combined) 30-percent shooting in the first half, en route to a 73-40 lead in a game which was over before the first quarter ended?
Shouldn’t we be talking about Kawhi Leonard, who is probably the best player on the floor in this series?
Shouldn’t we be talking about LaMarcus Aldridge, who rather emphatically swatted away any doubts about his value to the Spurs (and of the organization’s wisdom in securing his services)?
We could, one supposes. Yet, this game was such a washout — non-competitive almost from the jump — that we’re simply not going to learn much of anything about these teams (or the series itself) until Game 2 runs its course on Monday night.
Various scenarios could emerge, of course, but we’re likely to get one of three:
1) San Antonio tramples Oklahoma City again.
2) Oklahoma City fights back, but the Spurs find every meaningful answer and prevail in a contentious game.
3) OKC, embarrassed, plays the game of its season and wins a nail-biter.
How can the Thunder possibly banish the memory of Game 1 and chart a new course, thereby transforming the series and — by extension — the season?
The man to consult is the man mentioned in the title of this piece.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would know exactly what to say to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook and the rest of a team which was fed into the Spurs’ woodchipper in Game 1.
The game was called the “Memorial Day Massacre.”
The Los Angeles Lakers — never able to beat the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals — finally thought they found the formula at the start of the 1984 series. They won Game 1 and were about to win Game 2, when James Worthy’s crosscourt pass was stolen by Gerald Henderson. The Celtics pulled Game 2 out of their rear end and managed to steer the series to a Game 7, which they won on their home floor in Boston.
Stung by that bitter defeat in the 1984 NBA Finals, the Lakers were rattled and hesitant in Game 1 of the 1985 reunion in old Boston Garden. The Celtics, breathing fire and exuding the same easy confidence the veteran Spurs displayed on the last day of April in 2016, dismantled the Lakers by 34 points, 148-114.
The halftime score? Not San Antonio’s 73-40 cushion over the Thunder on Saturday — but close.
Boston 79, Lakers 49.
The Celtics led by 29 after three and hung 40 on the board in the fourth to complete the rout.
Every Laker had to live with the sour taste of a complete evisceration, but no one had to bear the burden more than Kareem, the captain of the team and its senior citizen, then in his 16th year in the league. He had already won a championship with the Lakers — two, in fact — but before he rode into the sunset in his career, he wasn’t going to allow the Celtics to remain superior to the Lakers. More precisely, he was going to insist on becoming a part of the first Laker team to beat the Celtics in an NBA Finals series.
Writing for Sports Illustrated, legendary NBA scribe Jack McCallum recalled Kareem’s attitude when studying film the day after the Memorial Day Massacre:
The following day Riley walked into the film session at the team hotel, and the first thing he saw was Abdul-Jabbar sitting in the front row (he usually sat near the back), arms folded, staring stoically at the TV, ready to take his medicine. “His body language said, Let me see all my mistakes. Let me see that horror show,” remembers Riley. “That’s how Kareem was.”
It was one thing to be all business, however. It was another matter to perform with a cold and icy focus which would deliver results.
Kareem’s line in Game 2, when all eyes were upon him and the Lakers?
30. 17. 8.
3 blocked shots, one of them below against Kevin McHale:
The Lakers took series leads of 2-1 and 3-2, and in Game 6, they closed down not just the series, but a decades-long period of futility against their nemesis on the NBA’s biggest stage.
Boston’s 34-point win in Game 1 could have been a backbreaker. The Lakers could have allowed it to become a balloon-popping, morale-draining, spirit-zapping event.
Instead, they used it as fuel for their aspirations, the source of their finest hour as a team — verily, as a franchise.
The Oklahoma City Thunder aren’t expected to come back from Game 1 against San Antonio, but if they want to find inspiration from a figure or a series from the past, Kareem is the man, and the 1985 Lakers are the team.
Are Billy Donovan or (especially) Sam Presti aware enough to give The Captain a phone call?
Someone needs to light a fire under the Thunder, or else the Spurs will incinerate them first.