NEW YORK — The date was Jan. 9, 1972.
The Los Angeles Lakers, winners of 33 consecutive games, meandered into Milwaukee Arena, where Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the defending champs were waiting.
For the unaware, those same Bucks had held the NBA standard of 20 wins in succession.
Final score: Bucks 120, Lakers 104.
The Lord of the Rims went for 39.
Seemingly, the objective of Los Angeles ever since is to exact revenge.
Three-and-a-half years later, the Lakers looted Milwaukee; feeling culturally destitute, Abdul-Jabbar demanded to be dealt. L.A. outbid New York in a trade so weighted Gregg Popovich filed a protest.
The most recent example of the one-way rivalry came last week. Wearing their crowns back-to-front and severely tilted to the side, the Lakers (19-4 entering the game), moseyed into Milwaukee for the third game of their five-game trip on Dec. 16.
Statically clinging to the middle of the standings, the Bucks (11-11 before tipoff) overcame an eight point, third-quarter deficit to take a five-point lead with about four minutes to go in regulation.
From there, the game went back. And the game went forth.
After Andrew Bogut evened matters at 95 but failed to complete a 3-point play with 20 seconds left, Kobe Bryant only had to beat Charlie Bell, 15 cm smaller, from 5 meters on a fade away post-up, to unsettle the stalemate.
Bucks coach Scott Skiles’ no-percentage gamble not to double team The Black Mamba, one of the league’s all-time poisonous performers under pressure, paid off.
Kobe would later say the broken index finger on his shooting hand resulted in his astray springer . . . the same digit that didn’t seem to inhibit him all that much the previous evening from goring the Bulls for 42 points, or an eventual 39 against the Bucks; we can merely guess whether the fracture was in any way responsible for his eight and seven turnovers, respectively.
Fast forward to overtime. With less than 90 seconds to go, the Bucks owned a 106-100 advantage. Then they missed shots, had others blocked, and aborted free throws, two by Ersan (24 points, five rebounds) Ilyasova.
A pre-holiday gift call benefiting the out-of-control Kobe tree-trimmed the lead to one. Bryant earned a charge, a walk or both while Bogut got whistled for a bogus block. A no-call would have been reasonable.
Seven seconds to go. The ball “unpredictably” found its way to Kobe. Again he encountered the same minimal resistance as he did at the end of regulation, only this time just seven ticks remained to beat the game clock.
Same solo defender, whose growth plate hadn’t miraculously reopened in the preceding five minutes.
Same coaching strategy.
(You would think Skiles would have wanted the verdict removed from Kobe’s jurisdiction. You would think perimeter help would have been on the way the moment it became obvious a pass meant a forced or belated shot; Luke Ridnour was nearby and simply idled. You would think the defensive-disciplined Luc Bbah a Mounte would have made more sense than Bell.)
Same 5-meter jumper minus the fade.
Thank you for coming. Please arrive home safely.
Afterward Kobe informed viewers his injured finger became a non-factor on the game-ending mug shot because he had readjusted the grip on the ball.
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While I’m not exactly disappointed we’re no longer subjected to Nate Robinson’s affected behavior, publicly shaming him and for such a prolonged period is conduct unbecoming an experienced coach. Especially since New York’s Mike D’Antoni helped create the monster, or at least failed sufficiently to discourage Robinson’s antics for over a year. Oh, well, another season, another scapegoat . . . or three.
As long as the statistically spellbound insist on bombarding us with updates on Don Nelson’s painstaking climb toward Lenny Wilkens’ record (1,332 wins; 24 in front of the Warriors coach, it’s only fair to note how many losses Nellie needs to tie Lenny’s all-time mark (1,155) in that category as well.
The answer is 140; as long as team owner Chris Cohan’s loyalty remains blind and he continues to allow perturbed talent to be discarded without getting fair value in return, Nellie should have no trouble forging to the front late next season.
But first Nellie must catch runnerup Bill Fitch (1,106). Again, that shouldn’t be a problem if he retains Keith Smart’s assistance whenever health issues prevent him from making an office visit.
While sidelined for 10 games with pneumonia, Smart helped his boss position Dick Motta (1,017) in the rear mirror at No. 4 by dropping seven games.
The Fearless Foursome: Wilkens, Fitch, Nelson and Motta.
Peter Vecsey covers the NBA for the New York Post.
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