Before finally flipping off his videotape machine around 3 a.m. Wednesday, Pat Riley concluded that the Utah Jazz had cheated their way to a 101-97 win over the Los Angeles Lakers just hours before.
The Laker coach never actually used that word, but after meeting with the team later that morning, Riley told reporters that he had stopped counting after witnessing "21 blatant illegal defenses" used by Utah.Riley contended that the Jazz played a zone defense, with 7-foot-4 center Mark Eaton ignoring his man and remaining in the defensive lane. If Eaton were any more stationary, Riley's argument went, pigeons would have a new roosting place.
"Our frustration, more than anything else, came from attacking an illegal defense," Riley said. "(Eaton) definitely presents a major problem when he's legal. But the guidelines (for a legal defense) right now are definitely being abused.
"That's not a complaint, that's a reality. . . . I know that sounds like sour grapes, but that's the reality. If anyone wants to watch film with me for an hour or two to see for themselves, they're invited."
The officials who worked Tuesday's game, Bruce Alexander and Joe Crawford, called the Jazz twice for illegal defense violations, the second resulting in an automatic technical. They also whistled the Lakers for three such violations, the last coming with 52 seconds to play and Utah holding a three-point lead, 91-88.
It was a critical call. John Stockton converted the free throw, then 10 seconds later Karl Malone took a pass from Stockton and jammed home a basket that gave the Jazz a 94-88 edge.
Riley said that the call was correct. "(Michael) Cooper anticipated a pass and went to double-team (Thurl) Bailey in the post," Riley said.
In the National Basketball Association, it's illegal to double-team a player who doesn't have the ball.
But the Lakers were handicapped all night, Riley said, when officials gave Eaton license to set up underneath the basket. Eaton blocked seven shots, all in the first half, and disrupted the Laker offense so badly that the Lakers shot just 40.2 percent. Riley's figures showed that the Lakers made just 11 of 42 shots from the lane, not counting layups.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had the worst time of it, making just 3 of 13 shots, but James Worthy, who made 7 of 16, and Magic Johnson, 7 of 15, didn't fare much better. Abdul-Jabbar is shooting just 37 percent in the first two games, with Worthy at 47.1 percent. Johnson had as many turnovers in the first half, four, as assists.
"We've got to get (Eaton) out of there," Riley said. "We worked to do things to get him out of there. . . . They just squashed our talent, which is to post up Kareem, James and Earvin. They would not let us swing into the lane."
Riley said he had not complained this pointedly about officiating since the Laker-Philadelphia 76er playoff final in 1983, when he was fined $3,000 after a game in which the Lakers did not shoot a free throw in the second half.
When someone suggested that perhaps the Lakers should counter by playing a similar zone when Utah has the ball, Riley said, "I'll be frank: One of our problems is that we're too legalistic. . . . In our trapping defense, we trap the ball and rotate people. We don't plant people in the lane."
The Lakers abiding too closely to the letter of the law? Layden would find that a laugh. The Utah coach complained after the game Tuesday about the Lakers' "zone" trap. There are ways the Lakers can counteract the Utah "zone," if the officials continue to ignore it, according to Riley, who said the team sent film of the game to the league office.
"With our break, with great defense, with high-percentage basket opportunities, with our shooting from outside," Riley said. "You've all watched college basketball; that's it. The only thing is, we have a 24-second clock, which gives it a sense of urgency. The shot clock was designed for something else."
He also gave the Jazz some credit for outplaying the Lakers, too. "We didn't play well enough in enough areas to win the game," he said. "We did not have one player have what I consider a good complete game.
"(The Jazz) didn't make a better effort or out-hustle us, they just played a better game.
"We have to think about one win, Friday night. Our team will play better."