In a game Utah Jazz fans will no doubt immediately compare to Game 4 of the Jazz's 1984 first-round playoff series with Denver, Adrian Dantley, now wearing the livery of the Detroit Pistons, had a 34-point, four-rebound, four-assist performance Tuesday night in the opening game of the NBA Final Series.
Dantley was the leading scorer on the floor as Detroit rolled to an easy 105-93 win over the Los Angeles Lakers in front of a sellout crowd of 17,505 in the Forum.The 6-foot-5, 210-pound forward, who played seven seasons for the Jazz from 1980 through 1986 before being traded to Detroit for Kelly Tripucka and Kent Benson, made 14 of 16 shots from the field and six of seven free throws as he played a Detroit team-high 43 minutes.
It was a performance in a league with Dantley's 39-point, eight-rebound, seven-assist and two-steal night against Denver in 1984, when the Nuggets held a 2-1 series advantage going into game 4 in McNichols Arena in Denver. Woody Paige, a sports writer in Denver, wrote before the game that "The Jazz are done. Stick a fork in them," after which Dantley responded with his take-the-game-over effort - which ranks as easily the best single-game performance in Jazz franchise playoff history.
The Jazz won the game, 129-124, and went on to win the decisive Game 5 two nights later in the Salt Palace.
As with the '84 Jazz series, Dantley was inspired by doomsday predictions made prior to last night's series opener.
"Everybody was expecting us to lose in four or five (ames)," he said. "Well, we've got some guys who are very hungry on this team."
Himself being one of them.
"I've been in the league 12 years," he said. "I hope this is the year for me. I hope this is the year for a championship."
Dantley said he does not expect to operate in such freedom Thursday night, when Game 2 of the best-of-seven Championship Series is played in the Forum, as he enjoyed Tuesday night.
"They'll double team me," he said. "Like all teams do, they'll have to double team me when I get the ball. If they don't, they'll be in trouble."
He was speaking from experience.
For much of Tuesday's game, the Lakers stayed with single coverage whenever Dantley got the ball, leaving A.C. Green the chore of trying to defend one of the best post-up players in the history of the NBA. Dantley scored at will.
"I was surprised I had that much freedom," said Dantley. "I wanted the ball in my hands. But I can't expect to score that much Thursday. I've already told Joe Dumars and Isiah (homas) to be ready. If I'm double teamed then one of them will be open."
Through 17 postseason games this year with Detroit, this was Dantley's highest scoring game. His previous high was 24 against the Chicago Bulls in the opening round. He entered the Championship Series as the Pistons' No. 2 playoff scorer, with 18.6 points per game compared to Thomas's 22.9 per game.
"It was a good feeling tonight," said Dantley. "We came in here wanting to get a split. Now we've got it, and we want ( win) Thursday too.