The Houston Rockets upset the defending National Basketball Association champion Los Angeles Lakers, 89-86, today by slowing down their foes and getting 23 points from Moses Malone in a game Houston Coach Del Harris called a street fight.
The Rockets also made all but one of their 22 free throws -- the Lakers missed 13 of their 35 -- and virtually shut down Earvin (Magic) Johnson, hero of last year's Laker triumph, as they eliminated Los Angeles from the playoffs, two games to one.
The victory advanced the Rockets to the Western Conference semifinals, beginning Tuesday night, against San Antonio.
"We got the Lakers to play our slowdown game rather than their running game," said veteran forward Billy Paultz. "Los Angeles played hard but missed some easy shots. I was very satisfied with my defense on Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) because he had to work for his shots and never got his sky hook going."
Paultz said the Rocket defense was responsible for the Lakers' apparent lack of skill on the court.
Houston won the game on Mike Dunleavy's 15-foot jumper with 15 seconds remaining and two clinching free throws by Malone.
With the score 85-85 and 2:20 remaining, both teams went cold. Johnson went to the free throw line with 30 seconds to play having three foul shots to make two and made just one to give the Lakers an 86-85 lead. Dunleavy then sank his jumper and Malone doomed the Lakers at the foul line. d
Dunleavy, a 6-foot guard, had played poorly until the end.He had committed five fouls while scoring eight points in 14 minutes and watched most of the game from the bench. But when it counted, Dunleavy was the man Houston wanted to take the shot.
"We had some trouble getting the ball into me, then the outside shooters took over," Malone said.
The Lakers kept their locker room closed for 20 minutes after the game, and when the media were admitted, Johnson said, "The ball just didn't fall today." He had made but two shots and six free throws, and it was his short shot with five seconds left that forced the Lakers to foul Malone.
"I can't say this or that caused us to lose," Johnson said. "I was hit on the elbow on that last layup and held back instead of following through on the shot. I was so sure I was fouled."
Forward Jim Chones added, "My feeling is not so much frustration, but what happened? We missed easy shots. It was a horrible game and a horrible day."
"Both teams played extra hard and cautious defense," Laker Coach Paul Westhead said."With 15 seconds left Magic's instructions were to take the ball down and either pass to Abdul-Jabbar or shoot."
Abdul-Jabbar was high scorer for the Lakers with 32 points.