The Kansas City Kings had shut down Moses Malone. They had turned an 18-point deficit into a four-point deficit in four minutes. They had the Houston Rockets and 16,121 fans in the Summit rattled.
Enter Robert Reid. When Houston Coach Del Harris talks about his team's late season surge, he does not talk about Malone or Calvin Murphy, his two stars.He talks about Robert Reid. Tonight, Reid showed why scoring six straight points in the final two minutes to finish with 20 as the Rockets hung on for a 92-88 victory and a 2-1 lead in their best-of-seven NBA Western Conference final series. Game 4 is here Sunday.
The Rockets, leading 78-60 with 8:30 left were falling apart. The Kings, who specialize in close finishes, had cut that lead to 86-82 with 2:31 remaining. Malone, who had 12 points on five of 17 shooting, was not going to get it done this night. Murphy, high man with 23 points, could not get open on 6-7 Ernie Grunfeld.
"Robert just had to do it," Murphy said. "He had the ball and the shot, he took it." Reid, a 6-8 fifth year forward, backed in on Scott Wedman. He stopped 18 feet out and shot. Swish.
Now it was 88-82. Grunfeld cut the lead to 88-84 with a drive. The clock was under two minutes. Down came the Rockets again. This time Reid took the ball into the lane, spun and scored again as Wedman fouled him with 1:25 to play. He missed both chances for the three-point play and it was 90-84. Reggie King, guarded by Malone most of the night, made a jumper with 1:02 left and it was 90-86.
The Kings, who shot 60 percent during the last quarter, seemed unstoppable. So was Reid. For the third straight time he went up, this time from 18 feet and again, he found net. It was 92-86 with 42 seconds left. King scored the last of his 22 points with 35 seconds remaining but that was it. The Rockets ran the clock under 10 seconds before losing the ball and the Kings did not score again.
"We just let them get a little too far ahead," said King Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. "I thought we did a great job coming back on them but you have to give Reid the credit. Scotty (Wedman) was right on him and he made three tough shots in a row."
"The clock dictated it," Reid said. "There wasn't any specific play or anything but when the 24 (second clock) got down I was one-on-one and the other guys were guarded. I had to shoot."
Although it will not appear anywhere in the box score, Murphy -- the Rocket offensive catalyst most of the night -- deserves an assist for Reid's tough shooting.
Reid missed his first two shots tonight but not because he was shooting wrong. "He was pulling the trigger without aiming," Murphy said. As he came into the game with 3:56 left in the first quarter. Murphy pointed that out to Reid who made nine of 12 the rest of the night.
Reid's heroics overshadowed the coaching acrobatics of Harris and Fitzsimmons and a 10 of 13 (20 points) shooting night by the Rockets Billy Paultz.
Both coaches predicated their game plans around slowing down the other's star. Each time Malone came anywhere near the ball, he was double- or triple-teamed by the Kings. In game 2 that strategy worked because none of the other Rockets could score from outside. Tonight Murphy, Paultz and Mike Dunleavy (five of seven) made the Kings pay for their strategy.
"If they're going to play Moses that way guys are going to be open," Paultz said. "The other night we didn't take advantage of it, tonight we did. We have to hit those open shots if they're going to play Moses that way."
At the other end, Harris watched King, who had destroyed his team with 31 points Wednesday, score the Kings' first eight points. Then he made his move, putting Malone on King.
"We had to at least slow him down," Harris said. "He's just so quick in the lane. Paultz has height, but Moses has height and quickness."
Malone needed both. He held King scoreless for almost two quarters before the 6-6 forward came on in the fourth during the Kings drive.
But the best supporting player down the stretch was Reid. "That was the difference," Harris said."At this stage of the playoffs you need three or four guys cooking to win. If Reid doesn't make his shots, we probably don't win no matter what Moses or Murphy do.
"He's been good in two games and bad in one of this series. Guess which two we won."