This series of articles will feature a countdown of the top-16 greatest Lakers of all-time, as decided by the followers of Lakers UK on Twitter and Instagram.
Starting at number 16 – Michael Cooper. We take a look at one of his best games as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers.
Cooper played his whole 12 season career with the Lakers. Between 1978-90 he played 28,379 minutes in 1,041 games, scoring 9,310 points. Remaining a fan favourite among the older generation of Laker fans. It definitely isn’t an unpopular opinion that Coopers number 21 should be hanging among the greats at Staples Center, despite never playing there of course.
Along with playing over 1,000 games for the organisation, Cooper won 5 championships with the purple and gold. Becoming what many believe, a crucial piece to the Showtime Lakers’ success. Playing as a 6th man for the Lakers, Cooper only started 98 games in his career. Becoming the first player to win the Defensive Player Of the Year award coming off the bench, he could truly be considered a transcendent player for the time.
Many would remember him for being the victim of Julius Erving‘s ‘Cradle Dunk’ in the ’83 Finals. However, Coop had a few crucial moments when donning a Lakers uniform. Including a great performance in Game 6 of the ’80 Finals, with Magic Johnson starting at center production had a trickle-down effect, with Cooper scoring 16 points in a rare start for the 2 Guard. Another example would be the game-winner he hit in the Conference Semi-Finals against the Utah Jazz in the ’88 Playoffs.
But for this recap we have picked game 2 of the ’87 Finals against the Boston Celtics. Being a crucial game in clinching the ’87 championship, with Cooper playing a major role in the game.
The 20-10 Run:
Its the 4th of June 1987, game 2 of the NBA Finals. The Los Angeles Lakers are leading the series 1-0 against the Boston Celtics. With strong performances from both Magic Johnson and James Worthy in the first game, each notching double-doubles, helping the Lakers to take a lead in the series beating their rivals 126-113.
The Celtics started the game with the mindset of stopping Johnson, with him scoring 29 points in the game 1 victory. This put emphasis on the other guards to step up. Cooper came off the bench of course, as he always did. Checking into the game partway through the first quarter, coming in for Johnson.
Cooper had a couple of threes in the first quarter. One coming when Worthy was doubled in the right short corner, leaving Cooper wide open from the top of the 3-point line. The second came off another Worthy double, but he passes it out to Johnson this time. The world-class point guard then drove hard to the center of the paint. He then jumps and throws it out to Cooper stood all alone on the left-wing, he rises and sinks it. The Lakers led at the end of the first quarter, 38-34.
Then came ‘The 20-10 Run’ in the second quarter, in which Cooper either scored or assisted on every point for the Lakers. The first of which came in the form of a simple assist to Kareem Abdul-Jabaar for his patented skyhook out of the right low post. Cooper then hit another three, running it up the court on the fastbreak he stopped at the top of the 3-point line. Hesitating for a second he must have thought ‘Should I?’, then in a split second SPLASH down went another three!
His ‘Points Responsible For’ total over the run now sitting at 5, nevermind being 3/3 from behind the arc for the game. With the game score now standing at 52-42 in the Lakers favour. He gets another assist on the fastbreak, giving it to Abdul-Jabaar who gets a wide-open dunk.
Cooper then gets the opportunity to extend his 3-point streak. Abdul-Jabaar is doubled in the right low post. He kicks it to Johnson who exhibits great vision in sailing a pass across court to the left-wing where Cooper is patiently waiting all alone. He fires away, the ball bouncing high off the rim before dropping in. The total now at 11.
Cooper then gets a few simple assists, one coming from feeding Abdul-Jabbar in the low post for yet another beautiful skyhook. Another a fast break with a quick pass off to Mychal Thompson who then finishes it in the post. A third as he grabs the rebound and pushes it, resulting in a 3 on 1. Coop makes the right decision and passes it to Byron Scott who finishes with the rocking dunk. The total now sits at 16.
Cooper then gets another scoring chance, given the ball off the rebound he pushes it once again. Expecting the drive, Larry Bird and Robert Parish wait in the paint. Seeing this, Cooper decides to take the pull up jumper from the foul line, it hits back iron and drops through. Another assist follows as Cooper gets another fastbreak opportunity. Driving off the rebound he finds Scott who is wide open in the right short corner, he drains the jumper to complete a 20-10 run for Cooper and the Lakers.
But the great play of Cooper doesn’t stop there, with the game score now at 67-52 Worthy tips a Celtics pass. The ball is then handed off to Cooper who runs it up the floor. Seeing Parish between him and the bucket, Cooper sees the trailing Worthy who goes up for the easy lay-up. The Forum is on its feet, loving every minute!
The first half ends with the Lakers leading 75-56. Cooper finished the first half with 14 points and 8 assists. Going onto to finish with 21 and 9 as the Lakers complete the blowout, beating the Celtics 141-122. Along with that, the Lakers went on to win the series 4-2, winning them their fourth championship of the decade. The 8 assists Cooper had in the second quarter of game 2 tied an NBA Finals record at the time, a truly historic night for Michael Cooper.
Cooper was selected with the 60th pick in the 1978 NBA Draft, after playing 2 years at a Pasadena City College and 2 years at The University of New Mexico. Going onto be an 8-time All-Defensive Team, a Defensive Player of The Year and a 5-time NBA Champion.
Michael Cooper certainly deserves his place on this list as a true Laker great.
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