In Game 4 of the 1987 Western Conference Semifinals, Golden State Warriors guard Eric “Sleepy” Floyd delivered one of the most unlikely performances in NBA playoff history, scoring 29 points in the 4th against the Showtime Lakers.
1987 marked the first playoff appearance by the Golden State Warriors in nine years. After finishing the season with a 42-40 record under head coach George Karl, the Warriors faced the Utah Jazz in the first round.
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They lost first two games in Utah and fell into an early 0-2 hole. They would bounce back and took Games 3, 4, and 5 to become the first team to overcome a 0-2 series deficit in a best of five series in NBA history. Their reward was a date with the powerhouse Los Angeles Lakers.
The Showtime Lakers were one of the greatest teams in the history of the league. In 1987, Golden State was just a brief stop for Los Angeles on their March to the sixth of their eight finals appearances in the decade and the fourth of their five NBA titles during that period. Their roster was legendary. Many of the players on that team remain household names today: Kareem, Worthy, Magic, Cooper, Rambis, Scott, Green, Thompson.
The Warriors were in the midst of their best season in the pre-Run TMC era. Center Joe Barry Carroll made was named to the All-Star Team for the first time in his career. Power forward Larry Smith finished the regular season seventh in the NBA in rebounds per game with 11.5. Pervis Short and second-year guard Chris Mullin both contributed over 15 points per game and secondary players like Rod Higgins, Terry Teagle, Greg Ballard, and Jerome Whitehead provided depth.
Eric “Sleepy” Floyd
Sleepy Floyd may have been the most essential player on the team that year. The 1986-87 season was the best of his 15-year NBA career. Like Carroll, Floyd made his first All-Star – and only – All Star game. He averaged a double-double with 18.8 points per game and finished second to only Magic Johnson in assists per game with 10.3.
Floyd was a 6’3” point guard with a Jamal Crawford-esque game, due to his herky-jerky style and tendency to get hot at times. He was a gifted scorer, a good shooter and talented slasher who relied on quickness to get past defender and to the rim.
On the whole, he had an above average NBA career, but no one could have expected what occurred at what was then known as the Oakland–Alameda County Coliseum Arena on May 10, 1987.
The discrepancy in talent between the mighty Lakers and the underdog Warriors was apparent in the first three games of the series. The Lakers exposed the Warriors defense which ranked 21st in the NBA in defensive rating (out of 23) at 111.2. They ran the Warriors into oblivion with their speed, style, grace and ball movement and scored over 130 points in each game.
Despite commendable performances by the Golden State offense, they couldn’t keep up. They lost the first three games by a combined 49 points.
Game 4 appeared to be right on script through for the first 36 minutes. The Lakers outscored the Warriors each of the first three quarter, registering over 30 points each. They enter the 4th with a 102-88 lead.
Sleepy Floyd was having a good game and entered the final period with 22 points after dropping 10 in the third. But no one could have predicted what was about to happen.
Floyd immediately started strong. Running off a Larry Smith rebound, he caught the ball on the right wing, hesitated, then blew past Defensive Player of the Year Michael Cooper for a right-handed finger-roll from about eight-feet.
On the next possession, Floyd again beat Cooper off the dribble, spun around Mychael Thompson and put up another finger-roll. Thompson was called for a foul and Kurt Rambis was called for a goal-tend. Floyd went to the line and finished the three-point play.
Magic Johnson lost the ball on the other end of the court. It was picked up by forward Greg Ballard who threw it ahead to Floyd, who leaked out for an uncontested dunk. The Lakers called time.
After over-the-back foul by Rambis on a Johnson miss, the Warriors got the ball back and again went to Floyd. On what would become the theme of the game, Sleepy once again exploded left past Cooper to the hoop for an easy layup.
A miscommunication with Johnson at the 9:00 mark resulted in bad pass by James Worthy. Teagle picked up the loose ball and ran the break. He found Floyd running on the opposite side with a beautiful bounce pass and Floyd laid it in.
The Warriors had cut a 12-point deficit to 3-points in just three minutes. Golden State’s defense was not one of their calling cards, but they began to feed off of the swing in momentum and were now fully engaged.
The Warriors made what appeared to be two stops on the other end, but off a missed jumper, two Golden State players went for the rebound and fumbled the ball out of bounds. Then Sleepy, Sleepy poked the ball away from Byron Scott on the near sideline. It appeared to have gone off Scott, but the referees gave the ball to Los Angeles. The possession ended with two free-throws for Scott after he was fouled on a drive.
But Floyd answered immediately, driving middle for a finger-roll setup by a hesitation move at the left elbow that got Cooper off balance. Then he forced Cooper into a turnover at the other end, ran the floor and was reward by Smith with a bounce-pass that he took to the hoop for an easy bucket.
At this point, Sleepy Floyd had scored all but 2 of the Warriors 17 points in the quarter. He was just getting started.
He outhustled Johnson off a jump ball at the Lakers’ end, forcing Magic to foul to prevent an easy basket. He made both free throws.
Next possession, Floyd jumped a pass by Worthy intended for Scott on the baseline, brought the ball up and hit Scott with a ridiculous hesitation-crossover combo, drove left into a crowd of four Lakers and banked in a floater with 7:15 remaining.
The Warriors were now leading by three, 109-106 and were outscoring Los Angeles 30-4 in the quarter at this point.
Johnson would hit two free-throws to make it a one point game again. But on the other end, Floyd came back with what was probably the play of the game.
Scott picked him up on the perimeter but Floyd drove middle right past him as if he wasn’t there. He entered the paint, left the ground 10 feet from the hoop and, with Worthy and Kareem closing in, contorted his body mid-air, switched the ball to his left hand and laid it in off glass on the opposite side of the basket.
Approximately a minute later he ran the break off a Lakers turnover and took it straight at Cooper, into the paint and laid it in right it his grill.
To this point, all of Floyd’s points had come at the rim with layups, dunks, and floater. He made his next two baskets off of mid-range jumpers, both from the left elbow. On the first, which came the possession after his fastbreak layup, he faked a drive, embarrassed Cooper again, and got the roll on a funky-looking, splayed-leg step-back jumper.
His final bucket came with approximately 2:40 remaining. Cooper picked him up at half-court so he called for a screen-left from Carroll, used it, and nailed an 18-footer. It was his twelfth consecutive made field goal and gave him 27 points for the quarter.
Two free-throws with around 2:15 remaining gave him his finally tally:
He finished with 51 points for the game, 29 in the quarter and 39 for the half and the Warriors won 129-121. One of the over looked footnotes of this performance was that Floyd shared the ball in way that few players that hot would and reached his season average of 10 assists.
Sleepy Floyd was a good player, a good scorer and passer, but not someone many would have picked to put in a legendary performance against the mighty Lakers in the playoffs.
In all he set three playoff records that night: most points in a quarter in the NBA playoffs (29), most points in a half in the playoffs (39), and most consecutive made shots in playoff history (12).
How he got his points way a product of the times. When Klay Thompson went for 37 points in the 3rd quarter of a mid-season game against the Sacramento Kings in 2015, he did it by going 9 for 9 from three and 13 of 13 from the field on almost exclusively jump shots. Floyd, on the other hand, did not take a single three-pointer in the quarter – although he was 2-3 for the game – and only took two jumpers the whole period. Instead, Floyd did it by taking the ball directly at the defense and to the hoop.
The “Sleepy Floyd Game” was one of the most unexpected legendary performances in NBA history. The fact that it meant virtually nothing and that the Lakers would make easy work of Golden State in Game 5 is of little import. Sleepy Floyd had provided a beleaguered fan base something to cheer about and a memory to hold onto forever.