In the mid-1990s the Los Angeles Lakers were in a transition between the ‘Showtime’ era of the 1980s to the Kobe-Shaq era of the early 2000s. Young players like Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, and Cedric Ceballos led the way along with veterans like Sedale Threatt and Vlade Divac.
During this time, one of their biggest rivals was the Seattle Supersonics. Both teams were in the Pacific Division, so they saw plenty of each other during the regular season, and both were led by young, exciting point guards in Van Exel and the SuperSonics’ Gary Payton.
Van Exel and Payton were both major trash-talkers so things often got heated between the two, making for extremely intense matchups and that would only increase when the two sides met in the first round of the 1995 playoffs.
The Lakers had taken a 2-1 series lead and were looking to close out the series at home. The Sonics meanwhile, were hoping to get the series back to Seattle for a decisive Game 5. On May 4, 1995, Van Exel made sure that didn’t happen.
Nick ‘The Quick’ led the Lakers with 34 points, including seven 3-pointers, to go along with nine assists as L.A. defeated the Sonics 114-110 to eliminate them with a 3-1 series win.
This was classic Van Exel. He always stepped up when it mattered most and even though he was only in his second season, and going up against a future Hall of Famer in Payton, he was the best player on the court and refused to let his team lose.
Six Lakers scored in double-figures including a double-double (23 points, 11 rebounds) from Divac, and 17 points from Ceballos, but it was Van Exel leading the charge.
Payton did everything he could with 27 points on the night, while Shawn Kemp added 26 points and 18 rebounds, but it just wasn’t enough.
This era of Lakers basketball may not have brought championship success, but they were young, exciting, and fun to watch. On this day it was Van Exel showing why he remains one of the more beloved Lakers players of the time.