Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers battled the ghosts of past failures in Game 6 against the Boston Celtics.
Every day throughout NBA Playoffs, TSF will highlight a classic game/series and an individual performance. Today, we look back at the 1985 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers.
The 1985 NBA Finals meeting between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers was tailor made for the Celtics to repeat as NBA champions — and in the process — defeating the Lakers for the ninth time in an NBA championship series. After the 1984 Finals, Boston Celtics owner Red Auerbach complained to NBA Commissioner David Stern about the 2-2-1-1-1 format and the toll of frequent travel between road games. Stern quickly changed the format to 2-3-2 in time for the 1985 postseason.
The Celtics were the reigning NBA champions, finishing with an NBA-best 63-19 record. Boston defeated the Lakers in seven games the previous season — with the clincher in fabled Boston Garden. The Celtics were led by defending two-time MVP Larry Bird. Anchoring the Boston offense were point guard Dennis Johnson and frontcourt stalwarts Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.
The Lakers finished with a 62-20 record and entered The Finals with an 11-2 record. These were the days of “Showtime” led by point guard Magic Johnson — who took the Game 7 loss the previous season as hard as anyone.
The teams split the season series, with each team winning on their home floor.
In Game 1, the Celtics reminded the Lakers the road to the world championship would take them through Boston — which meant winning at least one game away from Los Angeles. In a game come to be known as the “Memorial Day Massacre”, the Celtics crushed the Lakers 148-114 to take a 1-0 lead. Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was so distraught by his 12 point, 3 rebound performance, he apologized to his teammates after the game.
Abdul-Jabbar (30 points, 17 rebounds, 8 assists and 3 blocks) and the Lakers bounced back to win Game 2 in Boston 109-102. As the scene shifted to the West coast the Lakers blasted the Celtics 136-111 in Game 3. Larry Bird — who shot 17 of 42 from the field continued to struggle as injuries to his back and right elbow limited his effectiveness in the series. Stellar defense from Lakers stopper Michael Cooper also played a huge hand in shifting the momentum of the series.
The Celtics evened the series up at two games each with a 107-105 victory on a jumper by guard Dennis Johnson as time expired. Magic Johnson recorded a triple-double with 20 points 11 boards and 12 assists in a losing effort.
Los Angeles took a commanding 3-2 lead in the series with a 120-111 victory. Both Dennis and Magic Johnson handed out 17 assists for their respective teams, but it was the 36-point effort of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar which placed the Lakers on the cusp of history.
Eleven current Hall of Famers, including head coaches K.C. Jones and Pat Riley participated in the 1985 NBA Finals. In Game 6, the Lakers sought to accomplish the impossible — close out the Celtics in Boston Garden. Los Angeles was powered by a driven Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — who refused to be denied. “The Captain” finished with 29 points and won only his second NBA Finals MVP (1971), averaging 25.7 points, 9 rebounds and 5.2 assists. Magic Johnson finished with his second triple-double of the series with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists.
More importantly, the Lakers exorcised the demons of past championship heartbreak against the Celtics. One of sports’ great rivalries between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson would grow to epic heights. Both teams meet again in 1987, 2008 and 2010 with the Lakers winning two of three.