Friday Flashback: 1980s Boston Celtics-Los Angeles Lakers Rivalry
Posted On May 18, 2018
I used to follow the National Basketball Association (NBA) playoffs – especially in the 1980s. Okay, I will confess that I was actually an Atlanta Hawks’ fan but let’s just keep that between us okay?
In the 1980s, the most intense rivalry was between the Boston Celtics led by Larry Bird and the Los Angeles Lakers with Magic Johnson with “Showtime”. The NBA finals between these two teams were always epic. When this time of year rolls around I always think back to these games. These two teams faced each other in three NBA finals in the 1984, 1985 and 1987. The Lakers won two of three in these matchups.
In the 1984 finals, this was the first time with the Magic Johnson–Larry Bird pair facing off in the finals. After the Lakers won Game 1, a crucial steal in Game 2 led to a tie game and the Celtics were able to win in overtime to tie the series. The Lakers won Game 3 easily and almost won Game 4, but were again thwarted. Now tied 2-2, the Lakers and Celtics each held serve at their home court to send the series to Boston for Game 7. Game 5 was a classic, with Bird coming up with a huge game in one of the (literally) hottest games ever (97 °F (36 °C)) in the non-air conditioned Boston Garden. Game 7 was also contested in hot temperatures that hovered around 91 °F (33 °C). The score was close but the contest eventually went to the Celtics. Cedric Maxwell scored 24 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in the decisive Game 7 victory.
May 27, 1984 at Boston: Lakers 115, Celtics 109
May 31, 1984 at Boston: Celtics 124, Lakers 121 ot
June 3, 1984 at Los Angeles: Lakers 137, Celtics 104
June 6, 1984 at Los Angeles: Celtics 129, Lakers 125 ot
June 8, 1984 at Boston: Celtics 121, Lakers 103
June 10, 1984 at Los Angeles: Lakers 119, Celtics 108
June 12, 1984 at Boston: Celtics 111, Lakers 102
(Celtics win series 4 gams to 3)
The following year, the Boston Celtics were looking to repeat as NBA Champions for the first time since the 1968–69 season. The Celtics had homecourt advantage for the second year in a row as they finished the regular season with a 63-19 record while the Los Angeles Lakers compiled a 62-20 record. The Lakers looked to bounce back from the previous year’s painful loss to the Celtics in the championship series, and were still seeking to beat Boston for the first time ever in NBA Finals history. In the series clincher the Lakers held the Celtics to just 18 third quarter points to blow open a game tied at halftime. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 29 points and James Worthy 28 as Los Angeles became the first opposing team clinch a title in the Boston Garden. Magic Johnson dished out a game-high 14 assists. Celtics’ forward Kevin McHale scored 32 points and grabbed 16 rebounds–both game-highs–before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Larry Bird’s dismal shooting continued as he hit just 12 of 29 shots.
May 27, 1985 at Boston: Celtics 148, Lakers 114
May 30, 1985 at Boston: Lakers 109, Celtics 102
June 2, 1985 at Los Angeles: Lakers 136, Celtics 111
June 5, 1985 at Los Angeles: Celtics 107, Lakers 105
June 7, 1985 at Los Angeles: Lakers 120, Celtics 111
June 9, 1985 at Boston: Lakers 111, Celtics 100
(Lakers win series 4 games to 2)
After winning the championship over the Houston Rockets in 1986, the Celtics once again faced the Lakers in the 1987 finals and seeking to repeat. The Lakers finished the regular season with a league-best 65–17 record. Head coach Pat Riley made a pair of strategical moves, shifting the offensive focus to Magic Johnson, while acquiring center Mychal Thompson via trade midway through the season. Both moves helped alleviate the load off of the aging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who turned 40 during the playoffs. Also taking a greater role in the Showtime offense were A. C. Green and Byron Scott, who supplanted Kurt Rambis and Michael Cooper in the starting lineup. With a 3 games to 2 lead, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar arrived for Game 6 with a shaved head and a determination to close out this series. For a while, though, it appeared like the Celtics would steal it. Magic Johnson had only four points at the half and Dennis Johnson poured in 18 for the Celtics on his way to a game-high 33 as Boston led 56-51 at intermission. The Lakers scored the first two baskets of the second half to cut it to 56-55. On the Celtics’ ensuing possession, the ball came loose toward the sideline and James Worthy gave chase. Worthy went to the floor, batted the ball inbounds to a breaking Magic Johnson, and Magic slammed home a breakaway dunk. This gave the Lakers their first lead of the game since 13-12, 57-56, and they never trailed from that point, winning 106-93.
June 2, 1987 at Los Angeles: Lakers 126, Celtics 113
June 4, 1987 at Los Angeles: Lakers 141, Celtics 122
June 7, 1987 at Boston: Celtics 109, Lakers 103
June 9, 1987 at Boston: Lakers 107, Celtics 106
June 11, 1987 at Boston: Celtics 123, Lakers 108
June 14, 1987 at Los Angeles: Lakers 106, Celtics 93
(Lakers win series 4 games to 2)
The Celtics and Lakers would not meet again in the NBA Finals until 2010.
In the 1980s, the Lakers appeared in eight NBA Finals winning five titles. The Celtics played in five finals winning three.