In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The Boston Celtics capture their 15th NBA Championship, winning a drama-filled seven-game series against the Los Angeles Lakers. In the finale the Celtics outlast the Lakers 111-102 in a saunalike Boston Garden, ushering a new era of basketball as the series began the league’s boom in popularity centered around the rivalry of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Bird would win this battle as he was named NBA Finals MVP.
The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers had been familiar foes in the 1960s, with the Celtics seven meetings in the NBA Finals all won by Boston between 1959-1969. The Celtics were in the NBA Finals for the first time in three years after posting a record of 62-20 under K.C. Jones as Larry Bird won the first of three straight MVP awards. The Lakers led by Pat Riley meanwhile were in the NBA Finals for the third straight season and the fourth time in five years, having won the title in 1980 and 1982. Led by Magic Johnson, they had a record of 54-28 in the regular season.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson first caught the nation’s attention in 1979 when Magic’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird and Indiana State in the NCAA Basketball Championship Game. The game helped usher in new excitement for the NCAA Tournament and helped spark what has become March Madness. Before their arrival, NBA Finals games were often shown on tape delay. Now with the two clashing in the NBA Finals, a boom was about to take the NBA to new heights as the stars were aligning for what may have not only been the best NBA Finals in the history of the sport but the most important as well.
Boston and Los Angeles two cities that could not be any more different. Larry Bird and Magic Johnson two players that could not be any more different. The Celtics and Lakers two teams that could not be any more different were at the heart of the drama that would take the NBA from a niche sport to a worldwide spectacle. For the Lakers, it was glitz and glamour and the smile of Magic Johnson as movie stars sat in the front row of the Forum. The Lakers had become the it team in the it town, it was truly an era of Showtime. Even their coach Pat Riley looked like a Hollywood Agent with his fine Italian suits and slicked back hear. The Celtics were bruisers they played hard and aggressive and had the personality of their dour star Larry Bird. Grit and determination were at the heart of the Celtics, as they played in the NBA’s oldest arena.
The Celtics after two disappointing seasons had a renewed purpose for the 1983/84 season, as they had the best record in the NBA at 62-20 under new coach K.C. Jones. A former member of the Celtics during their championship years, Jones was the perfect coach for a new era of Celtics. He was soft-spoken, as a player he was the workhorse guard who helped run the offense in the backcourt. It was the first season of the NBA expanding to a 16-team playoff format. In the first round, the Celtics beat the Washington Bullets in four, while the New York Knicks gave Boston all they could handle stretching the series to seven games, with the home team winning each game. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics needed just five games to dispatch the Milwaukee Bucks. Out West, as they often did, the Lakers had a cakewalk to the NBA Finals sweeping the Kansas City Kings, beating the Dallas Mavericks in five and needing six games to eclipse the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference Finals.
In the NBA Finals, the Lakers looked to used their athleticism as a weapon against the Celtics and came out running as they scored 34 points in the first quarter on the way to taking the opener at the Boston Garden 115-109 as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored a game-high 32 points to lead the way. Looking to even the series, Boston was more physical in Game 2 and held an early lead, thanks to a 36-point first quarter. However, the Lakers continued to live on the fast break and the playing making of Magic Johnson as he just fell short of a triple-double with 27 points, ten rebounds, and nine assists. The Lakers had a chance to take a 2-0 lead back to Los Angeles, however, Gerald Henderson stole a pass from James Worthy and tied the game with 18 seconds left on a layup. The Lakers would dribble out the clock and send the game to overtime, where Scott Wedman hit the game-winning shot with 14 seconds left as the Celtics won 124-111 with Larry Bird scoring 27 points with 13 rebounds.
The series shifted to The Forum for Game 3, and it was all Lakers as they ran rings around the Celtics, winning 137-104, as they blew the game open with a 47-point third quarter performance. A frustrated Larry Bird who had a game-high 30 points was visibly angry after the game as he called the rest of his team soft. The Celtics got the message and came out in Game 4 looking to show their captain they were not soft and were not going down without a fight as Kevin McHale sent an early message with a close line of Kurt Rambis. This ramped up the intensity of the game to 11 as Bird showed his own aggressiveness with a shove of Michael Cooper. The Lakers though appeared to be on the way to winning the game, as they led by five, with under a minute to play. However, Magic Johnson had a bad turnover to Robert Parrish and missed two free throws, as the Celtics forced overtime. In overtime, it was Larry Bird making the big shot when it mattered most with a jumper over Magic with 16 seconds left as he scored 29 points with 21 boards in a 129-125 Boston win to even the series.
The series returned to Boston for Game 5, with Celtics fans derisively calling the Lakers star point guard Tragic Johnson for his late-game meltdown two nights earlier. On a hot and humid June 8th in Boston, used psychological warfare as they appeared cool a cucumber in the Boston Garden which had no air conditioning while the Lakers began to wilt in the nearly 100-degree heat. The Celtics wore sweatpants as they came out for pregame warmups, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar needed oxygen on the Lakers bench. The heat even proved too much for referee Hugh Evans who became dehydrated and fainted. The Celtics meanwhile dominated Los Angeles, winning 121-103 as Bird had 34 points and 17 rebounds.
By Game 6, the NBA Finals had turned into open warfare as the Lakers looked to answer the Celtics physical play as James Worthy body checked Cedric Maxwell into the stanchion under the net. It was Kareem who was the most physical scoring 30 points with ten boards as the Lakers won 119-108 to send the series to a seventh game. As the game came to an end Maxwell was hit with a cup of beer demonstrating the intensity had boiled over to the fans in Los Angeles.
Game 7 at the Boston Garden had always been the Celtics domain. They seemed to know where every bolt and deadspot in the Parquette floor was. Fans were brought in to try and cool the arena, but it remained a steamy 91 degrees as the NBA Championship came down to one last game. Both teams were at their best when the game began as they played evenly over the first 12 minutes with the game tied 30-30 at the end of the first quarter. With Cedric Maxwell having the game of his life with 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, the Celtics took over in the second quarter. Leading by 14 at one point in the third quarter, Boston had to fight off one last charge as the Lakers cut the deficit to three with one minute left. Maxwell who had been key all game knocked the ball away from Magic Johnson, as Dennis Johnson sealed the game with a pair of free throws, as the Celtics celebrated a 111-102 win. Larry Bird would win NBA Finals MVP honors with 27.4 points and 14 rebounds per game.