On This Date in Sports June 9, 1985: Lakers Final Slay Green Dragon

in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The Los Angeles Lakers finally end their jinx against the Boston Celtics, winning the NBA Finals in six games. It was the ninth time the Lakers and Celtics faced each other in the NBA Finals; the previous eight, including 1984, were won by Boston. The Celtics started the series with a 148-114 win, but the Lakers proved resilient, closing the series with a 111-100 win at the Boston Garden in Game 6.

The rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics was born in the 1960s. Between 1959 and 1969, the two teams met in the NBA Finals seven times. In each meeting, the result was the same, a Boston victory. The rivalry was reborn in 1984 when the Celtics beat the Lakers in a classic seven-game battle which sprang the dawning of the NBA’s renaissance as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, renewing their rivalry from the 1979 NCAA Championship, helped take the NBA to new heights in popularity.   

After winning their 15th NBA Championship, the Boston Celtics posted a record of 63-19 under coach KC Jones. Larry Bird won his second consecutive MVP for Boston, averaging 28.7 points and 10.5 rebounds per game. In the playoffs, the Celtics cruised to the NBA Finals, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers in four games, the Detroit Pistons in six games, and the Philadelphia 76ers in five games. 

After their battle with the Celtics in 1984, the Lakers focused heavily on a rematch, as they posted a record of 62-20 under coach Pat Riley.  On the way to their fourth straight appearance in the NBA Finals, the Lakers swept the Phoenix Suns in three games. In five games, they blitzed the Portland Trail Blazers and buried the Denver Nuggets in five games in Western Conference Finals. 

The NBA Finals began on Memorial Day at the Boston Garden. It started with Danny Ainge scoring 15 points in the first quarter as Boston scored 38 points in the first quarter. The dominance continued in the second quarter, as the Celtics added 41 points and led at the half, 79-49. Six Celtics scored 13 or more points, with Kevin McHale and Scott Wedman scoring 26 points. It was all Celtics, as the Lakers were humiliated 148-114 in what would become known as “The Memorial Day Massacre.” 

After their embarrassing loss in Game 1, the Lakers came out big in Game 2 as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 30 points, 17 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocked shots. Larry Bird matched Kareem’s 30, but with Michael Cooper scoring 22 points off the bench, the Lakers won 109-102 to even the series.

The 1985 NBA Finals brought forth a significant change as it began a three-decade period in which the series was played under a 2-3-2 format with the three middle games in Los Angeles. Traditionally the seven-game series was held under a 2-2-1-1-1 format. The first of three straight games at the Forum saw the Lakers' showtime at its best as they beat down Boston 136-111. It was a total team effort for LA, as James Worthy scored 29 points, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 26 points with 14 rebounds and seven assists; Magic Johnson meanwhile had 17 points, nine rebounds, and 16 assists. 

Now trailing 2-1, Boston needed to bounce back in Game 4. The game was tight throughout. The Celtics got considerable efforts from Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, and Dennis Johnson. McHale led all scorers with 28 points, while Bird bouncing back from a rough Game 3, scored 26 points. Dennis Johnson, meanwhile, had 27 points, including a jumper in the final seconds, to win the game 107-105. 

Game 5 would prove to be the critical game of the series. Instead of being in Boston under the old format, it was the Lakers’ last chance to play on their home floor. Bird continued to struggle in Game 5, scoring 20 just points. Robert Parrish tried to pick up the pace with 26, while McHale and DJ had 22. Meanwhile, the Lakers got 36 points from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who added seven rebounds and seven assists. James Worthy had 33 points with eight rebounds, while Magic Johnson had 26 points and 17 assists to lead the Lakers to a 120-111 victory. 

The Celtics had never allowed another team to celebrate an NBA Championship on their Parquet Floor. The game was tight through the first half, with the Lakers pulling away in the third quarter. It was another rough night for Larry Bird as he made just 12 of 29 shots. Bird was down across the board for the series, averaging 23.8 ppg. In the final game, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the way for the Lakers with 29 points. For the series, he averaged 25.7 points, with nine rebounds, 5.2 assists, and one and a half blocks per game. At 38, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar became the oldest player to win the NBA Finals MVP.