The Greatest NBA Playoff Game Ever

With the National Basketball Assn. in the midst of its annual two-month long tournament to crown a champion, TV Times commenced an informal survey of NBA announcers to determine the greatest game ever played during an NBA playoff series. The verdict: Game 6 of the 1985 NBA Finals between the Lakers and Boston Celtics.

First a bit of history.

Before 1985, the Lakers and the Boston Celtics had met eight times for the NBA title. The Celtics won each of those championships.

Included in that stretch: a seventh game loss in 1962 (when Frank Selvy missed a 10-foot shot at the buzzer before Boston won by three in overtime); two point seventh game losses in 1966 and 1969, and another seventh game loss in 1984.


But it was the following year, when the Lakers and Celtics met again for the NBA title, that left thousands of Southern Californians delighted and made for what many consider the most memorable playoff game ever in the National Basketball Assn.

The Celtics began the series with a 148-114 win in a game dubbed “The Memorial Day Massacre.” But the Lakers responded to win games two, three and five.

That set the stage for the memorable Game Six.

“To me that carried the most drama of any game,” said CBS’ NBA play-by-play announcer Dick Stockton, who will again call this year’s finals with analyst Hubie Brown.

“I said to myself, ‘If this gets any better, there ought to be an investigation,”’ said Pat O’Brien, who hosts “At the Half” and “The Basketball Show” for CBS. “I couldn’t believe the intensity. I was sitting courtside and there were goose bumps on my arms because it was so thrilling.”

It was a Sunday, June 9. It was hot in Boston--the Lakers were so concerned about the heat at the Boston Garden that they took oxygen into their locker room.

More foreboding than the conditions was the knowledge that the Celtics had never lost a deciding game in the championship series on their home court.

The Lakers’ chief nemesis turned out to be Celtics forward Kevin McHale, who finished with 32 points before fouling out with 5:21 left.

“McHale was great, and we never found an answer to him, but he didn’t beat us,” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said after the game.

McHale had 13 points in the first quarter, but the Lakers led 28-26. At halftime, the game was tied, 55-55, and McHale’s total had grown to 21.

The Lakers began the second half making their first five shots, four by the 38-year-old Abdul-Jabbar, and took the lead, 65-61. After Larry Bird sank a jumper to bring the Celtics to 65-63, the Lakers quickly moved to a 73-63 lead.

Abdul-Jabbar (the series’ most valuable player who had a team-high 29 points that afternoon) scored on a drive; James Worthy dunked off an assist by Magic Johnson. Then Byron Scott, a non-factor for the first five games, made his presence felt.

Scott dropped a jump shot from the baseline, then stole the ball from McHale, a play that led to Kurt Rambis tipping in a missed shot, giving the Lakers their 10-point margin.

“From that point on, it was ours,” coach Pat Riley said after the game.

Boston did have one spurt left, coming as close as 86-82 with 8:56 left. But two free throws each by Abdul-Jabbar and Worthy and a Rambis lay-up rebuilt the lead to 92-82.

“That’s what broke their backs,” Rambis said, as the closest the Celtics would come for the rest of the game was five points.

As Michael Cooper dribbled out the clock for the final seconds of the 111-100 win, listeners to the Lakers radio broadcast heard Chick Hearn proclaim, “At last, the suffering is over!”

O’Brien had the difficult assignment of going into the Celtics’ locker room.

“They were not too pleased,” O’Brien recalled. “There was a hush over Boston Garden. The ghosts of the Garden were scared off by that one.”

Following the broadcast, O’Brien went into the Lakers locker room.

“Magic was sitting by himself in the trainer’s room saying, ‘I did it, I did it,’ ” O’Brien said. “They were so happy to get it done.”

A season later, the Lakers were upset by the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference finals, and the Celtics won another title. But in 1987, the Lakers again beat Boston in the finals at the Forum.

In 1988, the Lakers became the first team since the 1968-69 Celtics to win consecutive titles, and with their five titles of the decade, earned the billing as the team of the ‘80s.

But to at least two who were there, that Sunday afternoon in Boston was special.

“That game really started them on their way,” Stockton said. “Who knows what would have happened if Lakers hadn’t won that one?”

“That’s always the best,” Johnson said recently. “A tremendous feeling that you’ll never forget.”