<b>Lakers at 50:</b> Lakers leave Boston hanging in the rafters
This article was originally published June 10, 1985, and is part of the new book “Los Angeles Lakers: 50 Amazing Years in the City of Angels” by the Los Angeles Times sports staff. You can purchase the book online here.
BOSTON -- History, we know now, does not always repeat itself.
The Lakers, who have spent their entire existence on a collision course with Boston Celtic history, won the championship of a lifetime after a quarter of a century of trying.
They beat the Celtics, 111-100, Sunday on the parquet floor of ancient Boston Garden to win the National Basketball Assn. championship in six games, 4-2.
Yes, it actually happened.
Of the 15 Celtic championship banners hanging from the rafters of Boston Garden, eight of them came from beating the Lakers in the championship series. The most recent one was from last season.
There would be no 16th, at least not this season. Not from this Laker team, which was on a mission of redemption and found it behind their 38-year-old center, the one with the goggles and the hook shot.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the greatest scorer in the history of the NBA, rained 29 points down through the hoop to finish off a series of performances that won him the most valuable player award.
“This is historic,” he said.
At the same time, the Lakers finished one of the longest streaks of pain and futility brought upon one team by another in the history of the NBA.
They finally beat the Celtics.
“We got the monkey off our backs at last,” James Worthy said. “The hurt is gone.”
Eight times the Lakers had played the Celtics for the NBA title, and eight times they had lost.
That’s over now. And so is the Celtics’ chance of becoming the first NBA team to repeat as champions since they last did so in 1969.
Boston had never before lost a deciding game in the championship series in Boston Garden, but that’s over now too.
The Lakers won five NBA titles in Minneapolis before moving to Los Angeles in 1959. They gave Los Angeles its first title in 1972 and followed up with victories in 1980 and 1982, before claiming their fourth championship against the same Celtic team that beat them in seven games a year ago.
“Somewhere along the way, it was bound to happen,” Laker Coach Pat Riley said. “Maybe it was meant to be. But if we were ever going to break the domination of the Celtics over the Laker franchise and get all those skeletons out of our closet, it’s so much sweeter to do it here.”
Many believed it could never happen here, not on the crisscrossed wooden floor of Boston Garden where so many Laker hopes had been buried.
But it did. The Celtics’ stranglehold on the Lakers ended at 3:30 p.m. EST, when Michael Cooper dribbled out the clock, protecting a Lakers lead that didn’t emerge until the third quarter.
At halftime, the game was tied, 55-55, but the Lakers made their first five shots of the second half, four of them by Abdul-Jabbar, and took a 65-61 lead. Suddenly, the Celtics were reeling.
Magic Johnson, widely identified as the main Laker in search of redemption after last season’s loss to the Celtics, inspired the Laker attack with 14 assists, 14 points and 10 rebounds.
It was Johnson who kept getting the ball to Abdul-Jabbar. It was Johnson who continued to push the ball up court to force the tempo and tire the Celtics.
And it was Johnson who knew before the game that this was the Lakers’ best opportunity to say goodbye to the Celtics.
“When I came out early to practice, I thought, ‘We have our chance,’ ” Johnson said. “It was a long year living with defeat. This year, we didn’t make mistakes.”
The Celtics didn’t make many mistakes either. Maybe they really didn’t have enough players to carry out their own mission to repeat as champions, but the Lakers never allowed them that opportunity.
“I don’t think the game was ever really in jeopardy for them,” the Celtics’ Dennis Johnson said. “We made runs, but they were never really in trouble. They just wanted it a lot more than we did.”
After Larry Bird, who had 28 points in defeat, sank a jumper to bring the Celtics to within 65-63, the Lakers quickly moved out to a 73-63 lead. Abdul-Jabbar scored on a drive, Worthy dunked off an assist by Johnson and then Byron Scott suddenly appeared for the first time in this series.
Scott dropped a jump shot from the baseline, then stole the ball from Kevin McHale, a play that led to Kurt Rambis tipping in a missed shot that gave the Lakers’ their 10-point margin.
“From that point on, it was ours,” Riley said.
Earlier, it was McHale’s. The 6-10 Celtic forward, for whom the Lakers were never really able to find a defense, scored 21 points in the first half and finished with 32, but he fouled out with 5:21 remaining and the Lakers leading, 94-88.
“McHale was great and we never found an answer to him, but he didn’t beat us,” Abdul-Jabbar said.
McHale scored 13 points in the first quarter, which ended with a 28-26 Laker lead. But the Lakers fell behind by three points with four minutes left in the second quarter, then caught up by the half behind Worthy’s eight points and despite Abdul-Jabbar sitting down for the last six minutes of the half because he had three fouls.
“That was the key,” Riley said. “We couldn’t let them get a six- or eight-point lead by the half. We really played them close, without Kareem, to get out of the half.”
The Lakers, who had come into the series with questions about the Celtics’ lack of depth and serious reservations about their outside shooting, took advantage of Boston in both areas.
Boston Coach K.C. Jones used only seven players. Scott Wedman and Greg Kite, the two Celtic substitutes, totaled nine points in 26 minutes. Daring the Celtic guards to shoot from the outside, Johnson and Danny Ainge were a combined six for 31 for 17 points.
“We made them tire,” Magic Johnson said. “They were only playing a few guys. My job was to push the ball up the court until they broke. We made ‘em lose it. I saw they were tired, so we ran them into the ground.”
The Celtics had one more charge left in them. McHale rebounded a missed shot by Dennis Johnson and scored with 8:56 left to bring Boston as close as 86-82. But the Lakers came back with six consecutive points.
“That’s what broke their backs,” said Rambis, who had 10 rebounds in 26 minutes.
Abdul-Jabbar sank two free throws, Worthy sank two free throws when he was fouled after stealing a pass from Johnson, and Rambis scored on a layup after Worthy rebounded a missed shot by Parish.
Bird brought the Celtics to within five points, but then McHale fouled out. The Lakers scored their next five points on free throws, and Magic’s driving layup gave them a 99-90 lead with 4:24 to play.
After that, the end was in sight. The end of Celtic domination, the end of Laker redemption, the end of the season.
The Lakers played 113 games this season, which really began three days short of one year ago after the Celtics’ victory in Game 7.
“It’s been a long time, sitting at home thinking about that,” Worthy said. “Now, that memory is forgotten.”
Worthy wasn’t alone. Not one Laker, not even the head man, could forget about that past failure until now.
“I feel like we just won the whole world,” owner Jerry Buss said.
The Lakers had every reason to feel that way and a lot of it had to do with the Celtics, who kept pushing them back down every time they got up this far.
But that’s history now. And the Lakers, after 25 years of working on it, finally made some history of their own.
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