After missing the playoffs the last six seasons and compiling one of the worst records in the league during that time, this was the season the Lakers fans had been dreaming about.
When the NBA season was suspended on March 11 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Lakers had a 5½-game lead atop the Western Conference and were just three games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the best record in the league.
When or if they will be able to finish their season remains uncertain. Until then, and with everyone marooned at home, here are 24 Lakers Classics for the Quarantine. These aren’t necessarily a ranking of the greatest moments in team history but simply a list of games easily accessible in their entirety on YouTube.
1. 1987 NBA Finals Game 4: Lakers vs. Boston Celtics
The Lakers-Celtics rivalry dominates this list but perhaps no Lakers win is as satisfying as Magic Johnson’s “junior sky hook” to beat the Celtics at Boston Garden to give the Lakers a 3-1 series lead. They would close out Boston in Game 6.
2. 1980 NBA Finals Game 6: Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers
With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sidelined because of a severely sprained ankle, Johnson, a rookie, started at center, played all five positions and finished with 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and one block to clinch the first of his five titles.
3. 1985 NBA Finals Game 6: Lakers vs. Celtics
Before 1985, the Lakers and Celtics had met in the NBA Finals eight times and each time Boston won. After the Celtics blew out the Lakers in Game 1 148-114 in “the Memorial Day massacre,” the Lakers won four of the next five and closed out the Celtics in Boston Garden in what many Lakers fans consider their sweetest victory.
4. 2000 Western Conference finals Game 7: Lakers vs. Portland Trail Blazers
Down 16 in the fourth quarter at home, L.A. ended the game on a 29-9 run capped by Kobe Bryant’s lob to Shaquille O’Neal, a signature moment for one of the NBA’s greatest tandems, and the catalyst for the run to a three-peat.
5. 2010 NBA Finals Game 7: Lakers vs. Celtics
Not the most aesthetically pleasing game but when Bryant gets his statue outside of Staples Center, the visual of him standing on the scorer’s table with his arms outstretched after the Lakers came back from a 13-point deficit in the clincher will be in the running.
6. 1988 NBA Finals Game 7: Lakers vs. Detroit Pistons
James Worthy became “Big Game James” by forcing a Game 7 with 28 points and 9 rebounds. In this Game 7 classic, the Finals MVP was even better, with the only triple-double of his Hall of Fame career (36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists).
7. 2002 Western Conference Finals Game 4: Lakers vs. Sacramento Kings
Robert Horry earned the nickname “Big Shot Bob” for a number of dramatic game-winners, but none as dramatic as his buzzer-beater to salvage the Lakers’ hopes of continuing their quest for a three-peat in 2002.
8. 2004 Western Conference semifinals Game 5: Lakers vs. San Antonio Spurs
Derek Fisher will always be synonymous with “0.4” as the Lakers point guard needed just 0.4 seconds to launch a game-winner to beat the Spurs and help the Lakers return to the NBA Finals.
9. Jan. 22, 2006: Lakers vs. Toronto Raptors
The number 81 is as synonymous with Bryant’s career as 8 or 24. The Lakers needed all of those points to complete a comeback from an 18-point, second-half deficit.
10. 2000 NBA Finals Game 4: Lakers vs. Indiana Pacers
The 21-year Bryant, playing with a severely sprained ankle that caused him to miss Game 3, took over after O’Neal fouled out late in Game 4, scoring 28 points, including three crucial baskets in overtime, to give the Lakers a 120-118 win.
11. April 13, 2016: Lakers vs. Utah Jazz
In his final NBA game, Bryant scored an NBA season-high 60 points and outscored the entire Jazz team 23-21 in the fourth quarter to lead the Lakers to a 101-96 win, becoming the oldest player in league history to score 60 or more points.
12. Feb. 9, 1992: NBA All-Star game
Johnson’s return to the NBA after testing positive for HIV the previous fall is one of the most emotional moments in team history. Johnson had 25 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds and was the game’s MVP.
13. Dec. 20. 2005: Lakers vs. Dallas Mavericks
One month before Bryant dropped 81 points on the Raptors, he scored 62 points through three quarters against the Mavericks. Bryant outscored the eventual Western Conference champions, 62-61, before sitting out the fourth quarter.
14. 2009 NBA Finals Game 4: Lakers vs. Orlando Magic
While most Lakers fans will identify Fisher with his 0.4 shot, his finest moment with the Lakers came five years later when he made a game-tying three-pointer with 4.6 seconds left to send this game into overtime before hitting the game-winning three-pointer in OT.
15. 2010 Western Conference finals Game 5: Lakers vs. Phoenix Suns
With the game and the series tied, everyone at Staples Center knew Bryant was going to get the ball with 3.5 seconds left. Though Bryant missed the shot, Ron Artest was there to put up the game-winner and save the Lakers’ season.
16. April 14, 2004: Lakers vs. Trail Blazers
On the last night of the regular season, Kobe knocked down a shot over Ruben Patterson, who had nicknamed himself “the Kobe Stopper,” to send the game into overtime, and gave the Lakers the win in double OT by draining the game-winner at the buzzer.
17. 1984 NBA Finals Game 3: Lakers vs. Celtics
The Celtics would go on to win these Finals in seven, but the “Showtime” Lakers never looked better than they did in blowing out the Celtics 137-104 at the Forum. Johnson led the way with 14 points, 11 rebounds … and 21 assists.
18. 2006 Western Conference quarterfinals Game 4: Lakers vs. Suns
One of the most indelible images of Bryant’s career is his reaction after making a buzzer-beater at Staples Center to give the Lakers a 3-1 series lead. He yelled, pounded his heart and pulled his jersey across his chest as Lakers fans celebrated.
19. 2001 NBA Finals Game 2: Lakers vs. 76ers
After losing their first and only game of the 2001 postseason, O’Neal nearly pulled off the first quadruple-double in Finals history with 28 points, 20 rebounds, 9 assists and 8 blocks.
20. Jan. 30, 1996: Lakers vs. Golden State Warriors
At 36 years old and 255 pounds, and four years after retiring from the Lakers the first time, Johnson returned as a power forward, not a point guard, but he was still a playmaker, finishing with 19 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds off the bench.
21. Feb. 2, 2009: Lakers vs. New York Knicks
One of Bryant’s favorite places to play was Madison Square Garden and on this night he had a performance for the record books, scoring 61 points to set the MSG scoring record and lead the Lakers to a 126-117 win.
22. March 28, 2003: Lakers vs. Washington Wizards
In Michael Jordan’s last game against Bryant and the Lakers, Bryant set a Lakers record with 42 points in the first half, including eight three-pointers, and finished with 55 points.
23. Dec. 11, 1987: Lakers vs. Celtics
Six months after beating the Celtics in the NBA Finals, Johnson returned to the Boston Garden to add salt to the wound when he sank an improbable bank-shot buzzer-beater to defeat the Celtics 115-114.
24. Jan. 20, 1995: Lakers vs. Celtics
The Lakers made sure their last game at Boston Garden was a memorable one even if the teams on the parquet floor were no longer championship contenders. Nick Van Exel capped a 29-point, 10-assist performance with a game-winning basket at the buzzer.