Some of you may have picked up on my annoyance of the remakes lately. But, as the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers meet in game 7 of the NBA Finals tonight, I don’t mind this type of nostalgia one bit. In every single year of the ’80s, either the Celtics or Lakers, or both, played in the NBA Finals. The Lakers won the most championships during this decade, with 5 championships. The Celtics won three championships. The Lakers also lost 2 series that did not involve the Celtics. The heart of the Celtics/Lakers rivalry in the ’80s began in 1979 with the NCAA finals. Those finals featured Larry Bird and Indiana State against Magic Johnson and Michigan State, which Michigan State won. But, this matchup was watched by nearly a quarter of U.S. television viewers, is credited with sparking an interest in the NCAA tournament that led to the development of “March Madness.”*
This rivalry spilled into the ’80s and began a resurgence of interest in the NBA as Magic Johnson was drafted by the Lakers, and Larry Bird was drafted by the Boston Celtics. Both players had an immediate impact on the game.
Here are the results and summaries of the ’80s NBA Finals:
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers four games to two in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series to conclude the 1979-80 NBA season. The victory gave the Lakers their seventh NBA championship and first since 1972.
The 76ers were making their second Finals appearance in four seasons, having lost to the Trail Blazers in 1977. This was the third meeting in the Finals between the two franchises, though the previous two came when the Lakers were based in Minneapolis and the 76ers were the Syracuse Nationals.
Magic Johnson won NBA Finals MVP honors, becoming the only rookie ever to win the award. Johnson, who would go on to win the award twice more in his career, joined Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West as Lakers Finals MVPs.
The Lakers had home-court advantage for the Finals, which were played under the 2-2-1-1-1 format. The two teams split their regular-season meetings in 1979-80, with each team winning on its home court.
Game 1 – Lakers 109, 76ers 102
The Lakers used Jamaal Wilkes and Michael Cooper to keep Julius Erving in check and got a big offensive game from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, blowing open a close game in the third quarter and holding on for a victory. During the third quarter, the 76ers made just 3 of 20 shots from the field and Magic Johnson grabbed all nine rebounds as the Lakers outscored the 76ers 31-17. Philadelphia used a 10-0 run in the fourth to pull within four points but never got any closer.
Abdul-Jabbar finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds while Johnson fell a rebound shy of a triple-double (16 points, nine rebounds, 10 assists). Erving led the 76ers with 20 points, seven below his season average, on 8-of-17 shooting.
Game 2 – 76ers 107, Lakers 104
Julius Erving scored 12 of his 23 points in the first quarter, as the 76ers jumped out to a 10-point lead. After the first quarter and led by 18 at halftime. The Lakers went on a 27-10 run to open the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to one, but never tied the game or got out in front, and Bobby Jones made a shot with seven seconds left to put the 76ers ahead by three. Norm Nixon missed a potential game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer.
Darryl Dawkins led the 76ers with 25 points, while Erving and Maurice Cheeks scored 23 each. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers with 38 points, but didn’t get as much support as he had in Game 1. Magic Johnson again approached a triple-double (13 points, eight rebounds, 11 assists) but took just eight shots from the field.
After the game, the Lakers suspended Spencer Haywood, who’d played just two minutes, for conduct detrimental to the team. He did not play again for the rest of the series.
Game 3 – Lakers 111, 76ers 101
The Lakers raced out to a 35-18 lead early in the second quarter, withstood a Philadelphia run and took a 14-point lead into halftime. The Lakers led by 19 points going into the fourth quarter and the 76ers, who outscored L.A. 36-27 in the final 12 minutes, never seriously challenged the lead.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finished with 33 points and 14 rebounds to lead the Lakers, despite shooting just 13-of-30 from the field. Norm Nixon added 22 points for L.A, while Jamaal Wilkes had 19 points and 12 rebounds. Julius Erving led the 76ers with 24 points.
Game 4 – 76ers 105, Lakers 102
The 76ers used a 10-point run, sparked by one of the most memorable plays in NBA history, to even the series at two games apiece. Julius Erving, who finished the game with 23 points, drove baseline and was met by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Erving scooped the ball behind the backboard then completed a layup on the opposite side of the basket, putting the 76ers up by seven. When the NBA released its list of the 60 greatest playoff moments, Erving’s layup was No. 14. The Lakers later pulled back within three, but Bobby Jones stole Magic Johnson’s inbounds pass on the final play, preserving the win.
Darryl Dawkins led the 76ers with 26 points while also holding Abdul-Jabbar in check on the other end. Johnson led the Lakers with 28 points, adding nine rebounds and nine assists.
When the NBA compilied its list of the 60 Greatest Playoff Moments to coincide with the league’s 60th anniversary, Erving’s famous layup ranked No. 14 on the list.
Game 5 – Lakers 108, 76ers 103
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored the Lakers’ first 12 points and had 26 midway through the third quarter before leaving with a sprained ankle. With Abdul-Jabbar out, the Lakers managed to go on a 14-8 run to take an eight-point lead heading into the fourth quarter. Abdul-Jabbar came back in, playing on the injured ankle, and put on a head-to-head duel with Julius Erving, who scored 16 points in the fourth quarter. Abdul-Jabbar had 14 points in the quarter, including a dunk and free throw with 33 seconds left to give the Lakers their final lead and a 3-2 series advantage.
Abdul-Jabbar finished with 40 points and 15 rebounds while Magic Johnson had a triple-double, finishing with 14 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists. He also had 10 turnovers, helping keep the 76ers in the game. Erving finished with 36 points and Darryl Dawkins added 23 for the 76ers. They were the only Philadelphia players with more than 10 points.
Game 6 – Lakers 123, 76ers 107
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar didn’t make the trip back to Philadelphia for Game 6, after Lakers team doctors said he would not be able to play. With Spencer Haywood still suspended, the Lakers lacked a center, so coach Paul Westhead turned to Magic Johnson. The 6-foot-9 rookie guard took the opening tip at center, with Michael Cooper replacing him in the starting lineup at guard.
The game was back-and-forth in the first half, with both teams taking big leads before ending up tied at 60. The Lakers opened the second half on a 14-0 run, sparked by Jamaal Wilkes, who scored 16 of his 37 points in the third quarter. The 76ers got within two points twice but never got any closer, and the Lakers ended the game on a 20-6 run, with Johnson leading the fast break.
Johnson, one year removed from leading Michigan State to a national title in college, took advantage of his mismatches on the offensive end, scoring 42 points, including a perfect 14-of-14 night from the free-throw line. He also had 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, earning series MVP honors. Johnson finished the series averaging 21.5 ppg, 11.2 rpg and 8.7 apg.
Lakers power forward Jim Chones helped fill in for Abdul-Jabbar on the defensive end, holding Darryl Dawkins to 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting and grabbing 10 rebounds and blocking two shots. Julius Erving led the 76ers with 27 points in the losing effort.
When the NBA compilied its list of the 60 Greatest Playoff Moments to coincide with the league’s 60th anniversary, this game was ranked No. 2 on the list.
The Boston Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets four games to two in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series to conclude the 1980-81 NBA season. The victory gave the Celtics their first NBA championship since 1976 and their 14th in franchise history.
The Rockets were making their first Finals appearance and had finished below .500 during the regular season (40-42). It was the first time a team that went below .500 in the regular season reached the Finals since 1959, when the Minneapolis Lakers reached the Finals despite going 33-39 in the regular season.
Cedric Maxwell won NBA Finals MVP honors, becoming the third different Celtics player to win the award, joining Jo Jo White and John Havlicek. The Finals MVP award was not given out until 1969, meaning there was no MVP named for the Celtics first 10 championships.
The Celtics had home-court advantage for the Finals, which were played under the 2-2-1-1-1 format and televised partially on tape delay for the final time. The Celtics swept the two regular-season meetings in 1980-81.
Game 1 – Celtics 98, Rockets 95
The Rockets led by as many as 14 points in the first quarter, but Boston kept the game close enough to mount a fourth-quarter comeback. Having cut the lead to three with just under six minutes left, the Celtics ran off an 8-0 run to take a five-point lead.
Houston cut it to one with 1:29 left, but Boston’s next possession lasted 70 seconds, as Larry Bird grabbed four offensive rebounds and eventually made a layup to give Boston a three-point lead. The Rockets inserted Rudy Tomjanovich into the game for the first time, but he missed a 3-pointer that would have tied the game.
Bird finished with 18 points, 21 rebounds and nine assists for the Celtics. Robert Reid led the Rockets with 27 points, while center Moses Malone struggled. He was held to eight points on 4-of-17 shooting.
During the game, Bird scored a basket in which he grabbed an offensive rebound with his right hand, then switched the ball to his left hand in midair and made the shot while falling out of bounds. The play ranked No. 56 on the NBA’s list of the 60 greatest playoff moments.
Game 2 – Rockets 92, Celtics 90
The Rockets snapped a 14-game losing streak to the Celtics (combined regular season and playoffs), taking the lead for good on a Bill Willoughby jumper with just over two minutes left in the game. With 11 seconds left, Mike Dunleavy was at the line with a chance to put Houston up by three, but he made only one of two free throws. However, Nate Archibald missed a 17-foot jumper that would have sent the game into overtime.
Moses Malone played the entire game for Houston and finished with 31 points and 15 rebounds, but still struggled from the field (10-of-24). Larry Bird had 19 points, 21 rebounds and five steals in the losing effort for Boston.
Game 3 – Celtics 94, Rockets 71
After taking a four-point lead in the first quarter, Boston held Houston to 3-of-17 shooting in the second quarter to take a double-digit lead and never look back. The Celtics scored 29 points off 22 Rockets turnovers, nearly holding Houston to the lowest point total in the shot-clock era in the Finals.
Cedric Maxwell scored 19 points to lead six Celtics in double-figures. Rick Robey replaced an injured Robert Parish and scored 11 points in 31 minutes while holding Moses Malone in check. Malone finished with a game-high 23 for the Rockets, well off his Game 2 pace. Bill Willoughby (12 points) was the only other Rockets player in double figures.
Game 4 – Rockets 91, Celtics 86
After playing to a deadlock in the first half, the Rockets outscored Boston 25-17 in the third quarter and took a 12-point lead midway through the fourth quarter before holding on for a five-point win. The Rockets used only six players in the game and won despite shooting just six-of-18 in the fourth quarter.
Mike Dunleavy led the Rockets with 28 points. Moses Malone finished with 24 points and 22 rebounds, but shot just 11-of-30 from the field. The Celtics were led by Cedric Maxwell, who finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Larry Bird struggled, going 3-of-11 for eight points.
Game 5 – Celtics 109, Rockets 80
Back home in Boston, the Celtics steamrolled the Rockets from the opening tip, using a 19-1 first-quarter run to take control of a game that was never close.
Cedric Maxwell had 28 points and 15 rebounds, going 10-of-13 from the field. Larry Bird struggled with his shot for the second consecutive game but nearly had a triple-double, finishing with 12 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. Moses Malone led the Rockets with 20 points and 11 rebounds but was the only Houston player with more than 10 points.
Game 6 – Celtics 102, Rockets 91
Larry Bird scored 16 of his 26 points in the second half to help the Celtics take control of the game and win the series. Boston led by six points at halftime but stretched the lead to 17 early in the fourth quarter. Houston responded with a 16-2 run to cut the lead to three before Bird scored seven consecutive Celtics points to seal the win.
In addition to his 26 points, Bird also had a team-high 13 rebounds, while shooting 11-of-20 from the field. Maxwell, the series MVP, had 19 points in Game 6, giving him a team-best 17.7 ppg average for the series. Robert Reid led Houston with 27 points. Moses Malone had 23 points and a game-high 16 rebounds in the losing effort, finishing the series with averages of 22.2 ppg and 16.3 rpg.
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers four games to two in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series to conclude the 1981-82 NBA season. The victory gave the Lakers their second NBA championship in three seasons, and their eighth in franchise history.
The 76ers were making their seventh Finals appearance (including their years as the Syracuse Nationals) and their second in three seasons, having lost to the Lakers in 1980. This was the fourth meeting between the two franchises in the NBA Finals. The Lakers had won the previous three meetings (1980, 1954, 1950).
Magic Johnson won NBA Finals MVP honors, becoming just the second player to win the award multiple times (Willis Reed was the first). Johnson would go on to win one more Finals MVP award in his career.
The 76ers had home-court advantage for the Finals, which were played under the 2-2-1-1-1 format. The two teams split their regular-season meetings in 1981-82, with each team winning on its home court.
Game 1 – Lakers 124, 76ers 117
In one of the biggest turnarounds in Finals history, the Lakers, who had been off for 12 days before the Finals, turned a 15-point third-quarter deficit into a 16-point fourth-quarter lead with a backbreaking 40-9 run to take Game 1. The Lakers began the comeback with a 19-2 run to take their first lead late in the third quarter, then poured on the offense in the fourth, setting an NBA record with their ninth consecutive postseason victory.
The Lakers used only seven players in the game, each of whom scored in double figures. Magic Johnson was the lowest-scoring Lakers player, finishing with just 10 points, but had 14 rebounds and nine assists. Julius Erving led all players with 27 points for the 76ers.
Game 2 – 76ers 110, Lakers 94
The 76ers again rushed out to a big lead but were able to break the Lakers’ trap defense and hold on for a Game 2 victory. The 76ers led by as many as 15 points in the third quarter and outrebounded the Lakers by double figures.
Julius Erving, guarded by Magic Johnson one-on-one for most of the game, finished with a game-high 24 points. Johnson once again fell just shy of a triple-double for the Lakers, who used only seven players for the second consecutive game.
Game 3 – Lakers 129, 76ers 108
Back at home in Los Angeles, the Lakers overcame Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s foul trouble to take a double-digit lead in the first half and cruise to a 21-point win. The 76ers never led at any point of the game and fell behind by more than 20 points early in the third quarter.
The Lakers, who were outrebounded badly in Game 2, won the battle of the glass in Game 3. Norm Nixon bounced back from his struggles in Game 2 to lead the Lakers with 29 points, going 8-of-10 from the field in the second half. Magic Johnson finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and eight assists.
Andrew Toney was the one bright spot for the 76ers, scoring 36 points while making 14 of his 22 shots. Julius Erving scored 21 points in just 32 minutes, missing on stretch of the game after having his bridge broken. Bobby Jones suffered a hip pointer and went scoreless in 21 minutes.
Game 4 – Lakers 111, 76ers 101
After the Lakers jumped out to a big first-quarter lead, the 76ers came right back and took a two-point lead in the second quarter. But L.A. quickly responded with an 18-2 run and never looked back. The 76ers never got closer than seven points, pulling within that margin with three minutes left before back-to-back turnovers sealed their fate.
Magic Johnson and Jamaal Wilkes each scored 24 points to lead the Lakers. Johnson added eight rebounds and seven assists for L.A. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 22 points, 11 rebounds and six assists. Andrew Toney had 28 points and 11 assists for the 76ers, while Julius Erving had 25 points. No other 76ers player had more than 12 points.
Game 5 – 76ers 135, Lakers 102
Facing elimination but back at home, the 76ers turned the tables on the Lakers, using a version of their zone trap defense to help spark a blowout and hand the Lakers their worst postseason defeat in franchise history. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar picked up two fouls in the first 1:36 of the game, allowing the 76ers to attack the paint while leaving the Lakers without one of their top offensive weapons. The Lakers, who had been outscored by 10 points in the first half, actually took the lead, 68-64, three minutes into the third quarter, before being outscored 71-34 for the rest of the game.
Andrew Toney led the 76ers in scoring for the third consecutive game, finishing with 31 points. Julius Erving, who missed eight of his first nine shots, finished with 23 points after making nine of his last 10 shots of the game. Abdul-Jabbar finished with just six points, his lowest total ever in a playoff game, and his lowest in any game since the 1977 season opener, when he was ejected for punching Kent Benson. Bob McAdoo, playing extended minutes in place of Abdul-Jabbar, led the Lakers with 23 points.
Game 6 – Lakers 114, 76ers 104
The Lakers jumped out to a nine-point lead at halftime, but the 76ers were able to stay close throughout the second half, before a late Lakers run clinched the game and the title for Los Angeles. Bob McAdoo, known primarily for his offense, made a key defensive play in the second half, blocking a potential go-ahead layup by Julius Erving, and keeping the Lakers out in front.
Jamaal Wilkes led the Lakers with 27 points, while Magic Johnson, who earned series MVP honors, had a triple-double with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists. McAdoo, who finished as the runner-up to Johnson in the MVP voting, had 16 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots, winning the first championship of his Hall of Fame career.
Andrew Toney led all scorers with 30 points for the 76ers and Erving added 29. The other three 76ers starters combined for just 24 points. Darryl Dawkins had 10 points and just one rebound in 20 minutes before fouling out in what would turn out to be his final game as a 76er.
The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Los Angeles Lakers four games to none in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series to conclude the 1982-83 NBA season. The victory gave the 76ers their third NBA championship and first since 1967.
The Lakers entered the series as the defending champions, having defeated the 76ers a year earlier, but failed to win back-to-back titles. This was the 14th consecutive season without a team winning consecutive titles. This was the fifth meeting between the 76ers and the Lakers in the NBA Finals (including two meetings when the 76ers were the Syracuse Nationals). The Lakers had won the previous four meetings (1982, 1980, 1954, 1950).
Moses Malone won NBA Finals MVP honors. Before the start of the playoffs, Malone had famously promised “fo’, fo’, fo’,” meaning the 76ers would sweep all three of their playoff series. Philadelphia came up just short of this mark, losing once to the Milwaukee Bucks in the conference finals, posting a 12-1 record in the postseason.
The 76ers had home-court advantage for the Finals, which were played under the 2-2-1-1-1 format. This was the last postseason that included first-round byes for the top two seeds in each conference. The 76ers swept the two regular-season meetings between the two teams in the 1982-83 season.
Game 1 – 76ers 113, Lakers 107
The 76ers outscored the Lakers by 10 points in the first quarter, but L.A. bounced right back, outscoring Philadelphia by 13 points in the second quarter. Down 64-62 in the third quarter, the 76ers went on an 8-0 run to take a lead they would never give up, taking a 1-0 series lead.
Without Bob McAdoo (thigh) and James Worthy (broken leg), the Lakers frontcourt was undermanned and had trouble slowing down Moses Malone, who finished with game highs of 27 points and 18 rebounds. Andrew Toney added 25 for the 76ers and Julius Erving had 20 points and 10 rebounds. Norm Nixon led the Lakers with 26 points despite leaving the game briefly with a separated shoulder. Magic Johnson finished a rebounds shy of a triple-double: 19 points, nine rebounds and 11 assists.
Game 2 – 76ers 103, Lakers 93
The Lakers controlled the pace of the first half and took a four-point lead into halftime. L.A. was bolstered by the return of Bob McAdoo, who provided much-needed size off the bench. However, the Lakers’ good fortune was short-lived. The 76ers outscored the Lakers by eight points in the third quarter. They were leading by just four when Moses Malone was forced to the bench with his fifth foul, but the Lakers couldn’t muster a comeback, and Philadelphia took a 2-0 series lead.
Despite the foul trouble, Malone finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, shooting 8-of-10 from the field. Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney each scored 19, easily outpacing the Lakers starting backcourt. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers with 23 points, but was held to four rebounds for the second consecutive game. Magic Johnson had 12 points, eight rebounds and 13 assists, but his backcourt mate Norm Nixon scored just eight points on 4-of-13 shooting.
Game 3 – 76ers 111, Lakers 94
Back in the Forum, the Lakers raced out to an 11-point lead in the first quarter, but the 76ers answered just as quickly, closing the gap to just three points at halftime. The game was tied heading into the fourth quarter, when Bob McAdoo opened the scoring with consecutive baskets. However, the 76ers responded with a 14-0 run, taking a 10-point lead and cruising to a 17-point win and an insurmountable 3-0 series lead.
Moses Malone was again the dominant figure for the 76ers, finishing with 28 points and 19 rebounds. Julius Erving added a double-double of his own, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 23 points and grabbed a series-high 15 rebounds but shot just 8-of-20 from the field. Magic Johnson flirted with a triple-double (18 points, seven rebounds, 13 assists) but struggled from the field, missing nine of the 12 shots he attempted.
Game 4 – 76ers 115, Lakers 108
Even with Norm Nixon and Bob McAdoo unable to play because of injury, the Lakers raced out to a 17-point second-quarter lead. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 17 first-half points while holding Moses Malone (nine points, seven rebounds in the first half) in check. But the Lakers’ lack of depth caught up to them in the fourth quarter, when the 76ers outscored the Lakers 33-15 to turn an 11-point deficit into a 7-point win. Julius Erving scored seven consecutive 76ers points during a 7-1 run late in the fourth quarter, turning a 106-104 deficit into a 111-107 lead.
Malone bounced back from his rough first half to finish with 24 points and 23 rebounds, earning MVP honors. Malone averaged 25.8 ppg and 18.0 rpg in the four-game sweep. Erving finished with 21 points in Game 4 to clinch his first career NBA title. (He won the title twice in the ABA.)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finished with 28 points, while Magic Johnson added 27 points, seven rebounds and 13 assists for the Lakers.
When the NBA compilied its list of the 60 Greatest Playoff Moments to coincide with the league’s 60th anniversary, the 76ers championship ranked No. 36 on the list.
The Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers four games to three in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series to conclude the 1983-84 NBA season. The victory gave the Celtics their 15th NBA championship and second in the last four seasons.
The Lakers were making their third consecutive appearance in the NBA Finals, having won in 1982 and lost in 1983. This was the eighth meeting between the Celtics and the Lakers in the NBA Finals, with Boston having won the previous seven. It was the first time the Lakers and Celtics met in the postseason since 1969.
Larry Bird won NBA Finals MVP honors, becoming the fourth different Celtics player to win the award, joining Cedric Maxwell, Jo Jo White and John Havlicek. (The Finals MVP award was not given out until 1969, meaning there was no MVP named for the Celtics’ first 10 championships.)
The Celtics had home-court advantage for the Finals, which were played under the 2-2-1-1-1 format for the last time. This was the first postseason under the new 16-team format, which required that each team win three series to reach the NBA Finals. The Lakers swept the two regular-season meetings between the two teams in the 1983-84 season.
Game 1 – Lakers 115, Celtics 109
The Lakers jumped out to an early lead behind the strong play of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who had been suffering from a migraine headache before the game. Abdul-Jabbar scored 13 points in the first quarter and 10 more in the second quarter, giving the Lakers a 13-point halftime lead. The Celtics responded with a 24-9 run in the third quarter, after Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson both picked up their fourth fouls. Larry Bird made a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to cut the lead to four, but the Celtics never got any closer.
Abdul-Jabbar finished the game with 32 points and eight rebounds, while Johnson chipped in with 19 points, six rebounds and 10 assists. Kevin McHale came off the bench to lead the Celtics with 25 points. Bird finished with 24 points and 14 rebounds.
Game 2 – Celtics 124, Lakers 121 (OT)
After the Celtics led for nearly the entire first three quarters, the Lakers took a lead late in the third quarter. The two teams went back and forth in the fourth quarter, and the Lakers took a two-point lead with 18 seconds left. Kevin McHale missed a pair of free throws, but Magic Johnson called a timeout after the second miss, allowing the Celtics to set up their defense.
On the ensuing play, Gerald Henderson stole a pass and drove in for a layup to tie the game with 13 seconds left. Johnson could not get a shot off before the end of regulation, sending the game into overtime. In the extra session, Scott Wedman made a baseline jumper to put the Celtics up 122-121 with 14 seconds left, and they held on for a three-point win.
Larry Bird scored 27 points to lead eight Celtics in double figures. The Celtics starting frontcourt of Bird, Robert Parish and former Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell combined for 61 points and 36 rebounds. The Lakers got 29 points on 11-of-12 shooting from James Worthy. Despite his mistakes at the end of regulation, Johnson still approached a triple-double, finishing with 27 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.
When the NBA compilied its list of the 60 Greatest Playoff Moments to coincide with the league’s 60th anniversary, Henderson’s steal ranked No. 26 on the list.
Game 3 – Lakers 137, Celtics 104
Showtime was on full display in Game 3, as the Lakers racked up 51 fast-break opportunities in 48 minutes. The Lakers went on an 18-0 run in the second quarter to blow the game open, and topped that by scoring a Finals record 47 points in the third quarter, dealing the Celtics their worst playoff loss in franchise history.
Magic Johnson finished the game with 14 points, 11 rebounds and a Finals-record 21 assists. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers with 24 points as 11 of the 12 Lakers scored in the game. Larry Bird led the Celtics with 30 points, but no other Celtics player had more than 16. Aside from Bird, the rest of the Celtics’ starting lineup combined for just 32 points.
Game 4 – Celtics 129, Lakers 125 (OT)
The Lakers led by as many as 14 points in the first half and were up by six in the third quarter when the series turned on a single play. Kurt Rambis was going in for a breakaway layup when he was clotheslined by Kevin McHale, leading to a full-scale brawl. Less than two minutes later, Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar started to fight and had to be separated by officials. Boston clawed back into the game and took advantage in the fourth quarter after Abdul-Jabbar fouled out. The Lakers missed four free throws in the final minute of the game, allowing the Celtics to force overtime. In the extra session, James Worthy scored 10 of the Lakers’ 12 points, but Bird made a turnaround jumper with 16 seconds left to give the Celtics the lead, and eventually the win.
Bird finished with 29 points and 21 rebounds, making all 10 of his free-throw attempts. The Celtics were 31-of-37 from the free-throw line in the game, while the Lakers missed 13 of their 38 free-throws. In contrast to Game 3, all five Celtics starters scored in double figures. Despite fouling out late in the fourth quarter, Abdul-Jabbar led all scorers with 32 points. Magic Johnson posted his second consecutive triple-double, finishing with 20 points, 11 rebounds and 17 assists.
When the NBA compilied its list of the 60 Greatest Playoff Moments to coincide with the league’s 60th anniversary, this game was ranked No. 38 on the list.
Game 5 – Celtics 121, Lakers 103
With the temperatures in Boston unseasonably hot, the non-air-conditioned Boston Garden reached 97 degrees inside, leading to far-from-optimal playing conditions. The two teams were close throughout the first half, but both teams began to suffer from the heat in the second half. The conditions were so bad the the Lakers were using oxygen tanks and iced towels, and official Hugh Evans had to be replaced by alternate John Vanak. While the Lakers were wilting, the Celtics seemed to get stronger, using a 21-7 run late in the game to clinch the victory.
Larry Bird led Boston with 34 points and 17 rebounds, making 15 of his 20 shots from the field. Dennis Johnson added 22 points and six assists for the Celtics, who shot 51.7 percent from the field despite the conditions. James Worthy led the Lakers with 22 points on 10-of-17 shooting, but was the only Lakers starter who was effective in the game. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who’d been suffering from migraines the day before the game, couldn’t get going in the heat and missed 18 of the 25 shots he attempted, finishing with 19 points. Magic Johnson had 10 points and 13 assists but was just 3-of-9 from the field.
Game 6 – Lakers 119, Celtics 108
Back home in the Forum, the Lakers staved off elimination, despite Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s continued migraine issues. Abdul-Jabbar played through the migraine, as he did in Game 1, and again performed well, finishing with 30 points, 10 rebounds and five assists. Despite Abdul-Jabbar’s strong play, the Lakers were down 84-73 with 4:58 left in the third quarter before going on an 18-3 run to take a four-point lead. In the fourth quarter, another brawl broke out when James Worthy shoved Cedric Maxwell into the basket support. The Celtics responded, cutting the lead to two points before Abdul-Jabbar scored five straight points to put the Lakers ahead for good.
After the game, Bird complained about commissioner David Stern’s statements that the league would benefit from a 7-game series, but would not go as far as to say the league had orchestrated the outcome. Also, when leaving the court, M.L. Carr was hit the eyes by a beer thrown by a fan. That, combined with Worthy’s hard foul on Maxwell, led Carr to call the series an “all-out war.”
The Lakers had four players score at least 20 points, led by Abdul-Jabbar’s 30. Magic Johnson had 21 points, six rebounds and 10 assists. All five Lakers starters had at least six rebounds. Bird led the Celtics with 28 points and nearly finished with a triple-double, adding 14 rebounds and eight assists.
Game 7 – Celtics 111, Lakers 102
Cedric Maxwell, the 1981 Finals MVP, told his team before the game, “Get on my back, fellas, and I’ll take us home.” He delivered on his promise, finishing with 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, including 11-of-13 free-throw shooting in the first half. The Celtics led by six points at halftime and extended the lead to 13 after the third quarter. The Lakers made one last run in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 105-102 with 1:15 left, but the Celtics held on from that point, making six free throws down the stretch.
In addition to Maxwell’s big game, the Celtics got double-doubles from Larry Bird (20 points, 12 rebounds) and Robert Parish (14 points, 16 rebounds). Bird finished the series averaging 27.4 ppg, 14.0 rpg and 3.6 apg to earn MVP honors. Six different Celtics players averaged at least 12 ppg in the series.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers with 29 points in Game 6. Magic Johnson had 16 points and 15 rebounds, and finished the series averaging 13.6 apg to set a Finals record.
This was the first Game 7 in the NBA Finals since 1978, and the first one won by the home team since the Celtics beat the Bucks in 1974. Boston improved to 7-0 in Game 7 in the Finals. The Lakers fell to 2-5 in Game 7 in the Finals, with four of the five losses coming against the Celtics. The Lakers also fell to 0-5 in Game 7 in the Finals since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics four games to two in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series to conclude the 1984-85 NBA season. The victory gave the Lakers their ninth NBA championship and third in the last six seasons.
The Celtics entered the series as the defending champions, having defeated the Lakers in the 1984 Finals. This was the ninth meeting between the Celtics and the Lakers in the NBA Finals, with Boston having won the previous eight. After the series, Lakers owner Jerry Buss famously said, “It can never be said again that the Lakers have never beaten the Celtics.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won NBA Finals MVP honors, the second time in his career he earned the award. At the time, he was just the third player to win the award multiple times, joining Magic Johnson and Willis Reed. As of 2008, Abdul-Jabbar, who also won in 1971 with the Milwaukee Bucks, is the only player to win the award with multiple teams.
The Celtics had home-court advantage for the Finals, which were played under the 2-3-2 format after previous series had used the 2-2-1-1-1 format. This reduced the amount of travel necessary for the series. The two teams split their regular-season meetings in 1984-85, with each team winning at home.
Game 1 – Celtics 148, Lakers 114
In a game that was never in doubt, the Celtics stormed out to a 14-point lead at the end of the first quarter and rolled to a 34-point victory in what would become known as the “Memorial Day Massacre.” Danny Ainge led the Celtics in the first quarter, scoring 15 of Boston’s 38 points. Scott Wedman was the main offensive option in the second quarter, scoring 11 points to help extend Boston’s lead to 30 points at halftime. Kevin McHale took over in the third quarter, scoring 13 points. The Celtics capped off the performance by scoring 40 points in the fourth quarter, finishing with 148.
Wedman finished 11-of-11 from the field, setting a Finals record for the most shots attempted without a miss. He was also a perfect 4-of-4 from 3-point range, finishing with 26 points. McHale matched Wedman with 26 points, and Ainge finished with 19. All 12 Celtics players scored in the game. James Worthy led the Lakers with 20 points, while Magic Johnson added 19 points and 12 assists. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, limited by foul trouble in the first half, finished with 12 points in 22 minutes.
Game 2 – Lakers 109, Celtics 102
Bouncing back from their Game 1 loss, the Lakers jumped out to an 18-point halftime lead and were never seriously threatened after that, cruising to a seven-point win to even the series at one game apiece.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar responded to criticism of his Game 1 performance by scoring 30 points, grabbing 17 rebounds and dishing out eight assists, flirting with a triple-double. Magic Johnson had 14 points and 13 assists for the Lakers, who also got 22 points off the bench from Michael Cooper. Larry Bird scored 12 of his 30 points in the third quarter in an attempt to spark a Celtics comeback. No other Celtics player reached the 20-point mark.
Game 3 – Lakers 136, Celtics 111
It wasn’t quite at the level of Game 1, but in their first game at home in the series, the Lakers blew out the Celtics in Game 3. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 10 points in the first seven minutes of the game to become the NBA’s all-time leading postseason scorer. The game was marred by multiple altercations, one of which led to the ejection of Ray Williams after he punched Kurt Rambis. The Lakers took control of the game with a 27-11 run at the end of the first half, led by four consecutive Bob McAdoo jumpers.
James Worthy finished with 29 points to lead the Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar had 26 points on 10-of-13 shooting and added 14 rebounds and seven assists. Magic Johnson had 17 points, nine rebounds and 16 assists, finishing just one rebound shy of a triple-double. Like Boston did in Game 1, L.A. saw all 12 players on the roster score, including little-used 7-foot-5 backup center Chuck Nevitt. The Celtics’ Big Three of Larry Bird (20), Kevin McHale (31) and Robert Parish (17) combined for 68 of Boston’s 111 points.
Game 4 – Celtics 107, Lakers 105
In a close game throughout, the Celtics took a one-point lead with a 10-2 run late in the fourth quarter. The two teams went back and forth for the rest of the game, with Magic Johnson tying things up at 105. On the ensuing possession, the Lakers double-teamed Larry Bird, leaving Dennis Johnson open to hit the game-winning jump shot at the buzzer, evening the series at two games apiece.
Kevin McHale led the Celtics with 28 points and 12 rebounds, while Johnson finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and 12 assists. The Celtics outrebounded the Lakers 55-45, with Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar held to just six rebounds. Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers with 21 points, and Magic Johnson finished with a triple double (20 points, 11 rebounds, 12 assists).
Game 5 – Lakers 120, Celtics 111
The Lakers used a 20-7 run at the end of the first half to take control of the game, taking a 13-point lead into halftime. Celtics coach K.C. Jones was ejected in the third quarter with the Celtics trailing by 16 points. Boston pulled to within four on multiple occasions, but never got any closer, as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson combined for seven consecutive Lakers baskets to keep L.A. in control and give the Lakers a 3-2 lead heading back to Boston.
Abdul-Jabbar finished with 36 points, shooting 16-of-28 from the field. He also had seven rebounds and seven assists. James Worthy added 33 points on 13-of-17 shooting, and Magic Johnson had 26 points and 17 assists. All five Celtics starters scored in double figures, with Robert Parish leading the way with 26 points. Dennis Johnson had 22 points and 17 assists. Larry Bird scored 20 points but continued to be plagued by both back problems and Michael Cooper’s defense; Bird shot just 8-of-17 from the field.
Game 6 – Lakers 111, Celtics 100
For the first time in franchise history, the Celtics had to watch an opposing team celebrate a championship on their home court.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the way for the Lakers, scoring 29 points on 13-of-21 shooting before fouling out late in the game. Lakers point guard Magic Johnson finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists, posting a triple-double in a series-clinching win for the second time in his career. (He also did it in 1982.)
Kevin McHale scored 32 points and grabbed 16 rebounds in the losing effort. Despite being hampered by multiple injuries, Larry Bird had 28 points and 10 rebounds, but shot just 12-of-29 from the field. The Celtics starting backcourt of Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge combined to shoot 6-of-31 from the field in the game.
Abdul-Jabbar finished the series averaging 25.7 ppg, 9.0 rpg and 5.2 apg, earning series MVP honors. Johnson’s average of 14.0 apg broke his own record of 13.6, set one year earlier.
When the NBA compilied its list of the 60 Greatest Playoff Moments to coincide with the league’s 60th anniversary, this game was ranked No. 31 on the list.
The Boston Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets four games to two in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series to conclude the 1985-86 NBA season. The victory gave Boston its league-record 16th NBA Championship, but it would be the last for the Celtics until 2008.
The Rockets were making their second Finals appearance in franchise history, having lost to the Celtics in 1981.
Larry Bird won NBA Finals MVP honors, the second time in his career he earned the award. At the time, he was just the fourth player to win the award multiple times, joining Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Willis Reed.
The Celtics had home-court advantage for the Finals. Boston swept the two regular-season meetings between the teams in 1985-86.
Game 1 – Celtics 112, Rockets 100
The Rockets’ twin towers, Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon, both spent significant time on the bench in foul trouble, allowing the Celtics to take control of the game. Sampson picked up three fouls in the first 4:45 of the game, and the Celtics led by six points after the first quarter. Olajuwon scored 25 points in the first half to keep the Rockets close but picked up his fourth and fifth fouls in a 33-second span in the third quarter, forcing him to the bench. Without Olajuwon, the Rockets couldn’t muster up any attack, and Boston ended the third quarter on a 27-11 run to take an insurmountable lead in the game and a 1-0 lead in the series.
The Celtics’ “Big Three” of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish combined for 65 points, with Bird adding eight rebounds and 13 assists. Dennis Johnson, one of the three former Finals MVPs in the Celtics’ lineup, also flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 19 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists. Olajuwon finished with 33 points, and Rodney McCray had 20 for Houston. Sampson managed just two points on 1-of-13 shooting — including 1-of-10 in the first half.
Game 2 – Celtics 117, Rockets 95
The Celtics outscored the Rockets 63-39 over the second and third quarters to turn a close game into a blowout, taking a 2-0 series lead. The Celtics used frequent double-team pressure to contain Hakeem Olajuwon, who didn’t attempt a shot for the first six minutes of the game. Boston led by as many as 27 points late in the game before emptying the bench.
Larry Bird finished with 31 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, while Kevin McHale chipped in 25 points. Olajuwon finished with 21 points on 8-of-16 shooting, and Ralph Sampson bounced back from his dismal Game 1 performance to post 18 points in Game 2.
Game 3 – Rockets 106, Celtics 104
Rodney McCray scored 10 of his 12 points in the first quarter to give the Rockets a four-point lead. Boston took over in the third quarter, taking a nine-point lead with a 17-3 run, led by Kevin McHale’s 11 points. Down by eight points with three minutes left, the Rockets went on a 9-0 run to take a 103-102 lead. Danny Ainge responded by making a jumper to put the Celtics ahead, but on the other end, a Mitchell Wiggins tip-in put the Rockets up for good, as Boston would not score again.
Ralph Sampson had his biggest game of the series, finishing with 24 points and 22 rebounds. All five Rockets starters scored in double figures. Robert Reid had 19 points and helped shut down Larry Bird in the second half. Bird had 25 points but made just three of his last 12 shots from the field after Rockets coach Bill Fitch put Reid on Bird. Bird had 15 rebounds and 11 assists. McHale led the Celtics with 28 points.
Game 4 – Celtics 106, Rockets 103
The game was tight throughout, with 19 lead changes and 13 ties. Tied at 101 with two minutes left, Larry Bird made a 3-pointer (his only one of the game) to give Boston a three-point cushion. The Rockets cut it to a one-point lead on a Rodney McCray follow, but Bill Walton slammed home an offensive rebound on the ensuing possession for the game’s final points, giving Boston a 3-1 series lead.
The Celtics had five players in double figures, led by Robert Parish’s 22 points and 10 rebounds. Larry Bird flirted with a triple-double for the fourth consecutive game, finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds and 10 assists. Ralph Sampson led the Rockets with 25 points. Hakeem Olajuwon added 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Game 5 – Rockets 111, Celtics 96
The Rockets staved off elimination in a game remembered for a large-scale brawl in the second quarter. With 9:35 left in the second quarter and the Rockets clinging to a one-point lead, Ralph Sampson and Jerry Sichting got tangled up and began fighting. Both benches emptied during the ensuing melee. Dennis Johnson ended up with a bloody eye, and Bill Walton tackled Sampson. Both Sampson — who had 12 points in 14 minutes — and Sichting were ejected. The fight seemed to spark the Rockets, who went on a 20-8 run to take control of the game. Houston led by 21 points at the end of the third quarter and cruised to a 15-point victory.
Hakeem Olajuwon led the Rockets with 32 points and 14 rebounds, and matched Walton’s Finals record with eight blocked shots. Kevin McHale led all scorers with 33 points, while Larry Bird had just 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting.
Game 6 – Celtics 114, Rockets 97
Back home in Boston, where they lost just once all season, the Celtics jumped out to an early lead and never looked back. Larry Bird was the catalyst, nearly posting a triple-double in the first half (16 points, eight rebounds, eight assists). Because of his actions in Game 5, Ralph Sampson was booed every time he touched the ball and had just two points in the first half on 1-of-8 shooting. Boston led by 17 points at halftime, and Houston never got closer than 14 in the second half.
Bird finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists, his second triple-double of the series, earning MVP honors. Bird put up 24.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG and 9.5 APG for the series, averaging nearly a triple-double. Kevin McHale also scored 29 for the Celtics, who had six players in double figures in Game 6. Hakeem Olajuwon was Houston’s leading scorer in Game 6 with 19 points. He averaged 24.7 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.2 blocks for the series.
When the NBA compilied its list of the 60 Greatest Playoff Moments to coincide with the league’s 60th anniversary, Bird’s triple-double ranked No. 40 on the list.
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics four games to two in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series to conclude the 1986-87 season. It was the first of two consecutive championships for the Lakers.
This was the 10th all-time meeting between the Lakers and Celtics in the NBA Finals. The two teams had met twice in the previous three seasons but would not meet again in the finals until 2008.
Magic Johnson won the NBA Finals MVP award, the last of the three times he would win the award. At the time, Johnson was the only player to win three Finals MVPs, though he was later joined by Michael Jordan (6), Shaquille O’Neal and Tim Duncan.
The Lakers had home-court advantage for the finals, and they swept the two regular-season meetings between the teams.
It should also be noted that in game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals leading to this series, Larry Bird made this incredible steal:
Game 1 – Lakers 126, Celtics 113
The Lakers led from start to finish in Game 1, leading by as many as 21 points in the first half and 23 in the second half. Los Angeles dominated Boston on the boards, outrebounding them 47-32. James Worthy led the Lakers with 33 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds. Magic Johnson added 29 points, 13 assists and 8 rebounds.
The Lakers won easily despite 32 points from Larry Bird, including 11 straight made baskets during the third quarter. A highlight in this game was a one-handed dunk by Michael Cooper off an alley-oop pass from Johnson, dubbed the “Coop-a-loop.”
Game 2 – Lakers 141, Celtics 122
The Celtics stayed close early in this one, but the Lakers outscored Boston 37-22 in the second quarter. Michael Cooper did most of the damage in the quarter during a stretch in which he accounted for 20 consecutive points for the Lakers with either a basket or an assist. Cooper tied an NBA Finals record with 9 assists in the quarter and finished with 20 points while making 6 of 7 3-pointers in the game.
Magic Johnson matched Cooper with nine third-quarter assists and finished with 20 in the game to go along with his 24 points. Three other Lakers players scored at least 20 points: James Worthy, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Byron Scott.
The Lakers shot a then-NBA Finals record 61.5 percent from the field. Larry Bird led the Celtics with 23 points.
Game 3 – Celtics 109, Lakers 103
The Celtics trailed by 7 after the first quarter but finally turned things around in the second quarter, hitting 17 of 21 field goal attempts. Greg Kite was the unlikely second-quarter hero, filling in for Robert Parish, who was in foul trouble. Parish went out with over 8 minutes left in the quarter and the Celtics trailing 39-30.
The Celtics outscored the Lakers 30-17 over the rest of the quarter and never trailed again. Kite didn’t score a point but held Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in check and grabbed 9 rebounds in the game. Magic Johnson led the Lakers with 32 points, 11 rebounds and 9 assists. Larry Bird led the Celtics with 30 points despite hitting just 10 of 24 shots, 2 of 10 in the first quarter.
Game 4 – Lakers 107, Celtics 106
Danny Ainge scored 11 of the Celtics’ 29 first-quarter points to take Boston to a 9-point lead after one. The Celtics extended their lead to as many as 16 points in the third quarter and still led by 8 with four minutes remaining.
However, the Lakers used a 9-0 run to take a 1-point lead after a Magic Johnson-to-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar alley-oop with 30 seconds to play. Larry Bird responded with a 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 2-point lead with 12 seconds to play.
Abdul-Jabbar drew a foul and made one free throw to cut the Celtics’ lead to 106-105. Abdul-Jabbar missed the second, and Mychal Thompson and Kevin McHale fought over the loose ball that went out of bounds off McHale. Johnson took the ball on the wing and drove to the middle where he hit what is called his “junior, junior sky hook” to make it 107-106 with 2 seconds left. Bird missed a jumper, and the Lakers had a 3-1 series lead.
Johnson finished with a game-high 29 points, and McHale led the Celtics with 25 points.
When the NBA compilied its list of the 60 Greatest Playoff Moments to coincide with the league’s 60th anniversary, Johnson’s shot was ranked No. 8 on the list.
Game 5 – Celtics 123, Lakers 108
The Lakers led 34-26 in the second quarter, but the Celtics outscored Los Angeles 37-14 the rest of the half to take a 15-point halftime lead and cruised the rest of the way. All five Celtics starters had at least 20 points and were led by Dennis Johnson with 25 points. Johnson, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale each had double-doubles. The Celtics held James Worthy to 12 points on 6-of-19 from the field, including 1-of-9 in the first half. Magic Johnson led the Lakers with 29 points, 12 assists and 8 rebounds.
Game 6 – Lakers 106, Celtics 93
The Lakers claimed their fourth title of the decade and 10th in the history of the franchise. Magic Johnson was selected NBA MVP for the third time.
In the first half, the Celtics were looking good, taking a 56-51 lead into the locker room. Boston held Johnson to just 4 first-half points. However, the Lakers started the third quarter scoring the first 10 points. After a Celtics bucket, the Lakers used another 8-0 run to take a 69-58 lead. The Celtics never got closer than 12 points the rest of the way. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers with 32 points, while Dennis Johnson led the Celtics with 33 points. Larry Bird finished with 16 points, his lowest total of the series.
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Detroit Pistons four games to three in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series to conclude the 1987-88 season. It was the second consecutive championship for the Lakers, and the fifth in nine seasons.
The Pistons were making their first Finals appearance since 1956, when the team was based in Fort Wayne, Ind. It was also their first Finals appearance as an Eastern Conference team; the Fort Wayne Pistons were based in the Western Division.
James Worthy won the NBA Finals MVP award, becoming the fifth different Lakers player to win the award (Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
The Lakers had home-court advantage for the finals. The Lakers swept the two regular-season meetings between the teams.
Game 1 – Pistons 105, Lakers 93
The Pistons stunned the Lakers by scoring the games’ first 8 points. Detroit seemingly put the game away, outscoring the Lakers 35-19 in the second quarter, including back-to-back 3-pointers by Bill Laimbeer and Isiah Thomas to end the half and give the Pistons a 17-point advantage. Adrian Dantley took care of the rest, scoring 22 of his game-high 34 points in the second half. Dantley was 14-of-16 from the field and 6-of-7 from the line. It was the Lakers’ first loss in an opener at the Forum since May 1985. The Pistons shot 57.5 percent from the field while holding the Lakers to under 40 percent from the field. Magic Johnson led the Lakers with 28 points, 10 assists and 8 rebounds.
Game 2 – Lakers 108, Pistons 96
The Lakers overcame the illness of Magic Johnson and an injured James Worthy to even the series at 1. Worthy had a game-high 26 points and 10 rebounds despite a painful hip pointer. Johnson had 23 points and 11 assists despite suffering from the flu. After the Pistons tied the score at 80 with 12 unanswered points, the Lakers outscored the Pistons 28-16 the rest of the way. Worthy also helped hold Adrian Dantley, the star of Game 1, to 19 points on 5-of-10 from the field.
Game 3 – Lakers 99, Pistons 86
James Worthy led a balanced Lakers attack with 24 points, but it was Magic Johnson who did it all again. Johnson missed just one shot, 7-of-8 from the field, on his way to 18 points, 14 assists and 6 rebounds. The Lakers outscored the Pistons 31-18 in the third quarter to open up a 14-point lead and cruise the rest of the way. Pistons coach Chuck Daly was ejected from the game in the fourth quarter. Isiah Thomas led the Pistons with a game-high 28 points, 20 in the second half. The Pistons scored 40 total points in the second half. No Pistons player other than Thomas had more than 14 points.
Game 4 – Pistons 111, Lakers 86
The Pistons ramped up their defense in the second half, holding the Lakers to 32 points on 8-of-32 from the field. Adrian Dantley led the Pistons with a game-high 27 points and the Detroit bench had 47, including 16 by Vinnie Johnson. It was the largest margin of victory in an NBA Finals game since the Lakers beat the Celtics 136-111 in Game 3 in 1985. With about seven minutes remaining, things got a little tense when a frustrated Magic Johnson hit his best friend, Isiah Thomas, with a forearm to the jaw. Johnson finished with a team-high 23 points.
Game 5 – Pistons 104, Lakers 94
The Lakers scored the first 12 points of the game and took an early 15-2 lead. However, the Pistons didn’t fold in their final game at the Silverdome. The Pistons rallied behind Adrian Dantley and Vinnie Johnson’s combined 31 first-half points to take a 9-point lead at the half. Dantley finished with a team-high 25 points, while Johnson scored 16. The Lakers struggled at the free throw line, missing 14-of-33. The Pistons also owned the boards, outrebounding the Lakers 60-38. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers with 26 points but Detroit did a good job on Magic Johnson, holding him to 15 points on 4-of-15 from the field.
Game 6 – Lakers 103, Pistons 102
Forty-one-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar made two free throws with 14 seconds left to give the Lakers a 103-102 lead. Joe Dumars missed a 5-footer and Byron Scott got the rebound before being fouled. Scott missed both free throw attempts, but the Pistons couldn’t get a shot off.
The Lakers led 53-46 at the half, but Isiah Thomas put on a third-quarter clinic, scoring 25 points on 11-of-13 from the field. However, Thomas injured his ankle in the third quarter after falling on Michael Cooper’s foot. Thomas finished with a game-high 41 points. He left the arena on crutches later that night.
The Pistons were leading 102-99 when Scott hit a jumper to cut the lead to 1 before Abdul-Jabbar sealed the win for the Lakers after being fouled by Bill Laimbeer. Abdul-Jabbar finished with 14 points on 3-of-14 shooting. The early star for the Lakers was James Worthy, who finished with a team-high 28 points.
When the NBA compilied its list of the 60 Greatest Playoff Moments to coincide with the league’s 60th anniversary, Thomas’s performance in this game ranked No. 13 on the list.
Game 7 – Lakers 108, Pistons 105
It took 24 playoff games, the most in NBA history at the time, but the Lakers became the first repeat champion since the Celtics won titles in 1968 and 1969 and the first team in NBA history to win three seven-game playoff series in the same season. This was also the first time in six attempts that the Lakers were able to win the seventh game of a championship series.
NBA Finals MVP James Worthy had the first triple-double of his career with 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. Joe Dumars led the Pistons with 25 points but their leader, Isiah Thomas, was hampered by his ankle injury and finished with just 10 points on 4-of-12 from the field in playing 28 minutes.
The Pistons held a 5-point lead at the half, but the Lakers outscored the Pistons 36-21 in the third quarter. The Lakers still were leading 90-75 in the fourth quarter, but the Pistons mounted a comeback and got to within 102-100 with over a minute left in the game. Magic Johnson and Byron Scott combined to hit three of four free throws to make it 105-100 with 40 seconds remaining. A Dumars basket followed by a Worthy free throw had the Lakers lead at 106-102. Bill Laimbeer hit a 3-pointer to cut the lead to 106-105 with 6 seconds left, but A.C. Green got free for a layup and the Pistons couldn’t get another shot off.
When the NBA ranked the 60 Greatest Playoff Moments in conjunction with the league’s 60th anniversary, Worthy’s triple-double ranked No. 52 on the list.
The Detroit Pistons defeated the Los Angeles Lakers four games to none in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series to conclude the 1988-89 NBA season. It was the first of two consecutive championships for the Pistons, and the first Finals victory for the Pistons after three previous series losses (1988, 1956, 1955).
The Lakers were making their third consecutive Finals appearance, having won the title in both 1987 and 1988, the latter coming against the Pistons. As of 2008, the Pistons are the last NBA team to win the NBA title the season after losing in the Finals.
Joe Dumars won the NBA Finals MVP Award, earning the award before ever making an All-Star team (though he would go on to make six All-Star Game appearances).
The Pistons had home-court advantage for the Finals. The Pistons swept the two regular-season meetings between the teams.
Game 1 – Pistons 109, Lakers 97
The Lakers played without Byron Scott, who pulled a hamstring in practice before Game 1, and were unable to slow down the Pistons’ backcourt. Isiah Thomas scored 16 points in the first half to take the Pistons to an 11-point lead. Already shorthanded without Scott, the Lakers had to go deep into their bench when Michael Cooper, A.C. Green, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Orlando Woolridge all got into foul trouble. Detroit opened the second half on an 11-3 run and never looked back, cruising to a 12-point victory.
The Pistons were led by Thomas, who finished with 24 points and nine assists. His backcourt mate, Joe Dumars, added 22 points, and guard Vinnie Johnson scored 19 in 21 minutes off the bench. Magic Johnson and James Worthy each scored 17 points for the Lakers, who lost for the first time in the 1989 Playoffs.
Game 2 – Pistons 108, Lakers 105
Already short-handed without Byron Scott, the Lakers were dealt a crushing blow when star point guard Magic Johnson had to leave this game in the third quarter with a hamstring injury. Before Johnson’s departure, the Lakers had led by as many as 10 points. The game was tied at 75 when Johnson left, and the Lakers briefly responded by going on a 15-6 run. L.A. couldn’t keep up the pace, though, and the Pistons took a seven-point lead with under four minutes left. The Lakers closed the gap to two, and James Worthy had a chance to tie the game at the free-throw line, but missed one of his two attempts. Isiah Thomas then iced the game with two free throws of his own, giving the Pistons a three-point win.
Joe Dumars led all scorers with 33 points, while Thomas finished with 21 for Detroit. The Lakers have six players in double figures, but no one reached the 20-point mark for L.A. James Worthy and Michael Cooper led the team with 19 points each. Johnson finished with 18 points, six rebounds and nine assists before being forced to the bench with his injury.
Game 3 – Pistons 114, Lakers 110
Magic Johnson attempted to play on his injured hamstring but missed the only two shots he attempted and sat down for good five minutes into the game. Even without Johnson and Byron Scott, the Lakers were able to keep the game close, leading by as many as eight points in the third quarter. Detroit relied on the hot hand of Joe Dumars, who scored 17 straight points for them in the third quarter, and entered the fourth quarter down just two points. In the fourth quarter, the Pistons’ offense was led by Vinnie Johnson, who scored 13 points in the final 12 minutes. Johnson’s jumper with 2:06 left gave the Pistons a five-point cushion. The Lakers would pull within 3 at one point but never got any closer, as Dumars blocked David Rivers’ potential game-tying 3-pointer.
Dumars finished with 31 points, 21 of which came in the third quarter, to lead the Pistons. Isiah Thomas added 26 points, while Dennis Rodman was a key contributor off the bench, finishing with 12 points and 19 rebounds. James Worthy led the Lakers with 26 points, while Kareem Abdul-Jabbar finished with 24 points and 13 rebounds.
Game 4 – Pistons 105, Lakers 97
Despite being significantly shorthanded, the Lakers jumped out to a 12-point lead after the first quarter behind the strong play of James Worthy, who scored 17 points in the opening 12 minutes. The Pistons also did their part to keep the Lakers ahead by missing 11 free throws in the first half. Detroit slowly chipped away at the Lakers’ lead, cutting the margin to two points heading into the final quarter. The Pistons outscored the Lakers by 10 points in the final quarter, taking control of the game early in the quarter and never looking back en route to the sweep.
Joe Dumars scored 23 points, going 13-of-17 from the free-throw line, to lead the Pistons and earn series MVP honors. Detroit had six players in double figures, including reserve center James Edwards, who scored 13 points and was key in the fourth-quarter comeback.
Worthy finished with 40 points for the Lakers, going 17-of-26 from the field. However, he was the only L.A. player to score more than 13 points.
In his final NBA game, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored seven points. He was taken out of the game three times in the final 3:23 of the game, each time to a louder ovation from the hometown crowd. Abdul-Jabbar made his final basket with 1:37 left in the game, which at the time cut the Pistons’ lead to four points. It was the Lakers’ last field goal of the game.
The Pistons became the first team to sweep the Finals since the expansion of the playoffs to 16 teams in 1984. They were also the first team to sweep under the 2-3-2 format, which was adopted in 1985.