Golden Basketball Magazine
NBA Finals - Game 7
1984: Los Angeles Lakers @ Boston Celtics
The 1979 NCAA championship game drew the largest television audience in the history of American basketball.
  • The game pitted the Michigan State Spartans against the Indiana State Sycamores.
  • What blew the TV ratings through the roof was the matchup of two superstars: G Earvin "Magic" Johnson of Michigan State and F Larry Bird of Indiana State.

Both moved to the NBA for the 1979-80 season although their paths were different.

  • Boston General Manager Red Auerbach drafted Bird with the #6 pick in 1978 to ensure that the Celtics had the rights to Larry as soon as he got out of college. Those rights expired when the 1979 draft began. This move was allowed by the league by what came to be known as the "Bird Collegiate Rule." Larry decided to play his senior year at Indiana State to enhance his value.
  • His decision proved a wise one when he led ISU to a 33-0 record before falling to the Spartans in the finals. He won the AP Player of the Year as well as the John Wooden and Naismith College Player of the Year Awards.
  • After lengthy negotiations, Larry signed a five-year $3.25M contract with the Celtics just prior of the 1979 draft.

Magic Johnson's road to the Los Angeles Lakers was also complicated.

  • The journey started on August 5, 1976, when the New Orleans Jazz signed Lakers G Gail Goodrich. Since free agency was a decade away, the Lakers were entitled to compensation from the Jazz. So New Orleans traded their 1977, 1978, and 1979 first round draft picks to the Lakers. The Jazz received the Lakers' second round pick in 1977, first round pick in 1978, and Goodrich.
  • Since the Jazz, coached by former Laker great Elgin Baylor, finished with the worst record in the league in the 1978-79 season, the Lakers were able to pick Johnson with the #1 pick in the 1979 Draft.

So the two most storied franchises in the NBA had the two most exciting rookies to enter the league since Lew Alcindor in 1969.

  • The Celtics had fallen sharply since winning the NBA title in 1976. Their 29-53 record in 1978-79 was the second worst in franchise history. They won 32 more games in 1979-80 with Bird in the lineup.
  • The '80-81 Celtics won the NBA title in six games over the Houston Rockets.
  • But Boston went downhill after that. When Milwaukee swept the Celtics in the 1983 playoffs, Coach Bill Fitch resigned after four years and was quickly replaced by assistant K. C. Jones, who had played for the great Boston teams of the Bill Russell era. A players coach, Jones was a breath of fresh air after the autocratic Fitch.
  • Equally as important, Bird decided he had to improve his play. He worked hard during the off-season to improve his step-back jump shot as well as his ambidexterity and passing. Despite his lack of leaping ability, Larry positioning, timing, and strong hands made him an outstanding rebounder.
  • Auerbach made another change heading into the 1983-84 season. He acquired 6'4" G Dennis Johnson in a trade from Phoenix. He provided the big defensive guard the Celtics needed.
  • The changes moved the Celtics from second in the Atlantic Division in 1983 to first in '84.

The Lakers had not fallen as low as the Celtics when Magic joined them in 1979.

  • The Milwaukee Bucks traded Lew Alcindor, now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, to the Lakers in 1975 for four players.
  • The Lakers made the playoffs in the three years before Johnson's arrival but didn't make it past the Western Conference Finals.
  • They won the championship in Johnson's rookie year, beating the Philadelphia 76ers in six games. If anyone questioned Johnson's magic, he removed all doubt in Game 6 of the Finals when he played center in place of the injured Kareem and scored 42 points and gathered 15 rebounds to spark the 123-107 title-clinching victory in Philadelphia.
  • The Lakers received a shot in the arm when assistant Pat Riley replaced head coach Paul Westhead during the 1981-82 season.

The Lakers' only real competition in the Pacific Division was provided by the Portland Trail Blazers.

  • LA finished the regular season 54-28 to win their division by six games.
  • As expected, Kareem led the team in scoring with a 21.5ppg average.
  • At 6'9", PG Johnson tied Kareem for the rebound lead with 7.3 per game.
  • Assists was no contest, Magic leading the league with 13.1 per game. Michael Cooper was a distant second at 5.9apg.

After losing their season opener, the Celtics ran off nine wins in a row and never looked back to win the Atlantic Division by 10 games over the 76ers.

  • To no one's surprise, Bird led the Celtic scorers with 24.2ppg.
  • Robert Parish edged out Larry for the team lead in rebounds, 10.7 to 10.1.
  • Thanks to his hard work during the summer, Bird topped the Celts in assists with 6.6 per game, 2.4 more than Dennis Johnson.
Eastern Conference
Atlantic Division
Team W L % GB
Boston Celtics 62 20 .756 --
Philadelphia 76ers 52 30 .634 10
New York Knicks 47 35 .573 15
New Jersey Nets 45 37 .549 17
Washington Bullets 35 47 .427 27
Central Division
Team W L % GB
Milwaukee Bucks 50 32 .610 --
Detroit Pistons 49 33 .598 1
Atlanta Hawks 40 42 .488 10
Cleveland Cavaliers 28 54 .341 22
Chicago Bulls 27 55 .329 23
Indiana Pacers 26 56 .317 24
Western Conference
Midwest Division
Team W L % GB
Utah Jazz 45 37 .549 --
Dallas Mavericks 43 39 .524 2
Denver Nuggets 38 44 .463 7
Kansas City Kings 38 44 .463 7
San Antonio Spurs 37 45 .451 8
Houston Rockets 29 53 .354 16
Pacific Division
Team W L % GB
Los Angeles Lakers 54 28 .659 --
Portland Trail Blazers 48 34 .585 6
Seattle Supersonics 42 40 .512 12
Phoenix Suns 41 41 .500 13
Golden State Warriors 37 45 .451 17
San Diego Clippers 30 52 .366 24

Eastern Conference First Round
Celtics over Bullets 3-1
Knicks over Pistons 3-1
Nets over 76ers 3-2
Bucks over Hawks 3-2
Western Conference First Round
Lakers over Kings 3-0
Mavericks over Supersonics 3-2
Suns over Trail Blazers 3-2
Jazz over Nuggets 3-2
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Celtics over Knicks 4-3
Bucks over Hawks 4-2
Western Conference Semifinals
Lakers over Mavericks 4-1
Suns over Jazz 4-2
Eastern Conference Finals
Celtics over Bucks 4-1
Western Conference Finals
Lakers over Suns 4-2

The Celtics had a slightly tougher road to the finals than the Lakers.

  • LA rolled through the Western Conference playoffs, winning 11 with only three losses in the three series.
  • The Knicks pushed the Celtics to the seventh game to defeat them in the Eastern semifinals. Boston then roared past Milwaukee in the finals 4-1.
  • Because of their better regular season record (62 wins to 54 for the Lakers), Boston earned home court advantage in the finals.

The pairing of the NBA's two glamor teams produced high TV ratings for CBS

# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
4 Byron Scott G 6-3 195 Arizona State 1
11 Bob McAdoo C 6-9 210 North Carolina 12
21 Michael Cooper G 6-5 170 New Mexico 6
25 Mitch Kupchak F 6-9 230 North Carolina 7
31 Kurt Rambis F 6-8 215 Santa Clara 3
32 Magic Johnson G 6-8 215 Michigan State 5
33 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar C 7-2 225 UCLA 15
35 Larry Spriggs F 6-7 230 Howard 3
40 Mike McGee F 6-5 190 Michigan 3
41 Swen Nater C 6-11 240 UCLA 11
42 James Worthy F 6-9 225 North Carolina 2
52 Jamaal Wilkes F 6-6 190 UCLA 10
Coach: Pat Riley
# Player Pos. Hgt. Wgt. College Exp.
00 Robert Parish C 7-1 230 Centenary 8
3 Dennis Johnson SG 6-4 185 Pepperdine 8
8 Scott Wedman SF 6-7 215 Colorado 10
28 Quinn Buckner PG 6-3 190 Indiana 8
30 M. L. Carr SF 6-6 205 Guilford 9
31 Cedric Maxwell SF 6-8 205 UNC Charlotte 7
32 Kevin McHale PF 6-10 210 Minnesota 4
33 Larry Bird PF 6-9 220 Indiana State 5
40 Carlos Clark SG 6-4 210 Ole Miss 1
43 Gerald Henderson PG 6-2 175 Virginia Commonwealth 5
44 Danny Ainge SG 6-4 175 Brigham Young 3
50 Greg Kite C 6-11 250 Brigham Young 1
Coach: K. C. Jones
# Date Place Winner Loser Winning Team
High Scorer
Losing Team
High Scorer
1 May 27 Boston Lakers 115 Celtics 109 Abdul-Jabbar 32 McHale 25
2 May 31 Boston Celtics 124 Lakers 121 Bird 27 Worthy 29
3 June 3 Los Angeles Lakers 137 Celtics 104 Abdul-Jabbar 24 Bird 30
4 June 6 Los Angeles Celtics 129 Lakers 125 Bird 29 Abdul-Jabbar 32
5 June 8 Boston Celtics 121 Lakers 103 Bird 34 Worthy 22
6 June 10 Los Angeles Lakers 119 Celtics 108 Abdul-Jabbar 30 Bird 28

Trying to beat Boston in the finals for the first time after seven losses, the Lakers shocked the Celtics in Boston in Game One as the teams alternated victories in the first four games.

  • Game One: Shaking off a migraine headache hours before game time, Kareem hit 12 of 17 shots for 32 points to lead the upset win, 115-109. Running their patented fast break, LA jumped in front 34-22 in the first period and led all the way.
  • Game Two: With Boston holding Kareem to 20 points, F James Worthy took up the slack with 29. But this time, the Celtics started fast, leading 36-26 after the first quarter. The Lakers closed the gap and led 115-113 with 18 seconds left in regulation. Kevin McHale missed two free throws, and LA got the rebound. Coach Pat Riley had told Magic to call timeout if McHale made the free throws, but Johnson misunderstood and called timeout after the second miss. That gave the Celtics time to set up their defense. Magic inbounded the ball from the side to Worthy in the backcourt. James spotted G Byron Scott open across the court and tried to get the ball to him. G Gerald Henderson earned a place in Celtic Valhalla when he snatched the pass and sank an easy layup to tie the game. The final seconds expired without the Lakers getting off a shot. Late in the overtime, Henderson found Scott Wedman open on the baseline for a jump shot that sealed Boston's 124-121 win.
    Game Two Action

    Gerald Henderson ties the game after his steal.
  • Game Three: If the Lakers were heartbroken at letting Game Two slip through their fingers, they didn't show it back at the Forum. Magic set a Finals record that still stands with 21 assists as six Lakers scored in double figures in the 137-104 romp. Bird, who scored 30, blasted his teammates. "We played like a bunch of sissies. I know the heart and soul of this team, and today the heart wasn't there ... I didn't feel we played hard. We got beat bad, and it's very embarrassing."
  • Game Four: The Celtics responded to their leader's condemnation by eking out another overtime win to even the Series again. Jones made an important change on defense. He switched D.J. Johnson to cover Magic. When the Lakers jumped out to another early lead, M.L. Carr screamed from the bench for his teammates to become more physical. McHale responded by clotheslining Kurt Rambis on a breakaway layup to cause a ruckus under the basket. Boston closed the gap but still trailed by five with less than a minute to play. But Parish stole a bad pass from Magic to cut into the margin, and Johnson missed two key free throws to let the Celtics tie the game. As in Game 2, Boston won the overtime to win 129-125.
    Game Four action

    Kevin McHale clotheslines Kurt Rambis.
  • Game Five: Realizing that they could intimidate the Lakers, the Celtics continued their physical play. It was 97 degrees in antiquated Boston Garden, and the home team used that to their advantage. 37-year-old Kareem showed his age, scoring 19 points but claiming only seven rebounds in what he called a "steam bath." Behind Bird's 34 points, Dennis Johnson's 22, and McHale's 19, Boston outscored the Lakers 66-50 in the second half to take their first lead in the Series, 121-103.
  • Game Six: Facing elimination back in the Forum, the Lakers became more physical themselves. Worthy set the tone in the first period when he shoved Cedric "Cornbread" Maxwell into a basket support. Still, LA trailed 87-83 heading into the final period. They outscored the Celtics 36-21 down the stretch to force a seventh game, 119-108.
    Game Six action


Game Seven

The entire city of Boston was amped for Game 7.

  • The Lakers needed a police escort to go from their hotel to the arena. LA hoped to be the first team to defeat the Celtics in a Game 7 at the Boston Garden.
  • The Lakers expected a physical game. Win or lose, the game was expected to be Red Auerbach's last as Boston General Manager.
  • In a typically classless display in line with what Auerbach taught the Celtics when he was head coach, Carr came out wearing goggles to mock Kareem.
  • Quarter 1
    The Celtics prevented the LA from getting a single offensive rebound in the period, but the Lakers were hot from the field, hitting 11-of-18, with Kareem scoring nine on the inside and Michael Cooper adding eight from the outside. However, Kurt Rambis was having trouble containing a very active Cornbread Maxwell, who made two layups and four free throws.
    Lakers 30 Celtics 30

  • Quarter 2
    After missing his first three shots, James Worthy stuffed one home to give LA the lead to open the period. But the Celtics answered with eight straight points to move in front 38-32. Larry Bird sank two free throws, then took a pass from Danny Ainge for a layup. Then the two reversed roles, Danny laying in a give-and-go from Larry.
    Continuing to dominate the boards, Boston incresed the lead to nine. Robert Parish scored on a put back, Kevin McHale rolled in a layup on a fast break, and Maxwell completed a three-point play inside against reserve Mitch Kupchak to make it 58-47 Boston.
    Behind Worthy's rebound jumper and two free throws coupled with Kupchak's layup and foul shot, LA closed to within four. But Maxwell, who had 17 points in the half, hit 4-of-6 from the line after drawing fouls from Worthy in close.
    Despite shooting only 37.5% in the second quarter, the Celtics led by six at the break. Kareem tallied only two points in the last ten minutes of the half.
    Celtics 58 Lakers 52
  • Quarter 3
    Boston missed three of their first four shots to open the period as LA, on a Kurt Rambis spin move, Magic's foul-line jumper, and a sky hook by Kareem, narrowed the lead to 60-58.
    Gerald Henderson, who played only seven minutes in the first half because of foul trouble, nailed three straight jumpers to keep the Celtics on top, 71-68, with seven minutes left. LA then failed to convert either of two straight Boston turnovers, and DJ Johnson made two free throws to stretch the lead to five.
    When a Worthy leaner and a Rambis reverse layup made it a one-point game at 73-72, the Celtics responded with Bird's short banker and a three-point play by Parish to pump the lead back to 78-72.
    Bird was on the sidelines waving a towel over his head to cheer on his teammates when the Celtics ran off nine points to spurt from 82-78 to 91-78 and take control of the game. McHale began the decisive run by nailing a fadeaway. After a Cooper miss, Ainge downed a 20-footer. Two inside misses by Kareem and a turnover led to three Celtic free throws to end the period. Celtics 91 Lakers 78
  • Quarter 4
    DJ Hit two jumpers from the outside and added two free throws to put the Celtics up 99-85 midway through the period.
    Jones took Bird out again. "I took Larry out the second time," KC said, "because the defense was concentrating too much on him. He'd missed a shot, and then he traveled, and then he got a foul, and all the while, our offense was dead in the water, and there was no way we could sit on our lead."
    Bird returned to the lineup with 3:57 to go with the Celtics leading 101-93. But a 17-6 rally brought the Lakers to within 105-102 with 1:15 remaining as Kareem came alive, hitting on a hook with 2:52 left and a three-point play at 1:56. Then a Worthy jumper cut the lead to three. After a Bird miss, Magic rebounded and dribbled the length of the floor, but Parish blocked his shot. That sent DJ on a fast break, and he was fouled. His two free throws, and a Cooper miss on a three-point try with 35 seconds left allowed Bird to clinch the game with two foul shots with 0:26 on the clock.
    Boston ended the period with just three field goals.

Larry Bird and Magic Johnson

K. C Jones

Dennis Johnson

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Pat Riley

Player Min FG FT Rebs Ast Fouls  Points 
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 43 12-22 5-8 6 4 3 29
Magic Johnson 43 5-14 6-7 5 15 5 16
Michael Cooper 42 6-12 2-4 3 6 5 16
James Worthy 40 9-14 3-6 4 2 4 21
Kurt Rambis 26 3-8 1-1 9 0 5 7
Byron Scott 20 2-7 0-0 2 1 3 4
Jamaal Wilkes 16 2-3 0-0 1 0 4 4
Mitch Kupchak 7 2-4 1-2 3 0 2 5
Swen Nater 3 0-0 0-0 0 0 1 0
Total 240 41-84 18-28 33 28 32 102
Player Min FG FT Rebs Ast Fouls Points
Cedric Maxwell  43 5-10 14-17 8 8 2 24
Robert Parish 41 4-16 6-9 16 2 3 14
Larry Bird 38 6-18 8-8 12 3 1 20
Dennis Johnson 36 5-13 12-12 6 2 5 22
Gerald Henderson 23 4-8 1-2 3 1 4 9
Kevin McHale 26 4-6 2-3 4 0 3 10
Danny Ainge 19 5-12 0-0 2 1 3 10
M.L. Carr 7 0-2 0-0 1 1 1 0
Quinn Buckner 6 1-1 0-0 0 0 1 2
Carlos Clark 1 0-0 0-0 0 0 0 0
Total 240 34-86 43-51 52 18 23 111

The Celtics won their 14th championship series after suffering their only setback in 1958 and brought their record to 7-0 in seventh games of final rounds.
Los Angeles fell to 0-5 in seven-game finals and 0-8 in championship series if you include their years in Minneapolis.
Larry Bird was the unanimous choice for Finals MVP. He set finals records for most steals (15) and most defensive rebounds (72). Magic Johnson broke the playoff assist mark with 95.


Celtics Locker Room

  • Coach Jones on why he took off Bird for a while in the fourth quarter: "The Lakers made Larry put the ball on the floor, and our offense wasn't moving. So we decided to go away from him and move the ball around, and it worked pretty well."
  • "And it didn't make me mad," added Bird. "It was a smart move by KC. I just didn't shoot well in the second half." Larry praised the fans. "The crowd is motivation to jump a little higher and move a little quicker."
  • Cornbread Maxwell earned the game ball from Coach Jones. "There's no way we were going to lose this game. We have leadership, courage, poise, charisma. We have it all. The Lakers had more talent that we did. They're a tremendous team, and James Worthy is one of the rising superstars in this league. But we have perseverance, and we have character, and we have heart. ... I'm more happy for K. C. than anyone. He's been knocked for so long. He brought the team together that was in turmoil. We couldn't have won without him."

Lakers Locker Room

  • Coach Riley: "Their rebounding and their free throws are what beat us. And their free throws (43 of 51 to LA's 18 of 28) had a lot to do with their aggressiveness. They were taking it to the basket all night. The Celtics are a very aggressive, very tall team, and they also wanted it. That's the difference, because rebounding is desire."
  • Kareem had to fight his way off the court as Boston fans stormed the court. "Somebody ripped my glasses off my face. They tried to rip my uniform off, and I had to defend myself. It was a very unpleasant experience." When he finally turned to the game, he said, "They say in sports the best team usually wins. They were better; give them credit. ... I told our guys before the game we had to control the boards to win, and we didn't. We just didn't control our defensive boards, and we didn't hit our outside shots, even though we had plenty of them." Reporters wondered in print how the disappointment would affect the 37-year-old giant's future. Would he retire? But Kareem insisted, "I'll be ready to play next year."
  • Jamaal Wilkes: "This was a very disappointed (locker) room. There were tears."
  • Kurt Rambis waxed philosophical. "There's no doubt it's been a successful season for us. We just lost the last game of the season, but that doesn't mean it wasn't a success. We've been here the last three years, and only two teams in the league make it here each year. It's unfortunate we've won it just once in those years, but it's a success for us that we've been here."
Participants in the 1984 NBA Finals who are in the Basketball Hall of Fame:
Celtics: Coach K.C. Jones, Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish
Lakers: Coach Pat Riley, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Jamaal Wilkes, James Worthy
1983-84 Los Angeles Lakers
1983-84 Boston Celtics