SI Vault
Jack McCallum
June 22, 1987
With a Magical fast break and inspired play from a revered center, Los Angeles beat Boston for the NBA championship
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June 22, 1987

Your Ball, L.a.

With a Magical fast break and inspired play from a revered center, Los Angeles beat Boston for the NBA championship

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In that clean, well-lighted place called the Forum, the Los Angeles Lakers finally subdued the Boston Celtics in Game 6 of the NBA finals on Sunday afternoon, performing the bloodless laser surgery that typified their season. The end came swiftly for the Celtics, who led 56-51 at the half but crumbled under a 30-12 blitzkrieg in the third period. And so, for the fourth time this decade, a purple reign fell on the NBA.

The Lakers deserved it. They may never be anybody's blue-collar baby, and they may not be "one of the greatest teams ever," a phrase that was bandied about after they devastated the defending-champion Celtics in Games 1 and 2 of the series. But they are, assuredly, the league's best team this season. They won the title by the decisive score of 106-93 after turning the third period into a track meet and the Celtics into stumblebums.

And so, once again a champion has failed to repeat in the NBA. The last time one did repeat was in 1969, when—surprise, surprise—the Celtics beat the Lakers in Game 7 at the Forum. Jack Kent Cooke, then the Lakers owner, greased his own skids that day by planning a victory celebration right in front of Celtics general manager Red Auerbach's cigar. Balloons hung from the rafters, and a college band waited in the wings, but it all went for naught.

Instead of balloons, this Lakers team brought overwhelming energy and determination into the third period, and blew that up, right in Boston's face.

"There's no question this is the best team I've played on," said Magic Johnson, a member of the 1980, '82 and '85 championship Lakers. "It's fast, it can shoot and rebound, it has inside people, it has everything. I've never played on a team that had everything before." Nor has a team often played with an individual who does everything to the degree that Magic did this season. After a 16-point, 19-assist, 8-rebound, 3-steal performance in the finale, he was the unanimous choice as series MVP, his third such selection; any other choice would have been a joke.

Can the game be played any better than Magic played it in the third period on Sunday? After scoring only four first-half points, Magic was on the ropes and the Lakers were right there with him. But then he took over. Of the 30 Lakers points in the third quarter, Johnson scored 12 and assisted on 8 others. He also grabbed four rebounds and was all over the place defensively, double-teaming down low and planting his body in every passing lane. The Celtics scored only 12 points in the period (same as Magic), and almost before they knew it, it was over. One sudden, explosive charge—that's Lakerball.

"We couldn't stop the avalanche," said Danny Ainge, whose 1-for-9 shooting in the game more closely resembled a rock slide. Said Celtics assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers: "The Lakers have a way of going through surges. That's what they're all about. It was more their doing than our undoing." Maybe. But couldn't the Celtics have done something? Particularly invisible during the 12 hellish minutes of the third period was a blond guy with a wispy mustache, rumored to be the game's best player—name of Larry Bird. Bird missed his first four shots of the period before finally making a layup, but more to the point, he barely touched the ball when he wasn't shooting it. Sure, part of the time he was being covered by a piece of human flypaper called Michael Cooper, but in a curiously inefficient performance. Bird finished with just 16 points, 6 of those coming in the final, meaningless minutes of the game. "I was off the first half [3 of 8 from the floor], but that hasn't necessarily been a bad sign for us," said Bird. "So I didn't come out trying to take over the game in the third period. Then, when we got down by 10 or 12, I thought maybe I should start scoring. But by that time we were out of our offense and couldn't seem to get back in." True. The Celtics either pounded the ball inside without success (the foul calls that Kevin McHale and Robert Parish had gotten throughout the series were not forthcoming) or they took misguided, hurried bombs (Ainge was particularly guilty). Had it not been for Dennis Johnson (33 points), the Celtics could have left the Forum early and beaten the freeway traffic. "I've said all year that when we have breakdowns, we have major breakdowns," said Bird.

It was James Worthy who made a play early in the third period that was enough to give Boston a nervous breakdown. It also epitomized the Lakers' intensity during those 12 crucial minutes. With 10:05 to go, Worthy got a hand on a lazy pass from McHale to Dennis Johnson. Worthy pursued it down the sideline and dove headlong to the floor to save it from going out of bounds, tapping it to a fast-breaking Magic in the process. Magic's dunk gave the Lakers a 57-56 lead, and they never looked back. It was the kind of play that the Celtics usually make—a DJ kind of play—only this time the Lakers made it.

Until that overwhelming third period, there had been some doubt that the Lakers could hold on and win the series, even though they brought a 3-2 lead back to Los Angeles last Friday. They had been fortunate to squeeze out a 107-106 victory in Game 4 at Boston Garden on Tuesday night, and then, with a chance to celebrate on the parquet on Thursday, they played a dreadful Game 5, losing 123-108.

By then the series had taken on the usual Lakers-Celtics complexion. The bad blood began flowing late in the second period of Game 4 when Worthy steamed in for a layup and Greg Kite mistook him for a wide receiver. Kite deposited Worthy over the end line, and Worthy jumped up and started swinging. Players from both benches stormed onto the court, but there were only minor skirmishes. Actually, the best punch landed was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's almost unnoticed quick jab to Kite's face. Worthy led the resulting $8,000 fine parade with a $2,000 levy.

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