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Finally, A Happy Laker Landing
Alexander Wolff
June 17, 1985
Los Angeles overcame its history of failure against the Celtics and won the NBA championship in Boston
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June 17, 1985

Finally, A Happy Laker Landing

Los Angeles overcame its history of failure against the Celtics and won the NBA championship in Boston

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The Lakers' collective will was the sum of many individual motives. James Worthy, a young star, was motivated by the moment. He provided 28 points in the clincher on an impressive array of splay-legged slams and outside jumpers, scoring from the perimeter more often than Bird did. But if anything spurred the Lakers on, it was the resolve of their written-off and their reviled. "There comes a time when you have to plant your feet firmly, take a stand and kick some butt," Riley said. "That's what we did. They can never mock us, or humiliate us, or disrespect us, which is what they did last year."

L.A. defensive specialist Michael Cooper had taken a muzzled shot at his coach for failing to get him in at the end of Game 4, when Dennis Johnson sank a 21-foot jumper at the buzzer to beat the Lakers at the Forum, 107-105. Here in Game 6 he helped to throttle Bird, even returning for the fourth quarter after his day seemed finished late in the third, when he was carried off with a bruised knee.

Mitch Kupchak, the 6'10" reserve, was a longshot to ever play again after ripping his left knee apart 3� years ago. In an ironic twist, Kupchak embodied the Lakers' commitment to physical fitness. He threw his rebuilt body at McHale all series long, and spelled Abdul-Jabbar for a long stretch of the second quarter Sunday, when fouls forced the captain to the bench. "They really didn't lose nothing," Bird noted.

Kurt Rambis, trashed by Celtics radio man Johnny Most as a creature "from a sewer" who perhaps should be "kicked out of the league," dived routinely into the stands for loose balls. Those scratches on his back, he explained, really weren't from alley fights under the boards—he grabbed 19 rebounds in Games 5 and 6—but from trimming rose bushes.

As for Abdul-Jabbar, he had been humiliated by Riley at a team meeting following his lethargic 12-point, three-rebound performance in L.A.'s 148-114 Game 1 loss. "He stepped forward and said what I was saying was right," Riley said. "And he made a contract with us that it would never happen again, ever. That game was a blessing in disguise. It strengthened the fiber of this team. Ever since then, Kareem had this look, this air about him."

Magic, of course, had nursed a special kind of determination, too, ever since he muffed late free throws, threw away crucial passes and took the rap for the Lakers' '84 loss to Boston. "You wait so long to get back," he said. "A whole year, that's the hard part. But that's what makes this game interesting. It's made me stronger. You have to deal with different situations and see if you can come back."

The Lakers found out they could. They refused to Wilt after that dispiriting loss in Game 4 at the Forum, when D.J., Boston's L.A.-bred guard, took a pass from Bird above the foul circle with two seconds left and "buried it in his own backyard," as Celtic M.L. Carr put it.

Long before that buzzer-beater, even before the game began, in fact, the Celtics had outfoxed the Lakers. Just hours before tip-off, NBA vice-president for operations Scotty Stirling warned the opposing coaches, Riley and K.C. Jones, that extracurricular horseplay of the sort demonstrated in Games 2 and 3 would be dealt with summarily. Riley dutifully relayed the message to his Lakers but Jones cagily kept it to himself. L.A., which had seemed to profit psychologically in Games 2 and 3 from its newfound aggressiveness, was the consensus loser as Game 4 play turned Etonian. The Lakers had their chances, but couldn't deliver a fatal sting. "It makes you wonder when they win all the games decided by one or two points," Cooper mused. "Those are the games where you see the heart of a good ball team. We've just gotta buckle down and win one of these."

In Game 5, the Lakers were determined to match the Celtics' aggressiveness, and a defensive switch early in the second quarter helped them to break through with a 120-111 win. McHale, who came to full-blooming stardom in this series, had already scored 16 points over and around smaller Lakers, so Riley took Abdul-Jabbar off Robert Parish and assigned him to McHale. The Celtics naturally began feeding Parish, but the Chiefs troubles didn't end when Kareem left him. McHale, meanwhile, was sealed off from the offensive boards, where he had run down four rebounds before Abdul-Jabbar began guarding him. And he made but three shots the rest of the way.

The 6'8" Rambis was the one left to cope with Parish. Twice Rambis pirouetted around the seven-footer for steals that started Laker breaks. But his single most impressive play came late in the second quarter, with L.A. nursing a 50-48 lead. McHale had entered the lane and launched another one of his heretofore automatic short jumpers, the ones that Most calls "pumpkins."

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