As his Boston Celtics teammates poured champagne on each other after their 111-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on June 12 in the decisive game of the NBA championship series, guard Dennis Johnson stood off to one side, holding a bottle and drinking in the scene. He shook the bottle and, after a minute or so, uncorked it and joined the celebration. With the bubbly spurting like a geyser, Johnson directed the stream across the room, all the while shouting, "This is the way you do it; this is the way you do it!"
The rest of the Celtics picked up on what seemed like a good idea, until soon the ceiling, the walls, the working press and countless supernumeraries were dripping. The general hilarity was a fitting denouement to what had transpired over the prior 17 days.
If nothing else, Boston's triumph was a celebration of brawn over beauty, a prime example of the Celtics' work ethic. Not that the Lakers didn't try hard, but the Celtics simply tried harder. How else can you explain a team shooting 39.5% in the biggest game of the season and winning its 15th NBA title nevertheless?
But work alone doesn't mean much unless you have something to work with, and in that respect the Celtics' banner year was a tribute to their architect, president and general manager, Red Auerbach. He, too, was a locker-room celebrant, and he, too, had champagne poured on his head—for the 15th time. Auerbach—who traded for center Robert Parish when no one else wanted him, drafted superstar Larry Bird in 1978 when he still had a year of college eligibility remaining, and traded for Johnson—is the only man who has participated in every Celtic championship, nine as coach and the last six in his present capacities. He says he's retiring, but then, he's never exactly been the retiring sort, and he'll still be around in some capacity.
As much as this series will be remembered for the way the Celtics won it, the way the Lakers lost it should be equally memorable. Only twice, in Game 5, played in the 97° sweatbox of Boston Garden, and in the finale, did the Celtics score clear-cut victories. Their other wins, in Games 2 and 4, were the result of Los Angeles largesse. Even Bird, the series' most valuable player, admitted as much. "L.A. should have swept us in four games," he said.
Had it not been for a misguided pass by James Worthy, meant for Byron Scott, with 15 seconds to play and the Lakers leading 113-111 in Game 2, L.A. would have taken a two-zip lead home to California. "What will I remember most from this series?" said Laker coach Pat Riley. "Simple. Game 2. Worthy's pass to Scott. I could see the seams of the ball, like it was spinning in slow motion, but I couldn't do anything about it." Gerald Henderson swiped the pass, sank a layup to tie the game, and Boston won in OT.
"Our team is wiry and footloose," Riley said. "But an aggressive team that rebounds will win because it will create more opportunities for inside play and free throws." And of all the things that contributed to the Celtics' triumph, none was more important than rebounding. They outrebounded the Lakers in five of the seven games, grabbed a championship series-record 131 offensive rebounds (compared with 96 for L.A.) and outscored the Lakers 159-90 in second-shot points. Boston took 35 more shots from the field and 42 more from the line than Los Angeles.
The Lakers' fast break, the essential element in their arsenal, is predicated on getting the ball off the glass. When the Lakers dominated the boards, they won. For example, in Game 3, L.A. had a remarkable 63-44 rebound advantage and cruised to a 137-104 victory. Except for Game 1, if the Lakers didn't outrebound Boston, they didn't run, and if they didn't run, they didn't win. And there was no more vivid example of that than Game 7.
As they walked onto the Garden parquet, the Lakers knew they'd have to fly in the face of history. In six previous seventh games for the championship (three against the Lakers), the Celtics had never lost, while Los Angeles was 0 for 4 in seventh games. On Tuesday the L.A. fast break accounted for only seven points, as Boston concentrated not only on forcing the ball down low but also on pounding the offensive boards for second-shot opportunities. Parish scored nine points off eight offensive rebounds and twice kept the ball alive so that teammates could score. Along with Parish, forward Cedric Maxwell jumped out of the box early, 17 of his team-high 24 points coming in the first half. The Lakers finished the game with 33 rebounds, compared with 52 (20 offensive) for Boston, and that finished them.
Maxwell was spectacular in what may have been his final game as a Celtic. He's now a free agent, and a dissatisfaction with his sacrificial role in Boston's offense, as well as the prospect of big bucks—most notably from Atlanta Hawks owner Ted Turner, whom Maxwell facetiously calls "Uncle Teddy"—could be enough to lure Maxwell away.