By Cort Reynolds
The 1985 NBA championship round rematch between Boston and Los Angeles is best-known for a few things: LA finally winning its first title in nine tries over the Celtics, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's big series after a woeful game one, and the Memorial Day Massacre in that opening contest.
On that Monday afternoon, Boston crushed the Lakers 148-114, handing them the worst Finals loss in their proud franchise history until the Celtics whipped them 131-92 in game six of the 2008 Finals.
In game one of 1985 the Celtics put on an awesome shooting display and Jabbar played one of the worst playoff games of his career, prompting many to question whether the 38-year old center was done. He apologized to his teammates afterward and came back strong the rest of the way to earn series MVP honors.
It was the fourth Finals win for Boston over LA in five games dating back to June of the previous season, and in the lone loss – game six in 1984 – the Celtics had led much of the game. It seemed they had the purple and gold’s number, and the blowout victory underlined that. But Boston became overconfident and paid for it later.
Yet in that series lidlifter one player, an overlooked former All-Star and an underused reserve on the talented Celtics, enjoyed arguably the greatest shooting day anyone has ever had in the 66 years of the Finals.
By the time the 1985 championship series rolled around, 6-7 Boston backup small forward/big guard Scott Wedman was pushing 33. In his first seven seasons from 1974-81, he had been a consistent but unheralded standout for the Kansas City Kings, averaging just under 17 points a game with highs of 19 ppg in 1980 and 1981.
Scott was also a stellar defender, good enough to be named second team all-defense in 1980, back when NBA coaches voted for the team, not the media. He also was the most deadly baseline shooter in the league, a solid rebounder and unselfish passer.
Wedman was named to the All-Star team in 1976 and 1980 after suffering serious injuries in a car March 1979 accident. Doctors credited Wedman's incredible physical conditioning as a major factor in his quick comeback as he still played 73 of a possible 82 games that season. He was nicknamed “the Incredible Hulk” in KC for his extended workouts, and was one of the first vegetarians and serious weightlifters in the NBA.
Perhaps the finest hour of Wedman's pre-1985 Finals career came in 1981. After he scored 19 a game that season on 48 percent shooting, his 40-42 Kings sneaked into the playoffs but saw their backcourt of playmaker Phil Ford and later shooting guard Otis Birdsong sidelined by injury.
Going into the playoffs as heavy underdogs, coach Cotton Fitzsimmons shifted Wedman to big guard and inserted heady 6-6 swingman Ernie Grunfeld to take Ford's place at the point.
Amazingly behind their new, big backcourt and the inside play of Reggie King and Sam Lacey, the Cinderella Kings took off. KC upset 45-37 Portland 2-1 in the first round mini-series, winning both games on the Blazer homecourt as Wedman led the way with 25.7 ppg in the short series.
Then in a major upset, the Kings knocked off the top West seed, 57-25 Phoenix, led by future Celtic teammate Dennis Johnson, in seven games. With Birdsong hurt in a game one loss, Wedman upped his already-impressive production.
KC went into Phoenix for game seven as heavy underdogs, having blown a 3-1 series lead. But Wedman's 19 points, along with 23 apiece from Grunfeld and King, led the Kings to a huge upset, road seventh game victory. Scott scored 19.3 points a game in the series.
The Kings were now one round short of meeting the Celtics in an unlikely Finals, but a Wedman vs. Bird small forward showdown was derailed by Houston and Moses Malone in the West Finals, 4-1, despite 18.8 ppg by sniper Scott.
Wedman, a native Kansan who had played in relative obscurity for Colorado in college, was the top pick of the Kings in 1974, going sixth overall to KC.
Now he was searching for greener pastures and parlayed his big 1981 post-season into a free agent payday with Cleveland.
Not coincidentally, after their native son left for Ohio, the Kings fortunes and attendance spiraled downward and they moved to Sacramento in 1985.
But it was a bad decision for Scott to leave for Cleveland as they became the worst team in the league under the direction of Ted Stepien. So after 1.5 seasons and just 11 ppg over that span in the Cavalier wine and gold uniform, Wedman was given a reprieve.
The Celtics acquired the valuable forward for Cleveland State reserve center bust Darren Tillis, cash and a draft pick in mid-January of 1983.
However, the good news of being sent to one of the best teams in the NBA was tempered by the fact that Wedman's minutes would be drastically cut by playing behind Bird and the deepest frontcourt in the league that also featured Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Cedric Maxwell and Rick Robey.
Thus Scott, despite having some good seasons left at just age 30, played only 13 minutes a game in his first 1.5 years with Boston, and saw his scoring average dip to just five ppg.
Yet he did win a ring in 1984 and hit the winning baseline jumper in overtime of game two in those classic Finals. His clutch shot gave Boston a 122-121 lead in the final seconds and they went on to win the series, something that likely would not have happened had the Celtics gone down 0-2 heading to LA.
Per a 36 minute average, his production was still solid. However, K.C. Jones did not use him enough to be sharp, missing a golden chance to play him extra minutes at big guard or by pairing him more with Bird in what might have been the best-shooting forward tandem in NBA history.
But Wedman showed he still had the goods when given extended minutes.
In the surprisingly close 1985 first round playoff series vs. the Cavs, Larry was benched by an elbow injury for game three with Boston up 2-0.
Back on his former home court at the Richfield Coliseum, Scott started in Bird's stead and in 41 minutes scorched the nets for 30 points on excellent 13-20 field goal shooting. He also added eight rebounds, four assists and three steals.
But Boston lost 105-98, once again relegating Wedman’s big night to the background. The big story was the Cleveland crowd chanting “We want Larry” after the victory.” Yet Wedman’s outburst was a harbinger for future playoff rivals.
Bird came back with a vengeance in game 4 to lead Boston to a 117-115 series-clinching win with 34 points and 14 caroms, while Wedman was scoreless in just 17 minutes.
The muscle-bound Wedman did score 13 of his 17 points in half two of their 123-113 series-clinching sixth game win over Detroit in round two, making his first seven shots, but the best was yet to come. After Boston eliminated rival Philadelphia 4-1 in the East finals, they advanced to meet the waiting Lakers again.
And on May 27 in game one, Wedman went off on the unsuspecting Lakers. Coming off the pines late in the first stanza, the sharpshooter tallied 26 points in just 23 minutes to spearhead the Celtic 34-point bombing.
Yet it was Danny Ainge who shot Boston to its quick start as he made seven of nine shots in the opening period for 15 points. He drilled a running 21-footer from the right corner at the first period buzzer off a Wedman feed to cap his huge quarter as he shot the C’s to a 38-24 bulge. In fact, Scott had yet to take a shot.
Starting in the second quarter Wedman canned all 11 field goals he tried, including four of four beyond the three-point arc. Incredible upper body strength allowed Scott to softly and almost effortlessly flick long jumpers from the top of an extremely high release point that most defenders couldn’t bother.
Even though he claimed to be worried about Wedman before the game, his pinpoint accuracy from all over the parquet prompted Laker coach Pat Riley to vent afterward, “Who is Scott Wedman? F-----g Scott Wedman!”
Apparently Riley had forgotten Wedman's All-Star seasons in Kansas City sandwiched between Pat's retirement as a player and his Laker coaching career. But keen basketball observers weren't that surprised by Scott's outburst. They knew that Wedman, given consistent extended minutes, was still very dangerous. In fact, some experts considered Scott to be the team's best pure shooter, ahead of even Bird and Ainge.
Wedman rattled in his first shot from 17 feet out on the left wing off a pass from Dennis Johnson to give Boston a 25-point second stanza cushion.
Next, he let DJ pass in front of him before he calmly drained a left side trifecta that put the Celtics up 59-32. Moments later, Boston swung the ball to number eight for another left wing triple that found the bottom of the net and a 66-36 bulge.
On the very next play, Scott drilled yet another trey from the right corner. He had scored nine quick points, all on three’s, and totaled 11 points in the first half in limited time.
Ironically, he missed his only two free throws just before the half; the 15-foot shots must have been too close or uncontested.
Scott did not get back in the game until 2:59 remained in the third period. On his only shot of the quarter, he showed that the long break hadn’t cooled off his shooting touch.
He trailed a fast break, called for the ball from Ainge and swished a jump shot from top of the key for a 104-73 lead that made him five for five.
In the fourth stanza, Wedman continued his barrage. First, he curled off a double screen, took a pass from Quinn Buckner and nailed a right side 15-footer. On the next play he popped out and drained an open 18-footer launched from just left of the circle.
Clearly in the proverbial zone, Scott then buried a jumper from just beyond the left elbow to make it eight in a row. Shortly after that, he splashed his patented left baseline jumper from 16 feet to make it 21 points on nine of nine accuracy.
He was really feeling it now.
On the next Celtic possession, Wedman didn’t hesitate as he took a pass in the right corner, quickly let fly and swished it for 10 baskets in a row and 24 points.
Wedman’s last shot might have been his toughest one. He leaped high to catch a pass along the right baseline, then turned to his left shoulder in midair before releasing a 12-foot turnaround that went straight in for a 136-99 lead.
Eleven in a row. Twenty-six points in just 23 minutes. Scott went out with 3:50 still left to play and received a happy high five from DJ, as well as a rousing ovation from the fans who bellowed their appreciation for his record-setting shooting accuracy.
It was a rare break in the clouds of bench time behind the incomparable Bird for the former All-Star.
In that game one blowout amid the heat of the ancient Boston Garden, the Celtics singed the nets at a Finals single-game record 61 percent clip from the field (62-102), including 7 of 9 from three-point range, as all but one of the top 10 Celtics shot over 50 percent. Even Greg Kite scored seven points in 10 minutes and canned left-handed hooks.
Behind Wedman’s sniping, red-hot Boston sank 11 of 12 in one stretch of the second period and extended to an unthinkable 79-49 lead at halftime before cruising to the rout. The slick-passing Celtics were credited with 43 assists on their 62 baskets, and the 79-point first half they hung on the supposedly more powerful Lakers set a Finals record.
“Once one guy starts to hit, it catches on,” explained Bird, who scored 19 on 8-14 shooting. McHale tied Wedman for game honors with 26 on a “mere” 10-16 night.
“We never got our fast break game going because we spent the day pulling the ball out of the nets,” said Laker reserve Bob McAdoo, like Wedman a former All-Star turned seventh man on an uber-talented team.
“It wasn’t too hot; the only heat came from that cannon that they kept shooting,” said Riley.
Unfortunately (and puzzlingly) over the last five games of the Finals, Wedman played only 82 total minutes and scored 30 points, shooting 11 for 25.
Not altogether coincidentally, the Lakers took four of those five games and the series, 4-2. Boston lost its edge as the game one blowout had come too easily. Three days later the Celtics cooled off to 45 percent shooting as Wedman netted four points in a 109-102 game two loss that gave LA the homecourt advantage, crucial under the new 2-3-2 Finals format.
In game six, Ainge and DJ combined to make just six of 31 shots to pave the way for the Laker upset as the record-hot Celtic shooting of game one seemed a distant memory. Wedman played just 15 minutes, scoring seven points as the Lakers ended the curse.
Ironically, after another game one 121-81 lambasting in the 1982 East Finals of rival Philadelphia, the Celtics lost 4-3, although that defeat was caused in large part by an injury to point guard Nate Archibald.
The next season in 1985-86, with newly-acquired Bill Walton earning Sixth Man of the Year honors the Celtics rolled to an 82-18 record, including playoffs, to hang their 16th banner.
Wedman averaged 8 points a game in 17.7 minutes per outing, his highest numbers as a Celtic. A rib injury limited him to just 11 playoff games and so once again what should have been a celebratory time for the hard-luck swingman for him was muted.
But had there been a Seventh Man of the Year award, Wedman would have won it. No team could boast a still very capable, two-time former All-Star as their seventh man; indeed Wedman could still have started for many teams and would have averaged in the mid to upper teens.
With McHale out in late January through mid-February with a sore Achilles, Scott stepped in seamlessly and averaged 16.2 ppg while hitting double figures in nine consecutive contests. His season-high of 24 points came at Washington during that streak.
When McHale healed and came back to the lineup, Scott quietly returned to the bench and far fewer minutes. In the playoffs he was injured in a game three triumph at Milwaukee, and thus his only Finals appearance in the win over Houston was a two-minute cameo at the end of the game six series finale.
The next season, Boston was decimated by injuries and the death of Len Bias, and Wedman's nagging heel injury was a major loss. With McHale, Ainge, Parish and Bird hobbling while playing over-extended minutes, Scott missed out on a great chance to show off his skills as he was sidelined for all but five games all year, and sadly none in the post-season, when his game was needed most.
Without Wedman and Walton for almost the entire campaign, the Celtics came up just short in the 1987 Finals despite an incredibly gutty run to the championship round.
Scott was dealt in mid-October of 1987 to Seattle, but retired before ever playing a game with the SuperSonics. The physical fitness buff simply couldn't overcome the heel injury, and at 35 called it quits with some quality mileage still left on his tires.
Scott Wedman was one of the most underrated and top small forwards of the late 1970s and early 1980s, and without him the Celtics would not have won the title in 1984 and possibly not even 1986.
Still, due to being buried behind and overshadowed by the Hall of Fame Celtic frontline, his considerable abilities have been overlooked as the latter half of his career was dogged by injury, under-use and misuse.
It was too bad because the heady and steady Wedman was one of the best small forwards of the era, and a very capable big guard who could defend well and was more athletic than commonly believed.
He had the misfortune of playing behind the best ever in Larry Bird, or his skills would be much better-known by the average fan. Yet the real basketball aficionados know how good number eight was, and he was as great a corner shooter as the NBA has ever seen.
Wedman was inducted into the University of Colorado Hall of Fame in 2007, and also had a few coaching stints in the minor leagues. And his 11-of-11 shooting in game one of the 1985 championship series has never been equaled in Finals history.
Cort Reynolds is a free-lance writer with 17 years of experience as a sports editor, newspaper editor, and sports writer. He also was a college sports information director at his alma mater for five years and is a lifelong player, student and historian of the game. You can contact him at email@example.com to comment or ask him questions.
By Cort Reynolds