What If?... The arch-rival Celtics and Lakers had switched conferences in the 1980's?
By Cort Reynolds
It is fun to play the what if game, especially if you are a Celtic
fan and wonder what it would have been like to play in the
comparatively weak Western Conference in the 1980's instead of the
How bad was the NBA West back in the late, great '80s? Well, think
current Eastern Conference-bad and you won't be too far off, although
it wasn't quite as awful as that. But Los Angeles never had a
consistently good in-conference rival in the decade, unlike Boston,
who faced down the 76ers, Bucks, Pistons and Hawks.
During its recent dominance, one might say that Miami resembles
the Lakers of the 1980's by ruling over a bad group of competitors,
with LeBron James playing the Earvin Johnson role.
For example in the tipping point season of 1987, a severely
crippled Celtic team fought through a young Michael Jordan and the
Bulls in the first round, survived a seven-game thriller with the
Bucks and then guttily overcame the Bad Boy Pistons in a seven-game
slugfest just to REACH the Finals.
Despite having to run the gauntlet of a tough East each spring and
play into June almost every year, shortening their off-season and
recovery time, the Celtics of 1984-87 are STILL the last team to make
it to four consecutive NBA Finals. Think about that.
Meanwhile, the west coast Lakers routinely enjoyed a relative
cakewalk to the final series, particularly in 1987.
LA swept a literally defense-less 37-45 Denver team in round one
as the Nuggets gave up a mind-boggling 135.7 ppg. The Lakers then
then easily beat another run-and-gun west coast outfit in a 42-40
Golden State squad in the second round. LA rolled up 122.6 ppg
against the Warriors en route to a 4-1 victory.
Then in the WESTERN FINALS, they swept a 39-43 Seattle team.
That's right, 39-43. The three-pronged Sonic attack of Tom Chambers,
Xavier McDaniel and Dale Ellis did not have enough help to challenge
LA, although they did play them tough, losing the first three games
by a combined total of just 14 points.
Then the Lakers had an eight-day break to prepare for a weary
Meanwhile Boston was literally fighting through games
five through seven of their grueling series vs. Detroit - a
seven-game slugfest contested over a mere 12 days with a roster
drastically hampered by serious injuries to three starters and top
Just two days after the Celtics eliminated the Pistons and had to
deal with a sour grapes controversy caused by Thomas and Rodman, the
Celtics traveled cross country to open a series against a much
healthier, younger and rested LA squad before a ravenous Forum crowd.
It is a wonder Boston almost won that series, and they might have
if not for some horrible officiating late in game four, but that is
for another article.
Bird, in an epic display of toughness and
determination, gutted through a record 1,015 post-season minutes (44
per game) in 23 relentless playoff games that red-hot spring and
It is arguable that the Celtics played a better team in Jordan's
40-42 Chicago club in the first round of the eastern playoffs than LA
did in any of its three rounds out west.
Certainly, Milwaukee (50-32) and Detroit (52-30) were far better
than any team LA faced, and were even better than their records. All
told, the three Western clubs LA crushed were a combined 10 games
under .500 in a weaker conference, which means their poor record was
also padded by playing 2/3 of its slate against teams in its own
A big part of the reason the Lakers are erroneously called the
"Team of the 1980's" is the fact the West was so much
weaker than the East.
The playoffs are a battle of attrition and
until 1989, the Lakers did not face much competition or injury in the
In fact, from 1981-88 LA never faced a team in the western
playoffs who won more than 53 games, and usually met teams with
considerably fewer victories.
Conversely, Boston faced five teams (four 76er clubs, one Bucks)
just from 1980-86 who won 57-62 games!
Meanwhile, serious injuries arguably cost Boston titles in 1982
and 1987, and possibly even in 1985.
When the NBA suspiciously moved Milwaukee from the West, where
they had been ensconced since entering the league as an expansion
team in 1968, to the East, the balance of power shifted dramatically.
One can't help but think that the league wanted to make sure its
lone tradition-rich, major market, ratings-friendly and telegenic
franchise in the wild weak west would get to the Finals.
Otherwise, why mess up the balance of power by shifting a team not
even in the east geographically to the Eastern Conference? The move
ensured that four of the top five franchises of the decade were in
the East. And that LA would have no consistently strong threat in its
considerably softened conference, partly because Seattle declined
precipitously in 1981, falling from 56 to 34 wins, after the
season-long holdout of Gus Williams and the mid-season injury to Paul
Westphal, who had been obtained in the celebrated "changing of
the guards" trade with Dennis Johnson.
Moved to the East, the young and on the rise Bucks went on to win
60 games in the 1980-81 season, their first of six straight Central
Divison titles. But despite reaching the conference finals in 1983,
'84 and '86, they never got to the NBA Finals because they could
never get past both the Celtics and 76ers in the same year.
Meanwhile out west in the 1980-81 season, Phoenix topped LA 57-54
wins for the best record, and two sub-.500 teams also made the
playoffs. The Suns and Lakers were then upset in their early round
series by those upstarts (Kansas City and Houston, who both were
40-42). The sub-.500 Kings and Rockets ironically then met in the
conference finals, the only time in league history that has happened.
The ONLY three teams to win 60 or more games in that key,
league-changing 1980-81 campaign were all in the east: Boston and
Philly each won 62 games, while Milwaukee won 60.
The hard-luck Bucks lost to Philly four times out of six series in
the decade, and the two times they got to the eastern finals, Boston
took them out in the 1984 and '86 conference final. The one time
Milwaukee beat Boston in 1983, the 76ers then eliminated them in five
in the east finals.
It is difficult to think that Milwaukee, had they stayed in the
west, would not have made at least one or two championship series
And when the Sixers and Bucks started to fade late in the decade,
the Pistons and Hawks rose up to take their place as perennial
50-plus win contenders.
Every regular season and playoffs was grueling for these guys
By the time the Eastern representative fought its way to the
championship series in the 1980's they were often worn out and beaten
up, especially since not only was the competition better, the style
of play was much more physical than the up and down, run-and-gun
Western Conference was then.
Out west in 1981, a 40-42 Houston team eliminated the Lakers in a
massive round one upset, and somehow made it to the Finals behind
In 1982 LA whipped a 46-36 Phoenix team four in a row and then
also swept a center-less 48-34 Spurs club to reach the Finals.
That year, Boston was riding high as defending champs and earned
the best record (63-19) in the NBA despite a tough schedule and
getting every team's best shot each game.
But a separated shoulder suffered by irreplaceable playmaker Nate
Archibald in game three of the East finals vs. the rival 76ers led to
a 4-3 Philly minor upset after Boston had blown the Sixers out by 40
in game one, 121-81.
By the time the Sixers had avenged their seven-game loss the
previous year over their hated rival Celtics, Dr. J's men in red had
little left for the rested and talented Lakers.
In their second much less intense, finesse-oriented series than
the rugged Boston/Philly east coast showdowns, LA beat the 76ers in
six games for the second time in three Junes.
Anyway, I thought it might be fun to play the what if game and ask
A) how things might have been different had Boston and LA switched
places in the playoffs each year during the Bird era; and B) what
would have happened had Boston and LA met every year in the Finals
For even though it seemed like Boston and the Lakers met
constantly in the Finals during the Bird/Johnson era, they actually
only met three times, all in the mid-1980s (1984-85-87), with the
Celtics severely hampered by injury in their '85 and '87 series
In the only championship series they met when the teams were
similarly healthy, Boston won in a seven-game classic. Somehow those
Celtics had been cast as underdogs for that epic Finals: this despite
having a much better record despite a tougher schedule (62 wins to
54), the homecourt advantage and the Lakers having traded All-Star
guard Norm Nixon for his oft-struggling rookie replacement, Byron
Plus, LA struggled mightily to barely beat the 41-41 Suns 4-2 in
the western finals, and that came only after winning game six 99-97
by dodging a last-second Phoenix shot.
On the other hand, Boston
dispatched a strong 50-32 Milwaukee club handily in five games in the
eastern finals, with their four wins coming by an average of 13.5
ppg. Hmm. Underdogs?
Fans who had to wait until the end of the fifth season Bird and
Johnson been in the NBA for them to meet again for the title they
fought for in 1979 were finally satiated, and rewarded with a superb
seven-game series that easily ranks as one of the best ever.
This despite the fact that every year in the 1980s, one or both
Boston and LA made it to the Finals.
Interestingly, despite playing a tougher schedule annually by
virtue of 2/3 of its slate being confined to the tougher East, Boston
still posted the best record in the NBA in six of the first seven
seasons of the 1980's.
The lone time they failed to do so was 1982-83, when they still
were 56-26, nine games behind eventual champion Philadelphia.
Only when age and injury started to catch up to Boston in 1987 did
the Lakers finally start posting better records, even though their
schedule was also easier.
In their 25 WESTERN Conference playoff series of the 1980s, LA
faced teams who totaled 1,116 wins, an average of 44.6 victories a
season per opponent.
The Lakers won 23 of those 25 Western series in the decade, losing
only to Houston in 1981 and 1986. In fact, the two best playoff teams
LA faced in the 1980s out west came in the same season of 1980 when
they defeated Phoenix (55-27) and Seattle (56-26), each in five tough
Boston's 23 playoff opponents of the 1980's in the EAST won an
incredibly similar 1,115 games (but in two less series), an average
of 48.5 wins a season.
Additionally, the only year Boston was eliminated before the
conference finals between 1980-88 came in 1983, when they would have
played the 65-17 76ers had they gotten by the Bucks.
Including that series, the opponent avg. win total would be 49.2.
Boston won 19 of those 23 eastern series, losing three times in the
conference final (twice to the 76ers and once to Detroit) and one
time to the Bucks in the 1983 semis.
That opponent record would be right at 50 wins per game if one
adds that the 30-52 Chicago club Boston beat in 1986 was really about
a 40-45 win team with a healthy Jordan. MJ missed 64 of 82 games that
season (the Bulls were 9-9 with him, including 5-1 in games he played
30 or more minutes), making the Bulls much more formidable.
LA played eight playoff teams in the 1980s who won less than 40
games, winning seven times. Boston played four playoff teams with
less than 40 wins in that span, including those misleading 1986
Boston's average wins per season from 1980-88 - excluding 1988-89
when Bird played a mere six games due to injury and missed the
playoffs - equal a superb 61.1 per year, or a total of 550-188.
LA averaged 59.3 wins per season from 1980-88, or 534-204. And
that is with the advantage playing a schedule roughly 20 percent
easier since the west was considerably softer from 1981-88. (Teams
played basically 54 of their 82 games vs. in-conference opposition
Had the teams switched conferences, from 1980-88 Boston could well
have projected to probably win 63-64 games a season and as many as
six championships due to an easier, less taxing road to the Finals.
Meanwhile LA might have dropped to 56-57 victories a year in the east
and won only two titles at most.
And thus Boston would be unequivocally considered the team of the
1980's, not LA. Only in 1983 (Philly) and 1989 (Detroit) would
someone else have won the crown other than the NBA's two dominant
At the very worst, the Celtics and Lakers shold be co-teams of the
decade, followed by Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Detroit, in that
But had they "traded places", a popular 1980's film with
Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd, Boston would emerge as the team of the
decade, and Bird's legacy would likely be perceived better by the
West semis: LA (60-22) 4, Phoenix (55-27) 1
West finals: LA 4, Seattle (56-26) 1
East semis: Boston (61-21) 4, Houston (41-41) 0
East finals: Philadelphia (59-23) 4, Boston 1
NBA Finals: LA 4, Philadelphia 2
LA 4, Houston 1
LA 4, Philadelphia 3
Boston 4, Phoenix 2
Boston 4, Seattle 3
Fantasy NBA Finals: LA 4, Boston 2
The great 1979-80 campaign, a sea-changer for the slumping league
due mainly to the affiyion of super rookies Bird and Johnson, was the
one season in the decade that the West was on par with or perhaps
better than the East.
Out west the Lakers, defending champion Seattle, Phoenix and an up
and coming Milwaukee squad all fielded excellent teams.
Yet Boston (61-21) and Philly (59-23) posted the first and
third-best records in the NBA, and Atlanta was also good at 50-32.
The Celtics, who improved by a then-record 32 wins due mostly to
their rookie superstar, won the first four playoff games of the Larry
Bird era by sweeping Houston.
But then they ran into a veteran 76er team that beat them in five
tough games in the eastern finals.
Certainly that series took something out of the 76ers, who battled
LA to a 2-2 tie in the Finals before losing the last two contests and
Had Boston and LA met, it is likely the bigger Lakers would have
The 1979-80 campaign was the last of six MVP seasons in the
career of Jabbar, while Cowens was in his final Celtic campaign and
was slightly hampered by foot issues that caused his retirement the
next pre-season. Jabbar averaged over 33 ppg in the Finals before an
ankle injury sidelined him for game six, robbing him of the series
MVP for sure.
LA beat Boston in both of their regular season meetings in the
rookie year of Bird and Johnson, including a 100-98 comeback win at
the Garden where they ran off 21 points in a row in the third quarter
to erase a big deficit. Cowens missed a 21-footer at the buzzer that
would have tied it.
A superior Laker backcourt of Norm Nixon and Earvin Johnson (over
Archibald and Chris Ford), as well as Jabbar at the end of his prime,
would likely have led LA over the Celtics in six.
West 1st round: Houston (40-42) 2, LA (54-28) 1
West semis: Houston 4, San Antonio (52-30) 3
West finals: Houston 4, Kansas City (40-42) 1
East semis: Boston (62-20) 4, Chicago (45-37) 0
East finals: Boston 4, Philadelphia (62-20) 3
NBA Finals: Boston 4, Houston 2
Boston 2, Houston 0
Boston 4, San Antonio 1
Boston 4, Kansas Cty 1
LA 4, Chicago 2
Philadelphia 4, LA 2
Boston 4, LA 3
Fantasy Finals: Boston 4, LA 2
The rough and slowdown Rockets upset the Lakers 2-1 in the
mini-series first round, ending any chance of a
Bird/Johnson/Boston/LA Finals for the first time since 1969.
Johnson had returned from a knee injury late in the season and
upset the Laker chemistry, and Moses Malone dominated the boards
against a much more passive Jabbar.
Boston, meanwhile, swept a huge Bulls team in their east semis,
prompting then Chicago coach Jerry Sloan to call Bird (the best
all-around player he had ever seen" - this in just his second
Larry then led the Celtics to a 4-3 win over the 76ers in arguably
the greatest playoff series ever. Boston rallied from a 1-3 deficit
to win games five and six by two points each, and Bird's late bank
shot gave the Celtics an epic 91-90 victory in game seven.
Worn out emotionally and physically from that draining series,
Boston was not up for the underdog Rockets, whose deliberate style
kept the big Rockets in the game.
Playing the first four games of the series in just six days, the
Celtics stumbled to a 2-2 tie. They then blew the Rockets out in the
last two games to take their 14th banner and first since 1976.
Had Boston and LA met in the 1981 Finals, new acquisitions Robert
Parish and Kevin McHale would have posed huge problems inside for the
Lakers. The Celtics swept LA 2-0 in the season series, including a
14-point blowout at the Forum where Bird hit on 16 of 19 shots en
route to 36 transcendent points.
Even Laker GM Jerry West, a Bird doubter before his rookie season,
shook his head in admiration after that showing. "Bird was three
steps ahead of everyone out there," said West, a great player
and basketball brain himself.
Behind Bird's transcendent all-around game, the Celtics would win
in six by pounding the weaker Lakers on the boards.
West semis: LA (57-25) 4, Phoenix (46-36) 0
West finals: LA 4, San Antonio (48-34) 0
East semis: Boston (63-19) 4, Washington (43-39) 1
East finals: Philadelphia (58-24) 4, Boston 3
NBA Finals: LA 4, Philadelphia 2
Boston 4, Phoenix 1
Boston 4, San Antonio 1
LA 4, Washington 2
LA 4, Philadelphia 3
Fantasy Finals: Boston 4, LA 3
This was the year Boston and Los Angeles were poised to meet n the
NBA championship round. Defending champion Celtics were the best team
all year, finishing five games ahead of Philly and six ahead of LA
for the best record.
When the Celtics crushed Philly 121-81 in game one of the East
finals, fans and observers started preparing for the dream LA/Boston
But the proud 76ers upset the Celts in game two, and the series
changed when Archibald was tripped while dribbling upcourt and landed
awkwardly on the ball and floor. He re-separated his left shoulder
which had been injured in the prior bruising series vs. the rugged
Nate may have been the team's least replaceable player since they
had no one else to simulate his skills at the point of pushing the
ball, penetrating, passing and hitting the open jumper. Gerald
Henderson and rookie Danny Ainge tried to replace Archibald, but
Henderson was not a good shooter (although a better defender) while
Ainge was not ready - nor a point guard - after joining the team in
mid-season after abruptly ending his major league baseball career.
Boston grimly rallied from 1-3 down vs. the 76ers as they had in
1981, but this time a determined Philly squad took game seven in the
But the Sixers didn't have enough left to beat LA, which had
cruised to the Finals with an 8-0 start. Having picked up former
scoring champion Bob McAdoo off waivers, the Lakers now had a super
seventh man to go along with sixth man/defensive ace Michael Cooper.
One could easily argue that McAdoo or Nixon was the real MVP of
the 1982 Finals, but the fan-friendly Johnson was given the award
despite a pedestrian 13 ppg.
When Bird averaged "only" 15.3
points and 15.3 rebounds a game in the 1981 Finals, he was criticized
and Maxwell got the MVP - even though Bird had huge games and made
the winning plays in the two biggest contests of the series, games 1
(18-21-9) and game 6 (27 and 13).
Had Archibald not gotten hurt, Boston would have advanced and I
believe beaten LA.
The Celtics had the stronger inside game and
overall frontcourt with their quintet of Bird, Parish, Maxwell,
McHale and Robey vs. Rambis, Jabbar, Wilkes and McAdoo.
People tend to forget that back then, Boston was a running team as
much or more than a halfcourt offense squad, but there set offense
was still better than LA's, Kareem's deadly sky hook notwithstanding.
With Archibald running the break, a younger and healthy Bird and
company all ran the floor much better than given credit for.
West semis: LA (58-24) 4, Portland (46-36) 1
West finals: LA 4, San Antonio (53-29) 2
East semis: Milwaukee (51-31) 4, Boston (56-26) 0
East finals: Philadelphia (65-17) 4, Milwaukee 1
NBA Finals: Philadelphia 4, LA 0
Boston 4, Portland 2
Boston 4, San Antonio 3
LA 4, Milwaukee 3
Philadelphia 4, LA 1
Philadelphia 4, Boston 2
Fantasy Finals: Boston 4, LA 2
In 1983, the Lakers faced probably their toughest Western
Conference final opponent from 1981-89 in the 53-29 Spurs of Gervin,
Gilmore, underrated Mike Mitchell and Johnny Moore. LA barely
survived by a basket to clinch in game six on the road, the exact
same outcome they would have a year later at Phoenix.
But rookie James Worthy had gone down with a broken leg late in
the season, and standout guard Norm Nixon would suffer a separated
shoulder in game three of the Finals with LA already down 2-0 to a
76er juggernaut on a mission. Like 1989, it didn't cause the Lakers
to lose, but it probably kept them from winning at least one game.
But Moses Malone was at his peak and the 76ers were not to be
denied after losing three times in the Finals in the previous six
years, twice to LA and once to Portland, each time in six games.
Back east, the Celtics (other than Bird) seemed to have tuned out
demanding coach Bill Fitch, nicknamed Captain Video for his penchant
for long video scouting sessions. Boston dropped to 56-26, a record
most teams would covet but the first time in the decade they won less
With Bird sidelined by the flu for game two of their semifinal
series vs. Milwaukee, the Celtics crumbled down the stretch. They
blew an 82-74 lead and without their go-to guy, scored just nine
points in the fourth period en route to a 95-91 loss.
The Bucks went on to hand the Celtics the first 4-0 sweep in
franchise history and Fitch was handed his walking papers in favor of
more laid-back assistant K.C. Jones.
Still, Boston possessed a very talented and deep team. While
Philadelphia was clearly the best team that season, Boston probably
still would have been the best in the west.
Had they faced LA without Worthy, Boston would not have had the
homecourt advantage against the Lakers for the only time from
1980-86. But the matchups could still have favored the Celtics.
Parish vs. Jabbar gave LA a slight edge, McHale and Maxwell were
better than Rambis and McAdoo, Bird was better than Jamaal Wilkes,
and Nate Archibald and Nixon were also pretty much even but Nixon may
have maintained a small advantage due to being seven years younger.
The one clear advantage LA had was at the other guard with Johnson
over Danny Ainge, M.L. Carr and Quinn Buckner. However, all three
Celt guards were fine defenders. And Boston had tremendous depth that
year after adding All-Star Scott Wedman plus Rick Robey and Gerald
Henderson. In fact, the Celtics may have had too many quality players
(11) to keep happy with enough minutes.
That and a deteriorating morale down the stretch hurt the Celtics.
But against LA without Worthy, they would have pounded the
mediocre-rebounding Lakers inside.
Boston whipped LA 110-95 in the Garden and also won at the Forum
113-104 to sweep the series - and this came when the Lakers were at
full strength. The Celtics out-rebounded LA 53-43 and 49-42 in the
two convincing wins, with Bird recording a 32-17-9 game at LA.
Interestingly, after both meetings the two rivals possessed the
same record; 34-10 after the first contest and 40-14 the second time.
Under the 2-2-1-1-1 Finals format of that time, Boston would
likely have split the first two at the Forum, swept the next two at
home, and finished off the Lakers in six back in Boston, where they
went 33-8 that regular season.
West 1st round: LA (54-28) 3, Kansas City (38-44) 0
West semis: LA 4, Dallas (43-39) 1
West finals: LA 4, Phoenix (41-41) 2
East 1st round: Boston (62-20) 3, Washington (35-47) 1
East semis: Boston 4, New York (47-35) 3
East finals: Boston 4, Milwaukee (50-32) 1
NBA Finals: Boston 4, LA 3
Boston 3, Kansas City 0
Boston 4, Dallas 1
Boston 4, Phoenix 1
LA 3, Washington 1
LA 4, New York 2
LA 4, Milwaukee 3
Fantasy Finals: Boston 4, LA 3
People tend to say in revisionist fashion that the Celtics somehow
"stole" the 1984 Finals, but the truth is that they
dominated the final 3.5 games of that series.
I am sure some of the notion Boston got "lucky" comes
from the fact that Gerald Henderson made the great steal and layup
late in game two to force overtime as Boston avoided an 0-2 deficit.
And the fact they fought back late to win game four in OT with their
backs to the wall.
But Boston led game two by 10 after one period and held a close
margin most of that game. Game four was also close throughout, and
under pressure the Celtics simply proved to be a more battle-tested,
tougher team who was superior in the halfcourt.
Henderson stole the ball!
Boston held the lead for the vast majority of the last three
games. In fact, over the last 15 quarters of the 1984 Finals, Boston
won 10 (including a 16-12 OT in game four), tied two periods and lost
three quarters. But only one of those was convincingly (36-21 in the
fourth period of game six when LA rallied to win). The other two
periods they lost were by two and four points.
In that span, Boston outscored LA 411-381. And that is with a huge
late rally by LA in game six, a game they "stole."
The McHale clothesline of Rambis in the second half of game four
is erroneously often pointed to as the turning point in game four
because form that juncture on the angered Celtics seized control of
But the real difference came when KC Jones finally put defender
extraordinaire Dennis Johnson on Earvin Johnson instead of the 6-1
Henderson. Perhaps K.C., a great defender in his day, saw himself in
Henderson, but Gerald was just too short and slight to bother the
huge Laker playmaker, who stood nearly 6-9 and weighed around 230.
Dennis Johnson, on the other hand, was acquired for the express
purpose of slowing down other top two guards Boston had to get by
like Sidney Moncrief of the Bucks, the "Boston Strangler"
Andrew Toney of the 76ers, and Johnson of LA.
So it was puzzling why it took so long for Jones to make such an
obvious move, unless he was trying to avoid foul trouble for DJ and
to motivate the sometimes-sluggish defensive ace. But when he put DJ
on Earvin, it also motivated the proud Dennis to pick up his offense.
For DJ posted games of 22, 22, 20 and 20 points in succession over
the final four games. This after Dennis shot just 12-38 and scored 37
points combined over the first three games.
Having lost to Johnson
and LA as defending champions in Seattle in 1980, DJ had been waiting
for a chance at revenge, and he made the most of it in 1984.
In the final minute of game seven with LA down three, he picked
his Laker foe clean. He helped force Earvin into a woeful 5-14
shooting night and seven costly turnovers including two backbreaking
miscues in a row in that fateful final minute.
Boston blew LA out in game five to take control of the series as
Bird had his best Finals game ever (15-20 FGs, 34 points and 17
rebounds) in the sauna game.
But it was series MVP Bird led the Celtics to the two closest and
toughest games in overtime in two and four, and he hit the eventual
game-winner on a clutch fadeaway over Johnson late in OT after the
Laker guard had just bricked two free throws.
Plus Boston built a 15-point second half lead and held on to win
game seven fairly convincingly over a demoralized Laker team.
Remember too that they held a double-digit lead late in the third
period in game six at LA before blowing that contest by inexplicably
freezing out Bird.
Also forgotten is that James Worthy got back at Boston by shoving
Maxwell hard into the stanchion - from behind and blindly - on a fast
break just as he went up for a layup in game six. But that cheap shot
against his former idol growing up in North Carolina is rarely if
ever mentioned, whereas the McHale clothesline is constantly replayed
as lazy revisionist history also meant to portray Boston as the
In addition, in the second round of the East playoffs the
undermanned Knicks instigated that no layup style when Ernie Grunfeld
took down McHale, and then in game six when Rory Sparrow and Ray
Williams gang-tackled Bird on a breakaway layup. Sparrow was actually
ejected for also swinging a forearm into the head of Bird on the
play. Larry simply pulled himself off the court amid the jeering New
York crowd and made both free throws - a far cry from the whining by
the sneakily physical Laker camp, led by Riley and company.
Jabbar also elbowed Bird in the face in game four of the '84
Finals, and McAdoo kneed Larry purposely in the groin on a drive into
the lane. Worthy and Jabbar also threw wild elbows moments before the
McHale hit on Rambis in game four. All seem to have been forgotten in
an effort to fit a pre-conceived, grudgingly backhanded narrative.
Boston also went to a big lineup (Parish/McHale/Maxwell/Bird/DJ)
to combat the Lakers, and dominated the boards, especially the
offensive glass, which negated some of the Laker running game.
game seven, the Celts crushed LA on the boards, 52-33. And in a
halfcourt game, Boston was simply better.
Bird averaged series-best totals of 27.4 points and 14 rebounds a
game, leading the Celtics to a 48.1-43.0 rebound per contest edge. In
the game four OT epic, he posted mammoth totals of 29 points and 21
rebounds in a high pressure contest on the road with his team down
Boston snared 131 offensive boards in the series, just under 19
In game seven, the hungrier Celtics grabbed 20 offensive caroms
compared to just nine by LA. No Laker averaged as high as eight
rebounds a game in the series.
West 1st round: LA (62-20) 3, Phoenix (36-46) 0
West semis: LA 4, Portland (42-40) 1
West finals: LA 4, Denver (52-30) 1
East 1st round: Boston (63-19) 3, Cleveland (36-46) 1
East semis: Boston 4, Detroit (46-36) 2
East finals: Boston 4, Philadelphia (58-24) 1
NBA Finals: LA 4, Boston 2
Boston 3, Phoenix 0
Boston 4, Portland 1
Boston 4, Denver 2
LA 3, Cleveland 0
LA 4, Detroit 2
LA 4, Philadelphia
Fantasy Finals: LA 4, Boston 2 (although a healthy Maxwell and
Bird may have changed the outcome)
In fairness, the Lakers of 1985 were on a mission to reclaim the
title that eluded them the previous year. After Boston embarrassed
them 148-114 in game one during the Memorial Day Massacre, Jabbar and
LA controlled much of the final five games.
Scott Wedman shot a perfect 11-11, including four treys, in that
opening contest blowout, which was Boston's fourth win in five Finals
games vs. LA dating back to 1984.
But Jabbar rebounded from an unusually bad 12-point, three-rebound
showing to dominate the rest of the series, scoring 28.3 ppg and
grabbing 10.2 boards over the final five contests. Boston looked
tired and a bit complacent after winning the title the year before,
and game one so easily.
In the clinching sixth game defeat at home, the Celtic starting
guards repeatedly missed open shots, shooting a putrid combined 6-31.
Parish missed several layups (shot 5-14) as he was abused by series
MVP Jabbar, who at 38 scored 29 on 13-21 shooting.
Hampered by an injury to his shooting elbow, Bird posted 28 and
10, but only McHale was at the top of his game. Announcing himself as
a true superstar, Kevin was unstoppable as he went for 32 points and
16 rebounds to keep Boston in striking distance late.
But then he was whistled for a terrible sixth foul and with him
went the Celtic chances for a late rally.
McHale and Ainge had moved into the starting lineup due to the
trade of Henderson and a knee injury to Maxwell, which he did not
rehab well and left him ineffective, a key blow to their repeat
Danny may not have been quite ready for a starting role in such a
huge series, and he shot just 3-16 in the final game. DJ was just as
bad at 3-15 and it seemed like Boston expected the fans and the
parquet floor alone to lift them to another victory.
The Lakers simply came on their court and took it to them, and the
more the Boston guards misfired, the more LA sagged in and dared them
But the signs were there earlier, even though Boston had posted
the league's best record again for the fourth time in Bird's five
The 63-win Celtics struggled in round one to beat a sub-.500
Cleveland team, then were tied 2-2 with Detroit before putting them
Boston began to hit its stride against the rival 76ers, winning
the first three games before finally putting them away in game five
by two when Bird stole the ball from Toney as time expired.
Certainly the Celtics would have cruised through the Laker road to
the Finals out west. The first two Laker opponents were a mere
combined 78-76, and were easy pickings. LA was then aided by a thumb
injury to Nugget standout Alex English in the West finals, where
36-year old 6-9 center Dan Issel was slowed in his last season and no
match for the 7-2 Jabbar.
Thanks for conveniently changing the Finals Format
The new 2-3-2 Finals format also aided the Laker cause, as did the
injury to the underrated Maxwell, who was not a factor in the series.
In 1984, Max had scored 24 points in the game seven clincher over LA,
and had provided clutch play, offensive rebounding and tough defense
throughout the series. None of that was there in 1985.
After Boston won game four at the buzzer on DJ's clutch jumper in
the Forum, the series was knotted 2-2, just like the year before when
Boston captured a pressure-packed, must-win fourth game on the road
In years past, Boston would have been going home to host game five
with a tidal wave of momentum. It certainly helped them win the
always-pivotal fifth game and the title series in 1984.
Instead, LA grabbed control of the series back with a home win in
game five over the emotionally-depleted Celtics, then closed it out
to become the first and only opposing team to ever clinch a title on
West 1st round: LA (62-20) 3, San Antonio (35-47) 0
West semis: LA 4, Dallas (44-38) 2
West finals: Houston (51-31), LA 1
East 1st round: Boston (67-15) 3, Chicago (30-52) 0
East semis: Boston 4, Atlanta (50-32) 1
East finals: Boston 4, Milwaukee (57-25) 0
NBA Finals: Boston 4, Houston 2
Boston 3, San Antonio 0
Boston 4, Dallas 1
Boston 4, Houston 2
LA 3, Chicago 1
LA 4, Atlanta 2
LA 4, Milwaukee 3
Fantasy Finals: Boston 4, LA 1
Boston's first round sweep of a 30-52 Bulls team was deceiving in
multiple ways. First, that was the season Jordan missed 64 of 82
games completely with a foot injury, and thus he was fresh and hungry
for the playoffs; plus the Bulls' record and team were much better
with him back, more like a 45-win team.
Chicago was 9-9 with him, even though when he came back the front
office limited his minutes severely. They were 5-1 that year in games
where he played 30+ minutes.
Second, the deceiving nature of the Bulls' record is shown since
Boston struggled to win game one at home and then had to endure a
double OT classic to capture game two 135-131, in spite of Jordan's
playoff-record 63 points.
One might argue that the Bulls series was actually the toughest
Boston faced in that eastern post-season. Chicago could easily have
won games one and or two.
1986 was one of the years Boston was clearly better than the
Lakers, as well as everyone in the league that year - and perhaps in
Maurice Lucas didn't work out for LA
LA had gone big to try and combat Boston and Houston but
in adding aging and immobile power forward Maurice Lucas had gotten
away from their biggest strength, their fast break offense.
The Celtics convincingly beat the Lakers in both regular season
meetings, with new pickup Walton helping hold Jabbar to just 13-37
shooting in the two wins. This despite McHale missing the rematch in
LA due to injury. Johnson did not make a field goal in the game at
the Forum, shooting 0-4.
Meanwhile seldom-used Rick Carlisle bounced off the Boston bench
to score 10 huge points on five of seven shooting down the stretch,
including a desperation corner jumper at the shot clock buzzer which
broke LA's back.
With the Laker achilles heel inside being badly exploited by the
Rockets of Olajuwon and Sampson 4-1 in the western finals, the
Celtics would have simply taken apart the Lakers.
With Bird and McHale at their peaks, Parish, Ainge and DJ near
theirs, and a great bench led by former MVP Walton and All-Star Scott
Wedman, the 1986 Celtics dominated a league not yet diluted by
Put that team in 1996 with six new teams depleting the quality of
the league, Boston might have approached 75 wins.
West 1st round: LA (65-17) 3, Denver (37-45) 0
West semis: LA 4, Golden State (42-40) 1
West finals: LA 4, Seattle (39-43) 0
East 1st round: Boston (59-23) 3, Chicago (40-42) 0
East semis: Boston 4, Milwaukee (50-32) 3
East finals: Boston 4, Detroit (52-30) 3
NBA Finals: LA 4, Boston 2
Boston 3, Denver 0
Boston 4, Golden State 1
Boston 4, Seattle 1
LA 3, Chicago 1
LA 4, Milwaukee 2
LA 4, Detroit 3
Fantasy Finals: Boston 4, LA 3 (with a healthy McHale, Parish,
Walton and Wedman, not to mention Bias)
Looks about right to me!
The supposed Rocket Twin Towers dynasty fizzled as Ralph Sampson
went down with knee problems and never truly recovered. Thus the team
that had manhandled the Lakers the year before and rudely ushered
them out of the playoffs suffered a malfunction shortly after
takeoff. They were upset by Seattle in the conference semis and never
returned to the NBA Finals until 1994.
With a healthy Walton and Wedman, not even to menton Bias, Boston
would have beaten LA. If not for several bad calls in game four, they
may have won anyway despite a depleted roster ravaged by injury.
McHale played the post-season with a broken foot that still bothers
him over a quarter century later, Parish played with multiple sprains
on both ankles, Ainge sprained his knee in game seven vs. Milwaukee
and missed the first three games of the ensuing series vs. Detroit,
Walton barely played due to numerous foot issues, and Wedman missed
almost the entire season with a heel injury and surgery that
basically ended his career.
Plus Bird gutted through 44 minutes a game, playing 14 brutal
playoff contests vs. Milwaukee and Detroit over 27 days in one of the
hotter springs of that time. DJ, nearing 33, also played 964 minutes
(41.9 per) and McHale averaged 39.4 minutes a game on two bad feet.
LA on the other hand had an easy road to the Finals against three
teams with a combined record of 10 games under .500. Yet with no
injuries and plenty of rest - Johnson played 666 minutes and Worthy
played 681 (Jabbar 559) those playoffs, at a much less intense pace
as well - they still struggled to beat Boston.
In the second half of game four at Boston the Celtics held a
16-point lead. But fatigue, a blatantly missed goaltending call, a
missed jump ball, a missed out of bounds kick by Cooper, a missed FT
knocked out of bounds by Thompson instead of McHale, and two missed
travel calls all combined to rob the Celtics of a 2-2 tie in a
Had any one of those wrong calls been corrected, Boston likely
wins. Correct most or all and they win clearly and then after taking
a 3-2 lead, possibly pull off the guttiest title ever. All the
pressure would have been on LA to win the last two games against a
crippled, tired team.
And after a terrible 0-8 start to game six, Boston executed almost
perfectly to take a 56-51 lead at the half, despite two more bad
calls that robbed McHale and Bird of three-point plays. But then they
ran out of gas in half two.
West 1st round: LA (62-20) 3, San Antonio (31-51) 0
West semis: LA 4, Utah (47-35) 3
West finals: LA 4, Dallas (53-29) 3
East 1st round: Boston (57-25) 3, New York (38-44) 1
East semis: Boston 4, Atlanta (50-32) 3
East finals: Detroit (54-28) 4, Boston 2
NBA Finals: LA 4, Detroit 3
Boston 3, San Antonio 0
Boston 4, Utah 3
Boston 4, Dallas 2
LA 3, New York 0
LA 4, Atlanta 2
Detroit 4, LA 2
Fantasy Finals: Detroit 4, Boston 2
Boston 4, LA 3
Much deeper and younger Detroit finally broke through to beat the
bench-thin Celtics in a memorable six-game Eastern Finals slugfest
that featured two overtime classics.
The Pistons then took a 3-2 lead over LA in the Finals, and would
have closed it out had Thomas not injured his ankle badly in that
sixth game despite going for 43 points. A phantom foul call on
Laimbeer in the final seconds with LA down one gave Jabbar two free
throws, which he drained in clutch fashion to give the Lakers a come
from behind win.
In game seven, with Thomas rendered ineffective by his severely
sprained ankle, LA held on for a three-point win with the aid of an
inexplicable, ill-advised 20-foot pull-up jumper in transition by the
horrid-shooting Dennis Rodman.
Amazingly though, if one watches the final seconds of game seven,
much of the Laker bench and many fans had started to swarm the Forum
court in premature celebration as Laimbeer tried to in-bound the ball
for a final, potential tying triple.
When Thomas received his long pass amid the chaos and turned to
shoot, he was run into and stripped by his buddy Johnson and time
expired before the Pistons could shoot. Riley and the Lakers quickly
ran off the floor in jubilation, knowing they had gotten away with
one in his promised repeat.
But the truth is that previously in the western semifinals after a
game one loss upstart, a young Utah club outplayed LA and only fell
in seven because of inexperience and a lack of respect from the refs.
Utah had to play game one on the road 36 hours after winning their
previous series and was beaten soundly. Yet after that, with John
Stockton emerging as a superstar, the Jazz outscored LA by 13 points
the rest of the series, including a 108-80 blowout in game six.
Stockton & Malone gave LA all they could handle
After the lightning-quick Stockton averaged 19.3 points on 51
percent shooting and 16.4 assists with four steals a game in the
memorable series, Pat Riley called him "the best little man to
EVER play the game."
The Lakers gutted their way to seven-game series wins over Utah,
Dallas (in a series of blowouts that wasn't as close as the Jazz
series) and Detroit, but they had plenty of help from the referees,
The Pistons certainly should have won in six games if not for the
Thomas injury and phantom foul call in the waning seconds, and Boston
would likely have avenged their 1987 loss in '88 had they played LA.
The Lakers played somewhat defensively instead of on the attack
through much of the playoffs as they began to experience the
challenges of age, fatigue and improved competition that Boston had
faced all decade, and it took much out of them.
The addition of former All-Star Jim Paxson helped bolster a weak
Boston bench, but a back injury limited him from approaching his
early career status. And Walton missed the entire season. never
Yet after McHale missed the first 20 games or so recovering from
foot surgery, the Celtics played looser and Bird posted his
highest-scoring season ever (29.9 ppg, highest in team annals).
Certainly his epic game seven shootout vs. Dominique Wilkins and
the Hawks was a performance for the ages, as Larry canned nine of his
10 floor attempts in the fourth period (including a trey and two
left-handed shots) to lead Boston to a thrilling 118-116 win.
Somehow I just don't think Larry would have been denied again
against LA. The troubles Detroit posed with their depth, size and
rugged defense would not have been there against the Lakers.
At 41 Jabbar was in his penultimate season and no longer better
than Parish. McHale and Worthy were a wash, and Bird was much better
than AC Green. Mychal Thompson and Michael Cooper gave LA a more
versatile bench, but DJ and Ainge were still solid with Danny coming
off his best season and an All-Star berth.
In fact, had the referees not allowed Detroit to bully the older,
thinner Celtics Boston could easily have advanced to their fifth
Finals in a row. All six games vs. Detroit were incredibly close,
with each one going down to the final minute and three to the final
shot, including two overtime battles and a Memorial Day weekend 79-78
Still, no one has gone to four straight championship series since
the 1984-87 Celtics, illustrating that team's incredible drive,
skill, talent and toughness. The only other team to exceed that were
the Celtics of 1957-66, and they made it an incredible 10 years in a
row during an era of fewer playoff series and teams to navigate
LA (1983-85), Chicago (1991-93 and 1996-98), LA (2000-02 and
2008-10) and Miami (2011-13) all got there three times in a row, but
fell short of four straight, and they never had to navigate as
difficult a course as the Eastern Conference of the '80s. Nor, I
might add, with as many injuries.
It seemed that by 1988 much of the public and the NBA
officials/powers-that-be were ready for another team besides Boston
to represent the East, and consciously or not, they allowed the
opposition to get away with fouling in order to help make this
1989 (the season Bird was out for all but the first six games due
to double achilles surgery)
West 1st round: LA 3 (57-25), Portland (39-43) 0
West semis: LA 4, Seattle (47-35) 0
West finals: LA 4, Phoenix (55-27) 0
East 1st round: Detroit (63-19) 3, Boston (42-40) 0
East semis: Detroit 4, New York (52-30) 2
East finals: Detroit 4, Chicago (47-35) 2
NBA Finals: Detroit 4, LA 0
Boston 3, Portland 2
Seattle 4, Boston 2
LA 3, Boston 0
LA 4, New York 2
Detroit 4, LA 1
Fantasy Finals: Detroit 4, LA or Phoenix 1
LA 4, Boston 1
With no Bird, a 35-year old Parish had a career renaissance and
posted his best numbers in years (18.6 ppg, 12.5 rebounds). Rumors
abounded all spring that Larry would return if the Celtics made the
playoffs, but with two repaired achilles keeping him down, there was
no reason to risk it.
McHale led the team in scoring (22.5 ppg) but Boston felt the need
to get bigger and thus traded All-Star Danny Ainge to the Kings for
Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine, further gutting the heart of the Celtics.
But without Larry Legend, Boston was nowhere near a title threat
nor a match for a Laker team that made it to the Finals for a third
year in a row. Detroit was on a mission and would have won it all
anyway, but hamstring injuries to Byron Scott and Earvin Johnson
sealed the verdict as the Pistons sent Jabbar into retirement with a
West 1st round: LA (63-19) 3, Houston (41-41) 1
West semis: Phoenix (54-28) 4, LA 1
West finals: Portland (59-23) 4, Phoenix 2
East 1st round: New York (45-27) 3, Boston (52-30) 2
East semis: Detroit (59-23) 4, New York 2
East finals: Detroit 4, Chicago (55-27) 3
NBA Finals: Detroit 4, Portland 1
Boston 3, Houston 1
Boston 4, Phoenix 3
Portland 4, Boston 2
LA 3, New York 1
Detroit 4, LA 2
Fantasy Finals: LA 4, Boston 3
In Bird's comeback campaign, Boston suffered through some bumps on
the road. A small controversy with Paxson supposedly telling
reporters that Bird was "tearing the team apart" by
shooting too much under the new, less Larry-centric offensive regime
of head coach Jimmy Rodgers.
Bird put together a great season and was named second team
all-league, but Boston folded in the first round against an inferior
New York team. The Celtics rolled to a 2-0 lead before the Knicks
rallied and won the final three contests.
LA also appeared to be collapsing after the retirement of Jabbar
and a second round loss to Phoenix, their earliest playoff exit since
Had the two aging teams met, Boston would have won because of its
superior size and inside game. Cooper was in his final season and
would not have been able to guard Bird nearly as well as he had
before. Parish, McHale and Bird would enjoy a serious edge over
Divac, Green and Worthy, and the emergence of Reggie Lewis gave
Boston a new swingman threat to go with veterans DJ and Paxson.
West 1st round: LA (58-24) 3, Houston (52-30) 0
West semis: LA 4, Golden State (44-38) 1
West finals: LA 4, Portland (63-19) 2
East 1st round: Boston (56-26) 3, Indiana (41-41) 2
East semis: Detroit (50-32) 4, Boston 2
East finals: Chicago (61-21), Detroit 0
Boston 3, Houston 2
Boston 4, Golden State 2
Portland 4, Boston 3
LA 3, Indiana 1
LA 4, Detroit 3
Chicago 4, LA 1
Fantasy Finals: Boston 4, LA 3
Chuck Person talked a lot of trash
Boston narrowly avoided another first round fifth game elimination
against a young Indiana team when Bird recovered from being knocked
out and an injured cheekbone to lead the Celtics to a dramatic
In round two Detroit again stood in the way. With Boston down 3-2
in the Palace, the game was tied in the final minute. McHale made a
fine tip-in that would have won the game in regulation, but the play
was erroneously waved off by a bad offensive goal-tend call.
In overtime, a lucky bank three-pointer at the shot clock buzzer
gave Detroit the series-clinching win. Boston played without Parish,
who would have been back for game seven in the Garden, one which the
Celtics would have been favored to win with Thomas slowed by injury.
The Lakers upset a strong Portland team in the western finals
before succumbing in five to the Bulls in the first title of Jordan's
It turned out to be the swansong for Earvin Johnson, who retired
before the 1991-92 campaign due to acquiring HIV. Boston had begun to
re-shape its team under former player Chris Ford, and the continued
improvement of Lewis made Boston dangerous as McHale returned to his
sixth man role.
It would have been a close series, but I feel Boston would have
beaten LA. Parish was still a bit better than Vlade, McHale and
Pinckney a bit better than newly-acquired Sam Perkins, Bird better
than Worthy, Lewis as good as or better than Scott, with the benches
The only edge LA had was at the Johnson spot, with DJ retired and
replaced by high-flying youngster Dee Brown.
1992 (Earvin Johnson retired pre-season due to HIV)
West 1st round: Portland (57-25) 3, LA (43-39) 1
West semis: Portland 4, Phoenix (53-29) 1
West finals: Portland 4, Utah (55-27) 2
East 1st round: Boston (51-31) 3, Indiana (40-42) 0
East semis: Cleveland (57-25) 4, Boston 3
East finals: Chicago (67-15) 4, Cleveland 2
NBA Finals: Chicago 4 Portland 2
Portland 3, Boston 2
LA 3, Indiana 2
Cleveland 4, LA 1
Fantasy Finals: Boston 4, LA 2
Jordan always had his hands full with Reggie
With Johnson abruptly retiring just before the 1991-92 season
tipped off, the shell-shocked Lakers stumbled to a 43-39 record and
only made the playoffs as the eighth and final seed in an improved
west. It was their worst season since 1975-76, when they missed the
playoffs in Jabbar's first season with Los Angeles.
The Lakers were quickly eliminated by a powerhouse Portland team
bent on avenging the prior spring's elmination at the hands of LA,
led by Clyde Drexler and Buck Williams.
The Blazers were arguably the best team in the league, but blew a
big lead late in game six at Chicago to fall to the Bulls in the
Perhaps the best game of the regular season was a double overtime
152-148 epic Celtic win over the Blazers late in mid-March at the
Garden in a nationally-televised Sunday game.
Bird authored perhaps the last great game of his career as he
posted the highest-scoring triple-double in league history with 49
points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists. A monster game.
In addition, his improbable running/leaning one-footed
three-pointer just before the buzzer sent the game into its first OT
and propelled the Celtics to the win. Sharp-shooting swingman Kevin
Gamble then hit a 17-footer from the right side at the buzzer of the
first OT to save Boston again.
But the win came at a price.
At 35 with a creaky back, Larry
battled through several hard hits by the Blazers and willed the
Celtics to victory over a brutal game-high 54 minutes. In fact in the
very next game Larry scored a season-low seven points.
He averaged just over 18 ppg the final eight games he played that
season, missing nine of the final 17 regular season contests.
Even though he played most of the rest of the way after the rugged
win, Bird never returned to health the rest of the way. In fact, he
missed the first six games of the playoffs and only played 37 total
minutes in his first two games back, games four and five of the Cav
series. And those were his first appearances after a 37-day absence.
Cav star Mark Price even put a psychological dagger into Bird and
the Celtics, claiming that Boston would have won game four (a 114-112
OT loss on Mother's Day that would have given Boston a 3-1 lead) had
Bird not returned to the court that day. Of course he was wrong,
Well before that, battle-tested Boston had emerged as a darkhorse
title contender in Bird's injury-plagued final season, where he
played only 45 games. The Celtics became a top rebounding and
shooting outfit again as the lanky Lewis emerged as a true star at
both ends of the court. He led seven players averaging double figures
with 20.8 ppg, followed closely by Bird at 20.2 ppg.
With McHale thriving in his sixth man role, Boston took a young
and talented Cavalier team paced by the sweet-shooting Price and
center Brad Daugherty to seven games in the conference semis.
But they came up short at Cleveland in what turned out to be
Bird's last NBA game.
Still, that board-banging Boston outfit could have pummeled LA
without Johnson. Jabbar and Riley were long gone, Cooper was retired,
and with a struggling Worthy near retirement and missing Johnson's
fast break feeds for easy dunks, the Lakers were a shell of their
The LA backcourt of journeyman Sedale Threatt and aging Byron
Scott did not scare anyone. Lewis, Gamble, Brown and John Bagley gave
Boston a slight backcourt edge over LA, something they never enjoyed
when Johnson played for the Lakers.
Boston also had a solid bench led by McHale, rookie Rick Fox,
Brown, Bagley, Pinckney, Sherman Douglas and Joe Kleine.
So it seems fairly clear that with Earvin on the sidelines retired
prematurely, Larry would have gotten the last laugh over the Lakers.
After the "Dream Team" won the 1992 Olympics easily,
Bird announced his retirement. The Celtics tried to get him to play
an abbreviated schedule consisting of just home games and close east
coast contests he could drive to, since flying irritated his back.
But Bird ultimately did not want to accept a somewhat disruptive
sixth man role and get paid big money for not playing full-time. He
even retired just days before a multi-million dollar bonus would have
kicked in, regardless of whether he played in 1992-93 or not.
How many athletes would have done that?