1984 NBA Finals
The 1984 NBA Finals, also known as Showdown '84, was the championship round of the 1983-84 NBA season. In 1984, the Boston Celtics defeated the Los Angeles Lakers in a seven-game Finals, winning Game 7 111-102. Larry Bird averaged 27 points and 14 rebounds a game during the series, earning the Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP). Bird was also named the league regular season MVP for that year.
This series was the long-awaited rematch of the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics after their rivalry was revived in 1979 with the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird pair entering the league. After the Lakers won Game 1, a crucial steal in Game 2 led to a tie game and the Celtics were able to win in overtime to tie the series. The Lakers won Game 3 easily and almost won Game 4, but were again thwarted. Now tied 2-2, the Lakers and Celtics each held serve at their home court to send the series to Boston for Game 7. Game 5 was a classic, with Bird coming up with a huge game in one of the (literally) hottest games ever (97 °F (36 °C)) in the non-air conditioned Boston Garden. Game 7 was also contested in hot temperatures that hovered around 91 °F (33 °C). The score was close but the contest eventually went to the Celtics. Cedric Maxwell scored 24 points against the Los Angeles Lakers in the decisive Game 7 victory.
Los Angeles won all three games played on Sunday afternoons. Boston won the games played on Tuesday night, Wednesday night, Thursday night, and Friday night.
The Series schedule was an odd schedule, due entirely to the whims of television. Game One was played on a Sunday afternoon in Boston, about 36 hours after the Lakers had eliminated the Phoenix Suns in the Western Finals. The teams then had three plus days off, not playing until Thursday night. Then, after Game 3 on Sunday afternoon in Los Angeles, the teams had two plus days off, not playing again until Wednesday night. That in turn started a wearying back-and-forth across the country ... Wednesday night at LA, Friday night at Boston, Sunday afternoon at LA, and Tuesday night at Boston ... to end the series.
The following year, the Finals format switched to 2-3-2, where Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 were hosted by the team with the best record. The change in format came after Red Auerbach complained about the constant travelling during the finals. The 2-2-1-1-1 format would return for the 2014 NBA Finals.
The seeds of the 1984 Finals were first sown five years earlier, during the 1979 NCAA Men's Division I Basketball Tournament. In the final game of the tournament, Larry Bird and his erstwhile unbeaten Indiana State Sycamores lost to Magic Johnson and his Michigan State Spartans by the score of 75–64. After the tournament, both entered the NBA in the 1979–80 season with high expectations. Bird, who was selected 6th in the 1978 NBA draft but committed back to Indiana State for his senior season, was named Rookie of the Year after leading the Celtics to a 32-game turnaround from the previous year, going from 29 to 61 wins. The expected Celtics–Lakers finals, however, never happened. The Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Celtics in the conference finals before losing to the Lakers in the 1980 NBA Finals, with Johnson earning Finals MVP honors for his Game 6 performance. Since then Bird won a championship in 1981, then Magic led the Lakers to the finals in 1982 and 1983, winning in the former.
In the 1983–84 season, the Celtics won 62 games to lead the league. The Celtics were led by Bird, who won his first MVP award, and was complemented by 1981 Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell, first-time all-star and Sixth Man Award winner Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Gerald Henderson and Danny Ainge. Boston's most crucial addition was Dennis Johnson, whom they acquired from the Phoenix Suns in the offseason in hopes of addressing their porous backcourt defense.
Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers were coming off a four-game sweep by the Philadelphia 76ers in the previous year's finals. Before the season began, the Lakers traded long-time guard Norm Nixon to the San Diego Clippers in exchange for the draft rights to Byron Scott. The trade signaled a transition period, as some of the key players from the first two championships gave way to younger talent. Despite the changes, it did not stop the Lakers from finishing with the best record (54–28) in the Western Conference, powered by their one-two punch of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson.
During the playoffs, the Lakers defeated the Kansas City Kings in three, the Dallas Mavericks in five, and the Phoenix Suns in six. However, the Lakers suffered a key injury when their 3rd leading scorer, Jamaal Wilkes (17 PPG) was ruled out of the finals. This cost the Lakers valuable depth, as James Worthy, a key contributor off the bench, would now have to start in Wilkes' place.
Road to the Finals
|Los Angeles Lakers (Western Conference Champion)||Boston Celtics (Eastern Conference Champion)|
1st seed in the West, 2nd best league record
1st seed in the East, best league record
|Defeated the (8) Kansas City Kings, 3–0||First Round||Defeated the (8) Washington Bullets, 3–1|
|Defeated the (4) Dallas Mavericks, 4–1||Conference Semifinals||Defeated the (5) New York Knicks, 4–3|
|Defeated the (6) Phoenix Suns, 4–2||Conference Finals||Defeated the (2) Milwaukee Bucks, 4–1|
Regular season series
The Los Angeles Lakers won both games in the regular season series:
|Game||Date||Home Team||Result||Road Team|
|Game 1||Sunday, May 27||Boston Celtics||109–115 (0–1)||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Game 2||Thursday, May 31||Boston Celtics||124–121 OT (1–1)||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Game 3||Sunday, June 3||Los Angeles Lakers||137–104 (2–1)||Boston Celtics|
|Game 4||Wednesday, June 6||Los Angeles Lakers||125–129 OT (2–2)||Boston Celtics|
|Game 5||Friday, June 8||Boston Celtics||121–103 (3–2)||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Game 6||Sunday, June 10||Los Angeles Lakers||119–108 (3–3)||Boston Celtics|
|Game 7||Tuesday, June 12||Boston Celtics||111–102 (4–3)||Los Angeles Lakers|
|Los Angeles Lakers 115, Boston Celtics 109|
|Scoring by quarter: 34–22, 31–30, 27–36, 23–21|
|Pts: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 32
Rebs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 8
Asts: Magic Johnson 10
|Pts: Kevin McHale 25|
Rebs: Larry Bird 14
Asts: Larry Bird 5
|Los Angeles leads the series, 1–0|
The Lakers opened the series with a 115-109 victory at Boston Garden.
|Los Angeles Lakers 121, Boston Celtics 124 (OT)|
|Scoring by quarter: 26–37, 33–25, 28–29, 26–23, Overtime: 8–11|
|Pts: James Worthy 29
Rebs: Magic Johnson 10
Asts: Magic Johnson 10
|Pts: Larry Bird 27|
Rebs: Larry Bird 13
Asts: Ainge, Henderson 5 each
|Series tied, 1–1|
In Game 2, the Lakers led 113-111 with 18 seconds left when Gerald Henderson stole a James Worthy pass to score a game tying layup. Worthy was in the game because starting forward Jamaal Wilkes was out of the series with an injury. The Lakers then inbounded the ball and Magic Johnson inexplicably dribbled the clock out during regulation time. The Celtics eventually prevailed in overtime 124-121, thanks to Scott Wedman's game-winning shot from the baseline with 14 ticks left.
|Boston Celtics 104, Los Angeles Lakers 137|
|Scoring by quarter: 26–29, 20–28, 33–47, 25–33|
|Pts: Larry Bird 30
Rebs: Robert Parish 12
Asts: Cedric Maxwell 5
|Pts: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 24|
Rebs: Magic Johnson 11
Asts: Magic Johnson 21
|Los Angeles lead the series, 2–1|
In Game 3, the Lakers raced to an easy 137-104 victory as Magic Johnson dished out 21 assists, an NBA Finals record. After the game, Larry Bird said his team played like "sissies" in an attempt to light a fire under his teammates. It was Boston's worst playoff defeat in franchise history to that date.
|Boston Celtics 129, Los Angeles Lakers 125 (OT)|
|Scoring by quarter: 32–33, 26–35, 30–22, 25–23, Overtime: 16–12|
|Pts: Larry Bird 29
Rebs: Larry Bird 21
Asts: Dennis Johnson 14
|Pts: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 32|
Rebs: Magic Johnson 11
Asts: Magic Johnson 17
|Series tied, 2–2|
In Game 4, the Lakers had a five-point game lead with less than a minute to play, but made several execution errors, including Magic Johnson's bad pass to Robert Parish late in the 4th quarter as the Celtics tied the game and then came away with a 129-125 victory in overtime. Johnson was called "Tragic Johnson" by Celtics fans due to the two crucial errors he committed in Game 4 (the Parish steal, followed by two botched free throws in OT). The Lakers took an early lead in overtime, but a controversial foul call foul on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was his 6th foul and he had to leave the game. The Laker momentum was stalled, and Larry Bird came up with a crucial jumper with less than a minute remaining in overtime, then M.L. Carr stole James Worthy's inbounds pass followed by a dunk to seal the win. The game was also marked by Celtic forward Kevin McHale's clothesline takedown of Laker forward Kurt Rambis on a breakaway layup which triggered the physical aspect of the rivalry. Larry Bird would go after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar later on in the third quarter, and 1981 Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell further antagonized the Lakers by following a missed James Worthy free throw by crossing the lane with his hands around his own neck, symbolizing that Worthy was "choking" under pressure. Also, Bird pushed Michael Cooper to the baseline following the inbound play during the second quarter.
Game 4 of the 1984 Finals marked the last Finals game to go into overtime until Game 2 of the 1990 NBA Finals.
|Los Angeles Lakers 103, Boston Celtics 121|
|Scoring by quarter: 26–26, 27–29, 24–33, 26–33|
|Pts: James Worthy 22
Rebs: Kurt Rambis 9
Asts: Magic Johnson 13
|Pts: Larry Bird 34|
Rebs: Larry Bird 17
Asts: Gerald Henderson 9
|Boston leads the series, 3–2|
In Game 5, the Celtics took a 3-2 series lead with a 121-103 victory, as Larry Bird scored 34 points. The game was known as the "Heat Game", as it was played under 97 °F (36 °C) heat, and without any air conditioning, at Boston Garden. The Celtics did not warm up with their sweat pants on because of extreme heat, and an oxygen tank was provided to give air to an aging Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Referee Hugh Evans became dehydrated and fainted at one point in the first half. He worked the first half, but was replaced by John Vanak for the second half. It was also the last time that a team with home court advantage in the NBA finals played Game 5 on its own floor until 2014. The next year, the NBA Finals switched to the 2-3-2 format with Game 5 going to the team without home-court advantage, which continued through 2013.
|Boston Celtics 108, Los Angeles Lakers 119|
|Scoring by quarter: 33–29, 32–30, 22–24, 21–36|
|Pts: Larry Bird 28
Rebs: Larry Bird 14
Asts: Larry Bird 8
|Pts: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 30|
Rebs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 10
Asts: Magic Johnson 10
|Series tied, 3–3|
In Game 6, the Lakers evened the series with a 119-108 victory. In the game the Lakers answered the Celtics' rough tactics when Laker forward James Worthy shoved Cedric Maxwell into a basket support. After the game a Laker fan threw a beer at Celtics guard M.L. Carr as he left the floor, causing him to label the series "all-out-war."
|Los Angeles Lakers 102, Boston Celtics 111|
|Scoring by quarter: 30–30, 22–28, 26–33, 24–20|
|Pts: James Worthy 21
Rebs: Kurt Rambis 9
Asts: Magic Johnson 15
|Pts: Cedric Maxwell 24|
Rebs: Robert Parish 16
Asts: Cedric Maxwell 8
|Boston wins the series, 4–3|
In Game 7, the heat that was an issue in Game 5 was not as bad (indoor temperatures hovered around 91 °F (33 °C) during the game, due to additional fans being brought in to try to cool the air). The Celtics were led by Cedric Maxwell who had 24 points, eight rebounds and eight assists as they came away with a 111-102 victory. In the game, the Lakers rallied to cut a 14-point-deficit to three with one minute remaining when Cedric Maxwell knocked the ball away from Magic Johnson. Dennis Johnson responded by sinking two free throws to seal the victory. Larry Bird was named MVP of the series.
The series was the eighth time in NBA history that the Celtics and Lakers met in the NBA finals, with Boston winning each time.
|GP||Games played||GS||Games started||MPG||Minutes per game|
|FG%||Field-goal percentage||3P%||3-point field-goal percentage||FT%||Free-throw percentage|
|RPG||Rebounds per game||APG||Assists per game||SPG||Steals per game|
|BPG||Blocks per game||PPG||Points per game|
- Boston Celtics
- Los Angeles Lakers
Quote from the Finals
Here's Kareem, outlet to Worthy, Rambis. And now let's watch it, Cooper and the Celtics, and the now the benches empty. As Larry Bird helps Kurt Rambis up, he was decked by two Celtics and hit the floor hard, and both benches have emptied. And you knew this was gonna happen, you can see it coming.— Dick Stockton of the same moment above followed by the near-bench brawl.
For a minute I could hear Johnny Most going, "Henderson steals the ball!"— Gerald Henderson during a post-game interview following Game 2.
This has to be one of the most decisive routs in championship game history.— Dick Stockton comments after the Celtics' worst playoff loss in Game 3.
We've got some great players on this team, but we don't have the players with the heart sometimes that we need. And today, when you see Magic slapping high-fives and his guys throwing behind-the-back passes and shooting lay-ups on us all day long, it seems that someone would try to play stop on defense and, until we get our hearts where they belong, well, we're in trouble.— Larry Bird commenting on his infamous "Celtics play like sissies" comment following Game 3.
Maxwell looking, Bird pops out, avoids a steal, gets it over to D.J., Bird goes right into the pivot now D.J. holds the ball, back into Bird, a fallaway, it's good!! Boston leads 125-123 and the Lakers call a timeout! OH MY GOODNESS, OH MY GOODNESS!!!! WHAT A PLAY.— Johnny Most on Larry Bird's clutch Game 4 jumper that ultimately won the game for the Celtics.
And the Boston Celtics have evened this NBA World Championship Series at two games apiece. And those who are writing the obituary for the team that has won a record 14 NBA titles, can just pause.— Dick Stockton after Game 4 of the finals.
The Boston Celtics are the NBA World Champions, in a grueling, seven-game series over the Los Angeles Lakers.— Dick Stockton after Game 7 of the finals.
It feels great, whatever happened to the Los Angeles dynasty? You guys are talking about a dynasty, there it is (the O'Brien Trophy) right there, that's the dynasty. We're the best team in the world right now, the best out there.
The 1984 championship series scored high TV ratings. All the playoff action was documented on the 1984 NBA Season documentary Pride and Passion, narrated by Dick Stockton. During that year Lesley Visser, Stockton's wife, became the first woman to cover the NBA Finals for CBS. She reported on the Celtics' sideline while Pat O'Brien reported on the Lakers' sideline.
Reflecting back on the series, Magic Johnson said ". . . (the Lakers) learned a valuable lesson. Only the strong survive. . . talent just don't get it. That's the first time the (80's) Lakers ever encountered that, someone stronger minded." Both teams would make it back to the Finals in 1985. The Lakers were much-improved heading into the Finals, winning 62 games, but had to cede home-court advantage due to the Celtics' 63-win season. The series started using the 2-3-2 format that was in effect until the NBA went back to a 2-2-1-1-1 format for the 2014 NBA Finals, with Games 1, 2, 6, and 7 held on the home court of the team with the better record. The Lakers finally exorcised its ghosts, beating the Celtics in six games, and more appropriately, won the title on the parquet floor of the Boston Garden. The Lakers' win marked the only time a visiting team won the title at the Garden.