Reverse the Curse: The 1985 NBA Finals

With the Lakers in a commanding position to win their 15th title in franchise history, I take you back 24 years to the day, when the Lakers secured their ninth and possibly sweetest NBA Championship with a dominant victory in the Boston Garden. ↵

↵Why was No. 9 so sweet, you ask, such an historic occasion? Because it was the first time, in nine total attempts, that the Lakers finally managed to defeat their arch-rivals, the Boston Celtics, in the NBA Finals. ↵

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↵For that reason alone, this series had the feeling of the Red Sox getting the Yankees monkey off their back. We don’t tend to think of the Lakers in the lovable losers category once occupied by the Red Sox, and we shouldn’t – the franchise has been blessed with championships from its outset. Nevertheless, throughout the 1960’s, the Celtics owned the Lakers just as the Bombers used to own Beantown. From 1959 to 1969, the Celtics and Lakers met seven times in the Finals, and the Celtics won every single time, culminating with their legendary Game 7 victory at the L.A. Forum in the ’69 Finals that spoiled Jack Kent Cooke’s notorious celebration plans and nearly broke Jerry West's heart for good. ↵

↵Cut to 1984, when the NBA’s marketing dream finally came to life, with Magic Johnson’s Lakers advancing to the Finals to face Larry Bird’s Celtics in the first Finals meeting between the two teams in a quarter-century. ↵

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↵But while the faces and styles on the court were strikingly different, the results were all too familiar for fans of both teams, as Bird and Cornbread Maxwell shined for the boys in green and the Celtics closed out Game 7 at the Garden in what remains one of the most dramatic and highest-rated NBA Finals of all time. ↵

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↵In 1985 came the heavily hyped rematch, and right from the start it looked like it was going to be the same crap, different year for the Lakers, as the Celtics gave them a humiliating spanking on the Garden parquet, blowing them out by 34 points in what came to be known as “The Memorial Day Massacre.” ↵

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↵After that, however, the tide turned. L.A. dominated Game 2 behind a 30-point, 17-rebound night from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and then rode another stellar outing from Abdul-Jabbar to a 25-point victory in Game 3 back home at the Forum. Boston countered by winning Game 4 in the tightest contest of the series, but then the Lakers took Game 5 behind a command performance from their big three, with Abdul-Jabbar skyhooking his way to 36 points, James Worthy swooping in another 33, and Magic adding 26 along with 17 assists. ↵

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↵And so the series headed back to Boston with L.A. up 3-2 and the ghosts of so many series past trailing along in the Lakers’ plane. Could the Lakers actually win an NBA title in the Boston Garden? Was such a thing possible? When you considered the fact that Boston had never lost a deciding championship game at home, the Lakers almost seemed like underdogs despite having a one-game advantage. ↵

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↵Magic and Kareem both knew the stakes, and they left nothing to chance, seizing Game 6 from the outset. Abdul-Jabbar, the MVP of the series, scored 29 points in the clincher, and Magic Johnson added a triple-double as L.A. prevailed 111-100 and rid itself at last of the Celtics’ curse. Afterwards, Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss told Brent Musburger as he held the O’Brien Trophy, “This trophy removes the most odious sentence in the English language: It can never be said again that the Lakers have never beaten the Celtics.” ↵

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↵The Lakers would go on to beat the Celtics once more in the Finals, in 1987, making them 2-9 lifetime against Boston in championship series. The game played 24 years ago today remains the only time in history that the Celtics have lost the NBA Finals on their home court. They closed out the 1986 Finals at the Garden with a Game 6 victory over the Houston Rockets, and you may recall that they also won a clincher at the new Garden last year, soundly defeating a team that needs no introduction. ↵

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This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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