1984 NBA Finals: Did the Boston Celtics Win It, or Did the LA Lakers Give It Away?
Through the first four games of the 1984 NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers dominated but had nothing to show for it. Somehow, the Boston Celtics found themselves tied 2-2 and headed back to Boston for Game 5.
In the final three games of the series, the Celtics were themselves again. They took advantage of home court, winning Games 5 and 7 to escape with an improbable championship.
The Boston Celtics were the favorites in the 1984 NBA Finals, but you’d never know it
The Celtics finished the 1983-84 season with a 62-20 record, 10 games better than the second-best team (Philadelphia 76ers) in the Eastern Conference. The Lakers owned the best record out West, finishing with 54 victories.
The Lakers quickly showed the regular season meant nothing when they came to the Boston Garden for Game 1 of the 1984 NBA Finals. It was the first championship meeting between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson as professionals. Johnson and the Lakers stole homecourt advantage from the Celtics, winning Game 1, 115-109.
LA had a pretty good grasp of Game 2 as well, holding a two-point lead in the waning seconds with possession of the ball. While trying to play keep-away, James Worthy lofted a lazy pass across the court intended for Byron Scott. Celtics guard Gerald Henderson stepped in front of Scott, intercepted it, and drove in for the game-tying layup. The Celtics won in overtime to even the series.
The Lakers took out some frustration in Game 3, blowing out the Celtics 137-104 in the first game in LA. That frustration shifted to the Celtics as Larry Bird called out his teammates for being “sissies” for not being aggressive enough. Kevin McHale certainly took that to heart in Game 4 with his infamous clotheslining of Kurt Rambis as the Celtics trailed 76-70 in the third quarter.
The hard foul was a momentum changer for Boston. The Celtics took control the rest of the way and tied the series with another overtime victory. The Lakers completely outplayed the Celtics in those four games, but you’d never know it with the series tied two games apiece.
Boston did what it was supposed to do the rest of the way, winning both games at home to capture the series in seven.
The Lakers let the 1984 series slip away
It’s tough to say the Celtics earned that title. It seems more fitting that the Lakers gave that one away. That seemed to be the consensus when the series was over.
“L.A. should have swept us in four games,” Bird said, per Sports Illustrated.
Lakers coach Pat Riley even admitted he still saw Worthy’s pass to Scott playing over and over again in his head.
“What will I remember most from this series?” said 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.”
Last year, during an interview on Scott’s Off the Dribble podcast, Worthy admitted that play still haunts him to this day.
“Magic Johnson grabbed it and threw it to me,” Worthy recalled. “I was nervous as a scarecrow because here we are 13 seconds away from winning Game 2. I’m in the backcourt, but I need to get rid of it. I didn’t even look nor think. I just tried to throw… (it was) an errant pass to you. You were way out of the play.
“Gerald Henderson was just licking his chops. Man, to this day, I wake up at night with sweats because he went for that layup, and I can still feel that leather just go from my hand. That was our fourth championship. I’ll always say that was our fourth championship but just came up short.”