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The only saving grace for the Boston Celtics after losing Game 5 of the 1985 NBA Finals was the new NBA format. The Celtics trailed 3-2 in the series after losing 120-111 in the fifth game of the series, but with the new 2-3-2 format in place, the Celtics were headed home for Game 6 and a potential Game 7.

While the Celtics had home cookin’ awaiting, the Lakers weren’t about to make it easy for them. Feeling like they let a championship get away against the Celtics the previous year, the Lakers took a stand and stole the show in Boston.

Revenge was sweet in 1985 as the LA Lakers defeated the Boston Celtics for the NBA title

Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looks to pass to Magic Johnson, who is covered by Celtics guard Danny Ainge during the 1985 NBA Finals. | Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images.

The Lakers had a plan and stuck with it. Despite being blown out in Game 1 in Boston in the game known as the “Memorial Day Massacre,” the Lakers wanted to run the Celtics out of their own gym. It finally worked.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had 36 points, and Magic Johnson had 26 points and 17 assists as the Lakers ran past the Celtics in Game 6, clinching the championship in Boston. Victory was sweet for LA and remains so. Abdul-Jabbar said he still savors the victory more than 35 years later.

“That was our year,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a 2020 video put out by NBA History & Legends on CLNS. “We finally beat the Celtics. The Laker/Celtics thing was dead now because we went up there and whooped them in Boston Garden. We were the only team to win a championship in Boston Garden other than the Boston Celtics.

“They got to live with that forever. That’s awesome. That made my career. It was that good to me. I enjoyed 1985, and I’m still enjoying it.”

Lakers coach Pat Riley said revenge was sweet. He said he felt the Celtics disrespected them the year before.

“There comes a time when you have to plant your feet firmly, take a stand and kick some butt,” Riley said to Sports Illustrated after winning the title. “That’s what we did. They can never mock us, or humiliate us, or disrespect us, which is what they did last year.”

The Lakers wanted to run, run, and run past the Celtics


The Los Angeles Lakers Never Trusted the Boston Celtics During the 1984 NBA Finals: ‘We Didn’t Know Who Was Watching’

Finesse won out over physicality in 1985. The Showtime Lakers were all about speed and athleticism, while the Celtics were more of a half-court offensive team. Magic Johnson, LA’s 6-foot-9 point guard, was the perfect player to run the show, as he was a matchup nightmare for any opponent with his playmaking abilities and size.

The Lakers wore the Celtics down during the series and felt like they could close things out in Boston with a run-and-gun style of play.

“They’re going to see us run some more,” Riley said when asked about his team’s game plan for Game 6. “Sometime in the course of the game, one team is going to crack. And if we push it, it’s more likely to be them.”

Johnson admitted he saw the Celtics struggling to keep up with the Lakers during the course of the game.

“We made ’em lose it,” Johnson said.

“I’d seen that they were tired all over their faces. Riles kept making that point. ‘Hey, Bug, keep pushing it.’ Even if we pushed it up and didn’t score, my job was still to push it up. To keep pushing it until they’d break.”

The Celtics did break, and the Lakers capitalized, earning sweet revenge in Boston.