The Boston Celtics needed to do something. They were a desperate team getting called out by their best player, Larry Bird. They only trailed 2-1 in the series heading into Game 4 but were badly outplayed by the Los Angeles Lakers.
When Bird referred to his team as “sissies” after a Game 3 blowout loss, the Celtics turned into a team they weren’t in Game 4. A couple of panic moves later, and the Celtics were on their way to clinching the NBA championship.
The Boston Celtics quickly saw homecourt advantage disappear in the 1984 NBA Finals
The Celtics and the Lakers were the teams to beat in the 1980s. Every year of the decade, either the Celtics or Lakers played in the NBA Finals. Three times, they faced each other. The first of those years was 1984.
Boston finished with the NBA’s best record at 62-20, but all that went out the window when the Lakers stormed into the Boston Garden and stole Game 1, winning 115-109. The Lakers also outplayed the Celtics in Game 2, but Gerald Henderson’s late steal forced overtime, and Boston eventually pulled out the 124-121 victory.
The Lakers maintained homecourt advantage with a lopsided Game 3 victory, crushing the Celtics 137-104. LA outworked, outhustled, and completely outplayed the Celtics, prompting Bird to blast his teammates after the game.
“Until we get our heads where they belong, we’re in trouble,’ Bird said via Jackie MacMullan’s book When The Game Was Ours. “We’re a team that plays with heart and soul, and today the heart wasn’t there. I can’t believe a team like this would let LA come out and push us around like they did. We played like sissies.”
The Boston Celtics became a different team in Game 4
The Celtics were pressing. They were a Henderson steal away from being down 3-0. In Game 4, they also found themselves trailing before they resorted to playing a different kind of game. Although they were a more physical team than the Lakers, they turned it up a notch, bordering on dirty.
Kevin McHale’s clotheslining of Kurt Rambis with the Celtics down 76-70 was more Detroit ‘Bad Boys’-like than Celtics-like. It was more of a desperation move to light a fire under the team — and it paid off.
Even Boston head coach K.C. Jones admitted his team was left scrambling at halftime.
“We scrambled like hell in the second half to get our game together,” said Jones, according to United Press International. “At halftime, we decided to make a more conscious effort to be aggressive. We had to be more aggressive. Flare-ups were bound to happen.
“This kind of game just about gives a person a heart attack.”
The Celtics also turned to a mental game against the Lakers
The Celtics didn’t just increase their aggressiveness and physicality, but they also tried to psych out the Lakers. Like Game 2, Game 4 went into overtime.
Late in the extra session, James Worthy missed the first of two crucial free throws, and the Celtics let him know about it. Cedric Maxwell walked across the lane with his hands on his throat, signifying Worthy’s choking.
M.L. Carr also tried to distract Worthy before he took those foul shots.
“That’s the kind of player he is,” Worthy said of Carr, according to UPI. “He’s a psych player. That’s his game. He comes in and tries to psych you out, but I didn’t pay much attention to it.”
Maxwell seemed to believe the mental game got to the Lakers, especially Worthy.
“They missed three free throws (two others by Magic Johnson) and lost the game,” said Maxwell. “They choked. He (Worthy) is a great player, but those things happen. Everybody chokes once in a while.”
Boston held on for a 129-125 win. The Celtics went on to win the series in seven games.