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Danny Ainge was one heck of a basketball player, and that should tell you just how good the Boston Celtics of the 1980s were. During the middle part of the decade, Ainge was the only non-future Hall of Famer in Boston’s starting lineup. The Los Angeles Lakers, the best team out West in the decade, had more than their share of stars as well.

Ainge reflected on those days of the ’80s when either the Celtics or Lakers made an appearance in the NBA Finals in each year of the decade. The Celtics and Lakers met in the championship round three times. Ainge spoke about how stacked each team was, rattling off players from each roster but purposely leaving out LA forward Kurt Rambis.

Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics went 1-2 against the Lakers in the NBA Finals

Danny Ainge of the Boston Celtics guards Michael Cooper of the Los Angeles Lakers during an NBA game circa 1985 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

Those ’80s games between the Celtics and Lakers were heated. Just ask former Lakers guard Byron Scott how intense they were.

“The one thing everybody has to understand is it was a true rivalry,” Scott said on his Off the Dribble podcast. “You don’t have the true rivalries in the NBA like you did back in those days. We didn’t play ball with those guys in the summer. Those guys hated us. We hated them.

“The rivalry was real. It was legit. We couldn’t stand each other. We tried to beat them up. They tried to beat us up. In the midst of all that, we were trying to win a series.”

The beating-up part happened in the first Finals meeting between the clubs of the decade in 1984. After the Lakers thumped the Celtics in Game 3 to take a 2-1 series lead, Boston’s Larry Bird called out his teammates for being soft. In Game 4, the Celtics responded when Kevin McHale clotheslined Rambis that seemed to switch momentum in the game. At the time of the hard foul, Boston trailed 76-70. The Celtics went on to win in overtime. Boston won the series in seven games. LA beat Boston in 1985 and 1987.

Although McHale did the dirty work, Ainge might have had something to do with it.

“We get blown out in Game 1, we are so lucky to win Game 2,” Ainge recalled the Locked On Celtics podcast in 2020. “We’re probably in the one percentile of winning that game, and then in Game 3 we get crushed again and it’s just a dunk fest.

“I remember Kevin, we’re going out to stretch for practice the next day, and Kevin saying, ‘We’ve gotta take guys out. We gotta make some hard fouls.’ And I said, ‘Kevin, I get booed in every arena because I take hard fouls. Why don’t you foul somebody hard one time?’”

Ainge recently reflected on that ’80s rivalry with the Lakers

As Scott mentioned, the hatred between the teams was real. The Celtics and Lakers were by far the most dominant teams for the better part of the ’80s, and they did whatever it took to win.

Ainge recently appeared on the Y’s Guys podcast and spoke about those days.

“It was fun,” Ainge said. “It was special. Those teams were stacked, both the Lakers and the Celtics in the early and mid-80s. Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) is arguably one of the greatest players to ever live. You’ve got Bird and Magic (Johnson), who transformed the entire league.

“Then you’ve got players like (James) Worthy and Byron Scott and Bob McAdoo. Then you’ve got McHale and (Cedric) Maxwell.”

As Ainge continued, the host interrupted by saying, “Rambis was there.”

“I didn’t mention him on purpose,” Ainge said without breaking stride.

“We have a guy like Scott Wedman, who was the highest-paid player during this era at one point and was an NBA All-Star the year before we got him. He couldn’t even get on the court. He was like a 10-minute-a-game player and was a fantastic player. Most people don’t even know he was an All-Star.”

Ainge is right. Those teams were stacked, with or without Rambis.