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The Boston Celtics were in a playoff rut. After leading the NBA in wins during the 1979-80 season and then winning the championship the following season, the Celtics put up 63 and 56 wins in the next years but failed to return to the NBA Finals. Enter Dennis Johnson.

The Celtics had problems defending star guards like Andrew Toney of the Philadelphia 76ers and Sidney Moncrief of the Milwaukee Bucks. They swung a trade with the Phoenix Suns that brought back D.J., a player known for clashing with coaches and having an attitude problem. With Johnson in the mix, the Celtics finally turned things around.

After acquiring Dennis Johnson, the Boston Celtics went to four straight NBA Finals

While Dennis Johnson came to Boston with some question marks regarding his attitude, he fit right in with the Celtics. While Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish got plenty of well-deserved credit, Johnson was the missing piece. Bird admitted D.J. was the best player he’d ever played with.

While Johnson was a strong two-way player throughout his career, he stepped it up during the postseason. Bird even joked he did that on purpose.

“D.J. goes all season long, missing shots so they won’t guard him in the playoffs, so then he can open it up,” Bird said during the 1987 NBA Finals, per United Press International.

Johnson and the Celtics struggled in the early part of their 1984 championship series with the Los Angeles Lakers. If not for Gerald Henderson’s steal late in Game 2, Boston would likely have been staring at getting swept. Instead, they were down 2-1 but trailed in Game 4 in LA. That’s when Celtics coach K.C. Jones made a halftime adjustment in Game 4.

Jones decided to put Johnson, who finished with four points in a Game 3 blowout loss, on Lakers point Magic Johnson. By putting his focus on stopping Magic, D.J. didn’t overthink his offense. Starting with that Game 4, Johnson turned things up offensively, scoring 22, 22, 20, and 22 points in the final four games, three being Celtics wins, as Boston won the series in seven games.

The Celtics went to the NBA finals each year from 1984 to 1987. They won championships in 1984 and 1986 during that stretch.

Johnson’s best moment came during training camp before the 1983-84 season


Dennis Johnson Crumbled On the Big Stage, and It Eventually Turned Him Into an MVP

Dennis Johnson certainly had his share of big moments with the Celtics. He hit a jumper just inside the three-point line at the buzzer to give the Celtics a Game 4 win over the Lakers in the 1985 NBA Finals. He converted a game-winning layup after Larry Bird’s famous steal against the Detroit Pistons in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals.

Johnson played a major role in the success of the Celtics in the 1980s. He once said his best moment came before he even suited up for a game with the team.

“The best thing about coming to Boston was in training camp, to hear K.C. and Red (Auerbach) say that with me on the team, we very possibly could win a championship,” Johnson told Sports Illustrated in 1986. “They were putting it on the line.”

Although Johnson was one of four future Hall of Famers in Boston’s starting lineup, the Celtics didn’t really get going until he showed up for the 1983-84 season. He’s an underrated star who made five All-Star appearances and won three championships (one with Seattle) in his 14-year career.

“He was one of the most underrated players in the history of the game, in my opinion, and one of the greatest Celtic acquisitions of all time,” said former teammate Danny Ainge, according to ESPN.