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The Los Angeles Lakers let one get away in 1984. They dominated the Boston Celtics through the first three-plus games of the 1984 NBA Finals but had nothing to show for it. After watching his team get blown out in Game 3, Larry Bird ripped his teammates in the locker room. He called them “sissies” and challenged them to toughen up for Game 4.

Kevin McHale famously clotheslined Kurt Rambis in the third quarter with LA in front 76-70. The hard foul completely changed the momentum of the game. Boston went on to win in overtime and outlasted the Lakers in seven games. Bird said LA showed its true colors in the second half of that series.

Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics stole a title from the Lakers in 1984

The Boston Celtics had homecourt stolen away after the Lakers pulled out a 115-109 win in Game 1 of the 1984 NBA Finals. They nearly headed back to Los Angeles down 2-0.

The Lakers held a 113-111 lead and had possession of the ball with 18 seconds left in the game. James Worthy lofted a cross-court pass intended for Byron Scott that was intercepted by Celtics guard Gerald Henderson. Henderson converted the steal into a game-tying layup, and the Celtics pulled out a victory in overtime.

The series shifted to LA for Game 3, and the Lakers dominated that one from the start. They cruised to a 137-104 win, prompting Bird to lay into his teammates after the game.

“I wanted to fight every teammate I had after Game 3,” said Bird, quoted in Jackie MacMullan’s book When the Game Was Ours. “I did everything I could in the papers to get them fired up, and I knew if something didn’t change, we were going to lose. So I called them sissies, told them they played like girls. I didn’t know if there would be some backlash, but I didn’t care.”

In Game 4, the Lakers held a 76-70 lead in the third quarter before McHale clotheslined Rambis on a play that disrupted the flow of the Lakers. After the benches cleared and order was restored, the Celtics seized momentum and escaped with another overtime win to even the series despite being outplayed for the better part of the four games.

Boston outlasted LA in seven games, clinching the deal with a 111-102 victory in Game 7.

Bird said the Lakers finally showed their true colors in the series


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McHale’s hard foul on Rambis really shook things up in the series, and the Celtics knew it.

“Before McHale hit Rambis, the Lakers were just running across the street whenever they wanted,” former Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell said, per MacMullan. “Now they stop at the corner, push the button, wait for the light, and look both ways.”

Even Lakers superstar Magic Johnson believed McHale’s foul turned the tide.

“We had lost our edge,” he said. “That takedown of Rambis had totally changed the complexion of that series.”

Bird said the Lakers showed their true colors as the series wore on.

“The Lakers, I felt, showed their true colors,” Bird said. “I always thought they were soft, and they were that season.”