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The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers were quite familiar with each other during the 1980s. They squared off against each other three times in the NBA Finals during the decade. At least one of those teams made an appearance in the championship round each year.

Larry Bird knew the Lakers inside and out. Before they met in the 1985 NBA Finals, he gave United Press International an in-depth report of the starters, reserves, and coaches for the series. His scouting report also included a four-word self-assessment where he was clearly joking but may have been telling the truth.

Larry Bird and the Celtics were looking for a repeat against the Lakers in 1985

Los Angeles Lakers Kurt Rambis and Boston Celtics Danny Ainge and Larry Bird all end up on the floor during 1985 NBA Finals game action between Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics, June 2, 1985, in Inglewood, California. | Getty Images/Bob Riha, Jr.

In Bird’s second year in the NBA, he guided the Celtics to the first of his three NBA titles when they defeated Moses Malone and the Houston Rockets in 1981. After watching the Philadelphia 76ers represent the Eastern Conference in the Finals the next two years, the Celtics made their way back in 1984 to face Magic Johnson and the Lakers.

That series had all the drama and more.

The Celtics lost the first game at home and were on the verge of dropping their second straight when Gerald Henderson stole the ball with Boston down two with 18 seconds remaining. The Boston guard picked off a James Worthy pass and went in for a game-tying layup. Boston pulled out the game in overtime.

After getting thumped in Game 3 in LA, the Celtics used a Kevin McHale clotheslining of Kurt Rambis as a momentum changer en route to a Game 4 comeback win. Game 5 was played during a heatwave in Boston, and the Lakers struggled in the Garden that didn’t have any air conditioning. Boston eventually won the series in seven games.

The teams met again the following season, and the Lakers made sure they got their revenge.

Larry Bird gave an in-depth scouting report of both teams before the 1985 NBA Finals

Although the Celtics and Lakers only met twice during the regular season every year, they knew each other very well. They knew the chance of them facing off against each other in the championship round was always pretty good. Bird sat down with UPI before the series began in 1985 and offered his honest take, giving his own scouting report on the players, including himself.

“He’s a big-play man,” Bird said of Johnson, the LA point guard. “If he has to score, he’ll score. He does a fantastic job of running the ball club. He’ll take the outside shot and he’s scoring more. About Magic, there is nothing to say but that he is great.”

He continued down the list.

“Byron (Scott) is their most consistent player right now,” he said. “He is hitting the shots from the outside. He’s playing with confidence and he will cause a lot of problems for us.

“Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) is definitely an offensive player, so we’ve got to beat him up and down the court and get (Boston center) Robert (Parish) down there for the easy baskets.”

He spoke about his teammates.

“There is nobody who can match up with him,” he said of Kevin McHale. “If he’s got it going, there is nobody who is going to stop us. I’ve said he’s one of the best six players in the league. Kevin is a big asset for us, but he does have terrible hands.’

He then gave a quick rundown of himself.

“Myself, I’m the greatest,” he said. 

Despite the Memorial Day Massacre, the Lakers got their revenge against the Celtics

The Celtics and Lakers met again in the 1985 NBA Finals, and it appeared the Celtics were well on their way to a repeat after their Game 1 showing. The Celtics cruised to a 148-114 victory at home in the game known as the Memorial Day Massacre.

The Lakers bounced back to steal Game 2, but the turning point in the series may have been the new format the NBA used for the first time.

Because of the better regular-season record, the Celtics had home-court advantage. Or did they? Although they got to play the first two games at home, the Lakers got to play the next three in their backyard under the new 2-3-2 format.

After losing Game 3 in LA, Boston reclaimed their so-called advantage with a Game 4 victory. The Lakers took a 3-2 series lead with a 120-111 victory but had to play the next two games in Boston. The Lakers, however, took care of business, closing out the series with a 111-100 victory to get their revenge.

“A part of you wants to win a championship in front of your home fans,” said Rambis in 2015, per Sports Illustrated. “But for a competitive athlete, it doesn’t get any better than jamming it to a team on their home court. Particularly the Celtics.”


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