The Boston Celtics had no business beating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals after the way things began in the series. Boston ousted the Lakers in seven games, needing a desperate steal by Gerald Henderson in Game 2 and a Kevin McHale clotheslining of Kurt Rambis in Game 4 to change momentum.
After taking a year to digest the collapse, the Lakers and their “sewer rat” got sweet revenge against their East Coast rivals.
The Los Angeles Lakers let one get away in the 1984 NBA Finals
The Celtics finished the 1983-84 season with the NBA’s best record at 62-20. They were the lone 60-win team, and nobody else in the East finished with more than 52 victories. Out West, the Lakers were tops with a 54-28 mark. In June 1984, the two squared off for the first of their three ’80s Finals meetings.
The Lakers did what they needed to do in Game 1, escaping the Boston Garden with a 115-109 win and stealing homecourt away. They nearly put the series out of reach in Game 2. With the Lakers holding a two-point lead and playing keep-away from the Celtics with 18 seconds left, Henderson picked off a pass and drove in for the game-tying layup. The Lakers couldn’t get off a shot in the final 13 seconds, and the Celtics won in overtime.
After the Lakers blew out the Celtics in Game 3, winning 137-104 in the first game in LA, the Celtics had to do something. With LA holding a 76-70 lead in Game 4 and threatening to blow the series open, they did.
“I remember Larry (Bird) saying something to the media (after Game 3) about how soft the team is,” Former Celtics guard Danny Ainge said during the Locked On Celtics podcast last year. “But every single person that was watching that film was completely embarrassed and humiliated by our effort in Game 3 in Los Angeles.”
With his team down by six, McHale clotheslined Rambis as the Lakers forward drove in for a layup. Benches cleared. Momentum changed. Boston got some life back. The Celtics used that new life and momentum to post a 129-125 overtime win to get even in the series. Boston eventually won in seven games.
The Los Angeles Lakers got their revenge against the Boston Celtics in 1985
The Lakers carried the heartbreak with them through the offseason. With the heartbreak came determination. They wouldn’t let that happen again.
Things didn’t go as planned for the Lakers in the early going. Boston, again with homecourt advantage, embarrassed their rivals, winning the opener 148-114.
“It was the first time — and the last time — I ever remember us with a look on our face that said, We don’t know what to do,” Johnson said.
The Lakers stole homecourt advantage with a Game 2 win and then won the first one in LA to take a 2-1 series lead. Boston eked out a 107-105 win in Game 4 to get even. The NBA implemented the 2-3-2 format for the Finals in 1985, so the Lakers played the pivotal fifth game at home and won 120-111. They closed out the series in Boston, winning Game 6 111-100.
“We took motivation from the year before,” Lakers coach Pat Riley said. “We were very confident going into (Game 6).”
Revenge was even sweeter for Kurt Rambis, the Lakers’ ‘sewer rat’
When it came to individual enemies of the Boston Celtics in the ’80s, Bill Laimbeer of the Detroit Pistons was a clear-cut No. 1. Rambis likely followed at No. 2. Even legendary Celtics announcer Johnny Most was all over the Lakers forward in the series, labeling Rambis as “something that crawled out of a sewer.”
Rambis embraced it all.
“I loved it,” he told Sports Illustrated in 2015. “How many people in their lives are ever called a sewer rat?”
What Rambis loved even more than the name-calling and the revenge they got on the Celtics in 1985 was the fact they won the title on Boston’s home court.
“A part of you wants to win a championship in front of your home fans,” said Rambis. “But for a competitive athlete, it doesn’t get any better than jamming it to a team on their home court. Particularly the Celtics.”
For Rambis, it all came back to the clotheslining by McHale the previous year.
“I saw two guys closing on me, and I knew one of them was going to hit me,” Rambis recalled. “No surprise it was Kevin. I don’t even think Kevin got a technical, did he?”
He didn’t. He also didn’t repeat as champs as the sewer rat, and his Lakers earned sweet revenge.