Danny Ainge Flat-Out Blew off the Boston Celtics Coaches and it Paid off During the 1987 NBA Finals Against the Lakers

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Boston Celtics' Kevin McHale (32), Danny Ainge (44) and Dennis Johnson (3) react to a loss against the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Boston Celtics were desperate in Game 5 against the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1987 NBA Finals. They needed a win to stay alive in the series to send the game back to LA. Danny Ainge, the lone non-future Hall of Famer in Boston’s starting lineup, came through. He did so by defying coaches’ orders, and it paid off in a much-needed Celtics victory.

Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics staved off elimination in Game 5

Danny Ainge Flat-Out Blew off the Boston Celtics Coaches and it Paid off During the 1987 NBA Finals Against the Lakers
Boston Celtics’ Kevin McHale (32), Danny Ainge (44), and Dennis Johnson (3) react to a loss against the Los Angeles Lakers in a regular-season NBA basketball game at the Boston Garden on Dec. 11, 1987. | Suzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The Celtics dropped a heartbreaker in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals, falling 107-106 at home as the rival Lakers took a 3-1 series lead. The format for the Finals then was 2-3-2, so the Celtics had one more game at home before the Lakers returned home for potential Game 6 and Game 7. Would the Celtics check out after that tough Game 4 loss, knowing they needed to string together three straight wins?

It took the Celtics one quarter to figure things out. After battling the Lakers to a 25-25 tie after the first 12 minutes of Game 5, Boston blew things open by outscoring the visitors 38-23 in the second quarter to head into the locker room with a 15-point lead.

The Celtics extended the lead to 18 points after the third quarter and went on to win 123-108 to cut their series deficit to 3-2.

All five Boston starters finished with 20 or more points, led by Dennis Johnson’s 25 points. Larry Bird scored 23 points, Kevin McHale 22, while Ainge and Robert Parish each finished with 21.

Danny Ainge ignored his coaches en route to his huge game

Ainge didn’t get heated up until the second half. Whenever the Lakers made a run, the Celtics guard knocked down a big 3-pointer to thwart any potential rally. He made four of five 3-pointers after the break but missed his first one, earning a message from the Celtics bench.

Fortunately for the Celtics, Ainge ignored the coaches.

“I missed the first 3-pointer, and the coaches stood up and yelled, ‘Hey, we don’t need those shots,'” Ainge said after the game, per United Press International. “I said. ‘Hey, if I am open I’m going to shoot them.’ I might have been on the bench if I missed again.”

He didn’t miss again.

Ainge’s first 3-pointer of the game came as the halftime buzzer sounded. He threw in a 40-footer as time expired.

“That was just a lucky shot,” he said. “You take those all the time, and that one just went in.”

The Lakers got within single digits at 69-60, but Ainge knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers to blow the game open again.

“The 3-point shot is devastating,” Ainge said. “If you are open, the 3-pointer is not that difficult. I think they were so concerned with Larry (Bird) and our inside game, which left me open.”

Ainge did his best Michael Cooper impression in that Game 5

Of Boston’s five starters, Ainge was the least likely to steal the show offensively. Ainge did so in that Game 5, just as Lakers guard Michael Cooper did in Game 2.

Cooper was known as more of a defensive stopper for the Lakers than he was for his offensive talents. In Game 2 of the 1987 NBA Finals, however, he did what Ainge did in Game 5.

Cooper came off the bench for LA, scored 21 points, and connected on six of seven 3-pointers. He also dished out nine assists as the Lakers cruised to a 141-122 victory to take a 2-0 series lead.

Celtics coach K.C. Jones likened Ainge’s performance to Cooper’s after the Game 5 win.

“(Ainge) was hitting the 3-pointer the same way Cooper was for them,” Jones said. “So I know how the Lakers feel.”

The Lakers, however, closed out the series at home in Game 6 with a convincing 106-93 victory.

Ainge finished with two points, missing eight of his nine shots from the floor.

Maybe he should’ve listened to his coaches that night.

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