The Boston Celtics had no business winning the NBA Finals against head coach Pat Riley and his Los Angeles Lakers in 1984. Sure, they had the NBA’s best record at 62-20, but they dug themselves an early hole in the championship round and were “lucky” to recover, according to star Larry Bird. Boston needed a series-changing steal and a mental lapse by Magic Johnson in Game 2, or else they would’ve been staring at a sweep in Game 4.
The Celtics regrouped and outlasted their rivals in seven games. The Lakers also regrouped and won the championship the next year. After that devastating ’84 collapse, Riley changed things up, instituting a no-friends policy. LA became all business.
The Lakers coughed up a golden opportunity in the 1984 NBA Finals
The Celtics saw homecourt advantage disappear when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated with a 32-point outburst in the series opener as the Lakers win 115-109 at the Boston Garden. Boston was in grave danger of dropping their first two at home until Gerald Henderson saved the day. The point guard came up with a late steal of a James Worthy pass and turned it into two points to tie the game at 113.
With 13 seconds remaining, Johnson dribbled out the clock, and the Lakers failed to get off a shot attempt as the game went into overtime. Boston outscored LA 11-8 in the extra session, evening the series.
The Lakers dominated in their first home game of the series, cruising to a 137-104 win in Game 3. Boston’s loss prompted Bird to blast his teammates, calling them “sissies.” Had Henderson not stolen the ball in Game 2, Boston would have been staring at a 3-0 deficit. According to NBA.com, Bird said the Celtics likely would have been swept if not for the steal.
Instead, the Celtics won Game 4 on the road and Game 5 at home to take a 3-2 series lead. Abdul-Jabbar then put up 30 points and 10 rebounds, while the Lakers had four starters with 20 or more points in a 119-108 Game 6 win in LA. Boston closed out the series with a 111-102 victory.
Pat Riley issued a no-friends policy after the ’84 series
The Lakers were crushed after the series. Game 2 was the turning point, and it stuck with the players and coaches for quite some time. That feeling lasted throughout the offseason but only made the team hungrier for the 1984-85 season.
During that offseason, Riley instituted a new mandate for his team. He wanted the Lakers to be more business-like and came up with a no-friends policy regarding players on the opposing teams.
“Coop (Lakers sixth man Michael Cooper) and I were good friends with him. But after that loss, Riles said no more friendly games, no more picking each other up and driving around. Not even casual conversation. It was all business.”
Riley’s policy may have worked as the Lakers bounced back with a title in 1985
Who knows how much it helped, but the Lakers bounced back nicely to capture the 1985 NBA Finals with Riley’s policy in order. Both LA and Boston made return trips to the championship round, but the Lakers topped the Celtics this time around.
In 1985, the NBA changed its Finals format to a 2-3-2 series to cut down the coast-to-coast travel. Many argued the team with the worse record had the upper hand with three straight home games. In any case, the Celtics blew away the Lakers in the series opener, winning 148-114. LA bounced back, however, to steal homecourt advantage with a Game 2 win.
The Lakers held a 3-2 series lead and had the tough task of trying to win one game in enemy territory. They did just that in Game 6, winning 111-100.
The Lakers got payback from 1984. Even though they weren’t able to win in front of their fans, victory was still sweet.
“A part of you wants to win a championship in front of your home fans,” said Lakers forward Kurt 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.”