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The Los Angeles Lakers felt they let one get away in 1984. They dominated the first half of the series in the 1984 NBA Finals against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics only to see Boston storm back to win the series in seven games.

Two big plays by Boston turned things in the Celtics’ favor — Gerald Henderson’s steal in Game 2 and Kevin McHale’s takedown of Kurt Rambis in Game 4. It was McHale’s clothesline foul that prompted Lakers coach Pat Riley to use two words to motivate his team for the 1984-85 season.

Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics rallied to knock off the rival Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals

The Los Angeles Lakers appeared to have set the tone early against the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals. They stormed into Boston Garden and took charge with a 115-109 victory, stealing homecourt advantage from their rivals.

They appeared to be on their way to taking a 2-0 series lead back home. LA held a 113-111 lead and had possession of the ball with 18 seconds left. That’s when Henderson stepped in front of a lazy pass by James Worthy, picked it off, and drove in for a game-tying basket. The Celtics pulled out a victory in overtime.

After getting blown out in Game 3 in LA, Larry Bird blasted his teammates for their soft play. Apparently, McHale took it to heart when he took down Rambis in Game 4 with the Celtics trailing 76-70 in the third quarter.

The Celtics rallied in Game 4 to escape with another overtime victory. Despite being outplayed for most of the series, the Celtics headed back home for Game 5 tied at two games apiece.

Bird scored 34 points and pulled down 17 rebounds in a 121-103 victory in Game 5. After the Lakers rallied to win game 6, the Celtics, behind Cedric Maxwell’s team-high 24 points, clinched the series with a 111-102 win in Game 7.

Pat Riley learned from the Celtics and used two words to spark his 1985 Lakers


Cedric Maxwell Analyzes Kevin McHale’s Clotheslining of Kurt Rambis in the 1984 NBA Finals: ‘I Loved Every Moment of It’

The Lakers were crushed because they felt they let a championship get away in 1984. They believed the turning point was McHale’s takedown of Rambis in Game 4.

“We had lost our edge,” Magic Johnson said, per Jackie MacMullan’s book When the Game Was Ours. “That takedown of Rambis had totally changed the complexion of that series.”

The first day of training camp ahead of the 1984-85 season, Riley often yelled “no layups.” Those two words became the theme for the Lakers that year.

“No layups,” Riley yelled at practice after James Worthy eased his way in for a dunk, per MacMullan. “From now on, if you don’t take the man out who is going to the basket, if you don’t put him on his ass, then you are going to be fined.”

The Lakers took a page out of Boston’s book and got revenge against the Celtics in ’85. The teams met again for the title, and the Lakers became the first visiting team to win a championship on Boston’s home court. They won the series in six games.

“That made my career,” he said in a video put out by NBA History & Legends on CLNS in 2020.  “It was that good to me. I enjoyed 1985, and I’m still enjoying it.”