The 1985 Los Angeles Lakers Resorted to Anything to Top the Boston Celtics, Including Beating Up Each Other
The sour taste was still in the mouths of Los Angeles Lakers players as the 1985 NBA Finals began. It only intensified after Game 1.
The Lakers felt like they let a championship get away from them against the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals. The teams met again for a championship in ’85, and the Lakers had revenge on their minds. After getting blown out in Game 1, a game known as the Memorial Day Massacre, the Lakers did whatever they needed to do to get back on the right track, and that included beating each other up.
The Los Angeles Lakers sought revenge against the Boston Celtics in 1985
Most people who watched the 1984 NBA Finals will tell you the Los Angeles Lakers outplayed the Boston Celtics for most of the series. Even Celtics star Larry Bird admitted his team could have been swept in the series.
If not for Gerald Henderson’s improbable steal late in Game 2, the Celtics would likely have been staring at a 3-0 deficit heading into Game 4. Instead, the Celtics used a Kevin McHale clotheslining of Kurt Rambis to change momentum and turn a 76-70 deficit into a 129-125 overtime victory and help the Celtics even the series as the teams headed back to Boston for Game 5. The Celtics went on to win the series in seven games.
The Lakers entered the 1985 NBA Finals looking for revenge, but it didn’t start off so well. Boston’s Scott Wedman was the unlikely hero in Game 1. He came off the bench and made all 11 of his shots, finishing with 26 points in a 148-114 Celtics win. The Lakers were puzzled.
“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,'” said Lakers guard Magic Johnson, per Sports Illustrated.
Starting with Game 2, the Lakers got down to business.
The Lakers did whatever it took to get back on track against the Celtics
After the Game 1 loss, the Lakers regrouped. The Celtics were clearly the more physical team, and the Lakers made it a point to change that. It started at practice.
After watching film and critiquing his players, head coach Pat Riley put his reserves to work. There were no rules. There were no whistles. Their job was to bump, push, and harass the starters throughout practice.
“Riles huddled up with the reserves, gave them their instructions, and they just beat us to death,” Johnson said in the 2015 SI article. “His message was: Stop whining, stop looking at the referees, be physical yourself.
“There were almost a couple fights. It was like football. Then we did it the next day, too. But you know what? I think it was the turning point of the series.”
Johnson was right. The Lakers bounced back and stole Game 2 in Boston, winning 109-102. After the Lakers took two of three back home in the first year of the 2-3-2 format, LA came back to Boston and became the first team other than the Celtics to clinch a championship in the Boston Garden.
Thirty-five years later, Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said that championship still makes him smile.
“That was our year,” Abdul-Jabbar said in a 2020 video put out by NBA History & Legends on CLNS. “We finally beat the Celtics. The Laker/Celtics thing was dead now because we went up there and whooped them in Boston Garden. We were the only team to win a championship in Boston Garden other than the Boston Celtics.
“They got to live with that forever. That’s awesome. That made my career. It was that good to me. I enjoyed 1985, and I’m still enjoying it.”