The Boston Celtics Had No Business Winning the 1984 Finals Against the Lakers, and Magic Johnson Revealed the ‘Most Crushing Part’ of the Loss
The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers met three times in the NBA Finals during the Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson era. If not for a frantic Celtics comeback in 1984, the Lakers would have swept the trifecta as they were crowned champions in 1985 and 1987 after beating their biggest rival.
In 1984, the Lakers completely outplayed the Celtics through the first four games, yet the series was tied at two games apiece. The Celtics battled back and outlasted the Celtics, gutting Magic and his Lakers teammates. Johnson knows his team let one get away, but he also expressed what bothered him most about losing that series.
The Boston Celtics stole one from the Lakers in 1984
Home court didn’t mean a whole lot during the 1984 NBA Finals. The Boston Celtics hosted Games 1 and 2 of the 1984 NBA Finals, but the Los Angeles Lakers came right in and showed who’s boss with a 115-109 victory in the series opener.
The Lakers nearly made it two straight wins but blew a golden opportunity to take a 2-0 lead back home. With 18 seconds left in Game 2, the Lakers had possession of the ball and held a two-point lead, but Celtics guard Gerald Henderson stole a James Worthy pass intended for Byron Scott and converted it into a game-tying layup. The Lakers failed to get off a shot in regulation, and the Celtics won 124-121 in overtime.
In Game 3, the Lakers showed no mercy on the Celtics, cruising to a 137-104 victory. After the game, Bird blasted his teammates in the locker room, calling them out for their soft play. In Game 4, the Celtics responded to their leader.
Trailing 76-70 in the third quarter, Celtics forward Kevin McHale clotheslined LA forward Kurt Rambis as he drove in for a layup. Benches cleared after the hard foul but no technical foul was called. The play turned momentum in Boston’s favor, and the Celtics went on to pull out another overtime victory.
The series shifted back to Boston knotted at two games apiece. The Celtics claimed Game 5, and the Lakers forced a Game 7 with a 119-108 win in Game 6.
Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell told his teammates to get on his back for Game 7, and he delivered. Maxwell led the team in scoring with 24 points in a 111-102, series-clinching win. He also added eight rebounds and eight assists.
Magic Johnson explained what bothered him most about the 1984 series
The Lakers were crushed after the series, knowing they let one get away. Worthy admitted he still is haunted by his pass in Game 2 that Henderson picked off to prevent an LA win.
“Magic Johnson grabbed it and threw it to me,” Worthy recalled on Scott’s Off the Dribble: The Byron Scott Podcast in 2021. “I was nervous as a scarecrow because here we are 13 seconds away from winning Game 2. I’m in the backcourt, but I need to get rid of it. I didn’t even look nor think. I just tried to throw… (it was) an errant pass to you. You were way out of the play.
“Gerald Henderson was just licking his chops. Man, to this day, I wake up at night with sweat because he went for that layup and I can still feel that leather just go from my hand. That was our fourth championship. I’ll always say that was our fourth championship but just came up short.”
There were plenty of reasons for the Lakers to be upset, but Johnson said one stood out most.
“It was losing to Larry,” he said, per Jackie MacMullan’s book When the Game Was Ours. That was the most crushing part. It was my first time in an LA-Boston series, and he got the best of me.”