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The Boston Celtics reached the NBA Finals five times in the 1980s, including four straight from 1984-1987. They earned three NBA championships, winning in 1981, 1984, and 1986.

After defeating the Los Angeles Lakers in 1984, they had a chance at a repeat when the two rivals matched up a year later. The angry Lakers wanted redemption. They got it when they started playing like the Celtics.

In 1985, the Boston Celtics sought their first title repeat since 1969

The Lakers’ Kurt Rambis, left, Coach Pat Riley, center, and Magic Johnson, right, celebrate with the rest of the team in the locker room after beating the Boston Celtics in Game 6 to win the 1985 NBA Finals on June 9, 1985. | Joe Kennedy/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images.

The Celtics were lucky to capture the 1984 championship against the Lakers. LA completely dominated through the first four games, but somehow the series was 2-2 heading back to the Boston Garden for Game 5.

If not for Gerald Henderson’s late steal in Game 2, the Celtics likely would have been down 3-0 in the series. Instead, they won Games 2 and 4 in overtime and then maintained homecourt advantage the rest of the way to win the series in seven games.

In the 1985 Finals, the Celtics got off to a great start toward their first championship repeat since the 1968 and 1969 seasons. In the series opener, they crushed the Lakers 148-114 in what is known as the Memorial Day Massacre. The Lakers bounced back and stole Game 2 on the road to even the series as it shifted to the West Coast.

The teams split in LA, but the Lakers won the next two to close out the series. Victory was especially sweet, not only because they got revenge, but because they clinched the series in Boston.

Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said that Game 6 win was as big as it gets, and he savors it years later.

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

The Celtics lost at their own game in the 1985 Finals


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The Lakers were a run-and-gun team. Boston was the more physical team. That changed early in the series after the Celtics blew out the Lakers in the series opener.

The Lakers won the next two, including a Game 3 blowout win, 136-111. It was after that game when the Celtics realized they were being “too nice” and letting the Lakers push them around.

“We’ve been called the ‘bad boys,’ but we’ve just been too nice about it in this series,” Boston forward Kevin McHale said before Game 4, per United Press International. “We have to rededicate ourselves to playing harder. They’re the ones going out being the bad boys.

“We have to change things. It’s not punching or hitting anybody — it’s putting the body on the ball, being aggressive.”

Celtics forward Cedric Maxwell agreed with McHale, who turned the tables around in Game 4 of the ’84 Finals by infamously clotheslining Kurt Rambis. McHale’s hard foul changed the momentum of the game, and the Celtics rallied for an overtime win to tie the series.

“We’ve let them go out and pull our teeth,” Maxwell said. “We’re trying to eat meat out there without our choppers on. They’ve won the battle of the boards, and that’s our game.”

Looking back, the series was lost in Games 2 and 3. That’s when the Lakers outmuscled and outphysicaled the Celtics. LA outrebounded the Celtics 49-37 in each of those two games to turn that Memorial Day Massacre into a 2-1 series lead.

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