Larry Bird and Magic Johnson
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson battle for position during the 1987 NBA Finals.
(Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Hardwood Classics: 1987 NBA Finals

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

The Lakers are honoring their 1986-87 championship team’s 30th anniversary by wearing Hardwood Classics throwbacks for select games. The following is a part of a series chronicling that team’s title run.

After a decade of battles, the Showtime era concluded its chapter of the Lakers-Celtics rivalry with one last duel in the 1987 NBA Finals.

Magic Johnson — named NBA MVP after averaging a career-high 23.9 points and a league-best 12.2 assists — led a Los Angeles team that had won the second-most regular-season games in franchise history (65) and was now standing before its 10th title.

On the other side, Hall of Famer Larry Bird directed the defending-champion Celtics, who had defeated the Lakers in eight of their previous nine Finals meetings.

The series began with a statement at the Forum, as the Lakers bolted out to a 21-point halftime lead. Johnson played about flawlessly — with 29 points, 13 rebounds, eight assists and zero turnovers — while James Worthy racked up 33 points. The duo was more than enough to overcome a 33-point night from No. 33, Bird, as the Lakers cruised to a 126-113 win.

Boston changed course in Game 2 by focusing on shutting down Magic to force someone else to try to take over. L.A.’s shooting guards accepted the challenge, as Michael Cooper drained a then-playoff record 6-of-7 3-pointers, while Byron Scott led his team with 24 points. And for all the effort on preventing a big game from Magic, he still ended up with 22 points and 20 assists in his team’s 141-122 rout.

But the Celtics weren’t about to surrender as the series shifted to Massachusetts. Game 3 saw a classic duel between Johnson (32 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists) and Bird (30 points, 12 rebounds), as Boston barked back to capture a 109-103 win.

Then came the defining game of the Showtime era.

Looking to even up the series, the Celtics led by as many as 16 points in Game 4 before the Lakers rallied to tie the game at 95 with 5:30 left.

Boston then rolled off eight unanswered points, though L.A. held strong and eventually took the lead in the final minute on an alley-oop from Magic to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

But Bird stayed cool and splashed a 3-pointer for a 106-104 edge with 12 seconds left. Abdul-Jabbar was fouled on the next possession but went 1-of-2 from the line. Mychal Thompson fought with Kevin McHale for the rebound and caused the Celtic to nudge it out of bounds, giving the Lakers the ball and Johnson his stage.

With the clock running out, Magic drove through the lane and lifted one of the most famous shots in NBA history. His junior skyhook soared over the arms of McHale and Robert Parish before finding the bottom of the net and handing the Lakers a 107-106 victory.

After such a dramatic win, the Lakers couldn’t find the same groove in Game 5, as Boston refused to lose the series at home. In spite of 29 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists from Johnson, the Celtics won 123-108.

With the Finals back in Los Angeles, it appeared that Boston was on its way to forcing Game 7, as it took a five-point halftime lead.

Yet Abdul-Jabbar — who had shown up to the game with his head shaven, ready for business — wouldn’t be denied his fifth ring.

The 40-year-old had allowed head coach Pat Riley to make Johnson the focal point of the Lakers’ offense that season, but Game 6 was all about him. Kareem poured in 32 points as the Lakers’ comeback was sparked by the biggest play of Worthy’s career.

Early in the second half, Worthy tracked down a loose ball and went into a full, outstretched dive to save it from going out of bounds. The famous hustle play resulted in a dunk from Magic and a 57-56 lead that the Lakers would never surrender.

After the game, Johnson — who led his team in scoring (26.2 ppg), rebounds (8.0), assists (13.0) and steals (2.3) — was named NBA Finals MVP.

Having vanquished the Celtics, the Lakers celebrated with their customary championship parade, which saw Riley guarantee that the team would repeat next season. Indeed, the promise was fulfilled a year later, as Johnson, Worthy and co. beat the Detroit Pistons for the final title of the Showtime era.

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