On This Day - 6/14/22 - Parade

On This Day: June 14, 1987 - Lakers Redemption Tour Ends in Glory

For most of the 1980s, the basketball world was controlled by two teams: the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Prior to the 1986-87 season, L.A. and Boston each claimed three titles, respectively (Lakers – 1980, ’82, ’85 / Celtics – ’81, ’84, ’86).

The two teams only met twice in the NBA during that span (1984 and 1985).

In the 1985-86 season, the rivals were destined to match up in the Finals, once again, as both entered the postseason as No. 1 seeds in their conferences.

Boston cruised to the championship round only losing one game, but a 4-1 series loss to an improbable Houston Rockets team in the Western Conference Finals, prevented the Lakers from a third-straight meeting with the Celtics.

Larry Bird and Co. would capture franchise championship No. 16 with a 4-2 series win over the Rockets. Bird had been at the forefront of league, in terms of individual performances, capturing the league MVP in three-straight seasons (1983-86) and Finals MVP honors twice (1984 and 1986).

From the start, the 1986-87 season breathed redemption for the Los Angeles Lakers. An opening night loss to the same Rockets squad that knocked the Purple and Gold from reaching the Finals just six months prior had many questioning if the Lakers’ dominance in the 80s was over.

“I was trying to convey to the players that, I think, everybody wanted to see just how total this was,” head coach Pat Riley said in an interview. “Everybody wanted to see just exactly how over the hill we were. Everybody wants to see your demise. That was the final blow and we rose out of the ashes after that game.”

L.A. promptly quieted the naysayers with a nine-game win streak and went on to finish the opening month of play with a 12-2 record (best in the NBA). Riley reached 300 victories sooner than any coach in NBA history and earned November’s NBA Coach of the Month honors.

On This Day - 6/14/22 - Pregame Warmups

A December clash at the Boston Garden emphasized the bitter rivalry between the two elite franchises and had all the makings of a preview of the season’s Finals. A high intensity affair ended in favor of Los Angeles, who’s 117-110 victory broke Boston’s 48-game home winning streak.

With an injury to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar toward the end of December, the Lakers looked to find a new leader to step up in the absence of their big man.

“The conversation I had with Magic was very straightforward,” Riley said in an interview. “I want him to be more offensive-minded because it’s going to help the team win.”

The 27-year-old guard had already proven what kind of creative playmaker he was in his first seven seasons and now was in a position to focus more on scoring. The new role was highlighted during an eight-game winning streak and had the whole league wondering if Magic had elevated his game to an entirely new level.

“They say I’m the new and improved Magic Johnson like some detergent or a soft drink” Magic said in an interview. “I’m not new and improved. I’m the same Magic but because I got added responsibility of scoring, it’s made me a better player.”

Johnson had averaged more than 20 points in a season only once (1980-81) through his first seven years but by season’s end of the 1986-87 campaign, he would post 23.9 points (career high) and lead the league with 12.2 assists.

At the All-Star break, L.A. was at the top of the league standings with a 35-12 record. Right on their coattails – the Boston Celtics at 34-12.

Prior to their second meeting of the regular season, the Lakers bolstered their lineup with the acquisition of veteran center Mychal Thompson from San Antonio. Lakers general manager Jerry West had been eyeing Thompson to play a pivotal role as a backup to an almost 40-year-old Abdul-Jabbar.

On This Day - 6/14/22 - Jerry West

Thompson’s impact was immediately felt in a showdown of the league’s two top teams at The Fabulous Forum. In 29 minutes off the bench, the newcomer registered 10 points and four rebounds. It didn’t come easy, however, as the Lakers found themselves down 17 points toward the end of the third quarter.

A dramatic rally led by Magic thwarted a would-be Celtics win and with a 39 point, 10 assist double-double, Johnson emerged as the front-running candidate as the NBA’s most valuable player.

The Lake Show would go on two separate winning streaks of 10 and 11 games late in the season and finish with 65-17 record: best in the NBA.

As a one-seed, L.A. matched with Denver in the First Round but the under .500 Nuggets were no match as the Showtime Lakers swept the series in three games, winning by a margin of +82.

In the Western Conference Semifinals, the Lakers met with the Golden State Warriors, who overcame a 2-0 series deficit to defeat Utah. The young Warriors team made the series competitive, but the Lakers matched the spirit and grabbed a 3-0 series lead.

On This Day - 6/14/22 - Team Huddle

A Golden State win in Game 4 foiled a second consecutive sweep for Los Angeles, but the Lakers handled business on home court for a 4-1 series win and earned a spot in the Western Conference Finals for the sixth consecutive time.

Revenge would escape the minds of the Lakers for the WCF as the seven-seed Seattle SuperSonics not only bested the two-seeded Dallas Mavericks in the First Round but knocked Houston out of contention in six games in the West Semis.

The Lakers took Game 1 by five and prior to Game 2, Magic Johnson was awarded for his regular season performance with the league’s MVP.

“This award, I dedicate, and it belongs to my dad because of all that he’s done for me,” Johnson expressed in his speech. “My dad used to play. I’m living for him in a sense.”

Magic added a special thanks to the Lakers front office, his teammates and to Lakers Nation, then promptly recorded a 20-10-10 triple-double (21st of his career) to give L.A. a 2-0 series lead.

In the Emerald City for Game 3, the offensive prowess of James Worthy and Defensive Player of the Year Michael Cooper, played pivotal roles to lead the Lakers to victory. Worthy tallied a career high 39 points and Cooper would make a crucial block late in the game to preserve the win.

To their credit, Seattle made every game close, but Los Angeles was playing their best basketball when it mattered most. Despite a mighty effort from their counterpart, the Lakers dominated in Game 4 with a 31-point triumph, a sweep for the second time this postseason, and a trip to the Finals for the sixth time in eight seasons.

Five days later, the Celtics would defeat Detroit in Game 7 to earn their third straight trip (fifth time in seven seasons) to the NBA Finals, setting up what is still known today as, perhaps, the greatest rivalry in all sports.

On This Day - 6/14/22 - Bird and Kareem Team Captains

“In ’84 it was a novelty being it was the first time we matched up with them since ’69 in the Finals,” Pat Riley said. “That was 15 years, our kids were babies, and these players had nothing to do with that rivalry. It was new and it was fresh. All new players that had to start playing this series again and all the ghosts of yesteryear, the tradition, and the romance of that series.”

At 11-1 through three rounds in the playoffs, the Lakers were in far better shape and had more energy than the Celtics. Boston handily knocked out Chicago in a three-game sweep but ran the gauntlet against both Milwaukee and Detroit as both series went the full seven.

The fatigue was evident in Game 1, as the Lakers ran circles around their opponent to pick up a 13-point win. The gameplan was much of the same as L.A. carried the momentum and defended home court in Game 2. Behind Michael Cooper’s, then, NBA playoff record six threes, the Lakers won 141-122 and grabbed a 2-0 series lead.

The scene shifted to the Boston Garden, where the Celtics were the victors of 92 of the last 95 home games.

“We know that Boston is a strong team,” Magic said prior to Game 3. “We know it’s going to be tough once we go back there. They don’t have that outstanding home record for nothing.”

Led by Larry Bird and Kevin McHale’s 20-plus point and 10-plus rebound double-doubles, in addition to a somewhat shocking defensive clinic from Greg Kite off the Celtics bench, Boston was back in the series.

As in all championship finals, the fourth game looms as the most pivotal. The Celtics got out of the blocks early and continuously knocked down shot after shot. By the midpoint of the third quarter, Boston found itself up 16 points before Los Angeles closed the gap down to seven by quarter’s end.

The Lakers would eventually tie the game late and be down six points in the final two minutes. Three consecutive misses by Boston allowed the Lakers to overcome a deficit once again but Larry Bird would find the basket for three and after a split of free throws from Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers had one final play to push their series lead.

L.A. turned to their magic man to find the basket. Off the inbounds, Johnson took a few dribbles to his right toward the lane and lofted a baby sky hook over the outstretched arms of Kevin McHale and Robert Parish.

Nothing but the bottom of the net.

Bird would miss long on the other end of the floor in what would have been a game winner and the Magic hook shot gave the Lakers a one-point and a 3-1 lead in the Finals.

The Celtics, still stunned by previous events, started Game 5 off slowly. Eventually, the men in green found their stride and turned out their best game of the series to stave off elimination and keep the Lakers hopes of a title looming.

The Purple and Gold returned to the comfortable confines of The Fabulous Forum for Game 6and the desire for a world championship was felt throughout the building.

Much like they did in Games 1 and 2, the Lakers utilized early fast breaks and an interior offensive strategy to try and wear out the Celtics. Although the efforts were strong, Boston held a five-point halftime lead thanks to McHale’s interior presence and Dennis Johnson’s individual scoring.

Out of halftime, Pat Riley brought Mychal Thompson in to guard McHale and slow the power forward’s drive. Like clockwork, the strategy turned the tables and shifted all momentum back to the Lakers in the early goings of the third.

L.A. never looked back and would outscore the Celtics 55-37 in the second half. Thompson spearheaded a 14-2 run in the third and finished the night with 15 points off the bench. The Lakers’ leading men of Kareem, Magic and Worthy combined for 70 of the team’s 106 points and the celebration was on.

The Lake Show won Game 6 by 13 points and captured franchise title No. 10 and the team’s fourth title in the 1980s. Magic was named Finals MVP for the third time in his career after averaging 21.8 points, 12.2 assists, and 7.7 rebounds.

The redemption season was complete.