NBA.com takes a look back at the top moments that define the history of the NBA.
There have been three historic steals in the storied history of the Boston Celtics: one by John Havlicek in 1965, one by Larry Bird in 1987 and one by Gerald Henderson in 1984. Though he will never join Havlicek and Bird in terms of stature, only Henderson’s came in the NBA Finals — against the hated Los Angeles Lakers, no less.
It was a series fans had been anticipating for five years, ever since the Lakers’ Magic Johnson, then playing for Michigan State, beat an Indiana State team led by Larry Bird for the 1979 national championship in one of the landmark games in college basketball history.
The Lakers won Game 1 and Game 2 was too close to call as it headed toward the end of regulation. With 15 seconds remaining, the Lakers had a 115-113 lead and the ball. After a timeout, James Worthy tossed the ball inbounds to Johnson, took a return pass and then looked to pass cross-court to Byron Scott. But Henderson, who had briefly left Scott open in order to double-team Johnson, raced back into the passing lane, picked off the pass and drove in for a game-tying layup.
Henderson’s game-saving steal stunned the Lakers, to the point where Johnson let the final seconds of regulation tick away without getting a shot off. The Celtics went on to win 124-121 in overtime, with Henderson setting up Scott Wedman for the key basket, and eventually won the series in seven games for their 15th NBA Championship.
“To be honest,” Bird said, “if it wasn’t for that steal, we probably would have been swept.”
“What will I remember most from that series?” said Lakers coach Pat Riley. “Simple. Game 2. Worthy’s pass to Scott. I could see the seams of the ball, like it was spinning in slow motion, but I couldn’t do anything about it.”