Sometimes unfair labels get cast on athletes or teams and for whatever reason they just tend to stick. At times it’s because the label itself has some minor truth to it even though previous events have proven to the contrary, and at times it’s just easier to roll with them.
As the story went, the Boston Celtics owned the Los Angeles Lakers; and they always would. It didn’t matter which year, which decade or which millennium it was, the Celtics had the ghosts on their side that always tipped the scales in their favor. Whether it was a missed shot at the end of regulation, a critical injury, a bad pass that led to a game going into overtime or an inability to execute in crunch time, Boston would always get the breaks at the expense of the Lakers…
Until they no longer would.
At some point, the curse would eventually come to an end.
Clocking in at the fourth spot in the Los Angeles Lakers title teams countdown…
The 1984-85 Los Angeles Lakers
Larry Bird would lead the Celtics to a victory over the Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals after a tough seven-game series. With the championship lost, the purple and gold would spend an entire summer hearing about how James Worthy was a choker — with the Lakers leading by two points in Game 2 and the game essentially won, the Lakers inbounded the ball with the shot clock turned off and Worthy lofted a pass that was intercepted by Gerald Henderson that led to a score that sent the game to overtime where the Lakers lost — while Magic Johnson would be named Tragic due to his inability to deliver late in ball games and the Lakers would be seen as a team lacking mental toughness.
Consequently, when training camp opened the following season, the Lakers knew they needed to play better and get tougher; but they also needed for their big guns to rise to the occasion and lead the way.
And yet, the start of the season wasn’t necessarily impressive by any stretch of the imagination. Indeed, the road back to redemption would start with back-to-back losses to open up the season and a 13-7 record. In the first 20 games of the season, the Lakers had eclipsed 130 points four times, but the defense had yet to catch up with the offense.
That theme would hold true until mid-January, when the Lakers lost a tight contest in Boston, which dropped Pat Riley’s record to 26-14 for the 1984-85 season. Not a bad record at all, mind you the Celtics were now 33-6 and seemed poised to continue to take over the regular season as well as possibly the postseason that was still a little over two months away.
The Lakers’ defense wasn’t bad, but given the pace at which they played, they gave up a lot of points but didn’t necessarily always put enough on the board. But with the loss to Boston, the Lakers seemingly opened things up even more and allowed themselves to truly unleash Showtime on the rest of the NBA.
After faltering against the Celtics on the road, Magic Johnson and his teammates went on a 36-6 run to close out the regular season with a 62-20 record.
The Los Angeles Lakers finished the regular season with the best offensive efficiency in the league and the seventh best defensive efficiency in the NBA. In addition, they had three winning streaks of nine games or more during the regular season, which helped them sport a plus-7.4 average scoring margin.
The regular season mind you would hardly matter. It would come down to the playoffs and vanquishing the Celtics in the title round should they be there waiting for them.
The Lakers would obliterate the Phoenix Suns (36-46) in the first round, sweeping them out of the playoffs and winning each game by an average of 20.3 points.
The second round would pit them against the Portland Trail Blazers (42-40), who would hardly prove to be a match. The Lakers would dispatch them in five games, and sport an average scoring margin of plus-11 in the series.
The Western Conference Finals would prove to be the same type of yawner as the Lakers would also take out the Denver Nuggets (52-30) in five games and even put up a whopping 153 points in the clincher. L.A. defeated another western opponent by an average of double-digit points to set up a rematch against the Boston Celtics (63-19) with all the chips on the line.
The NBA Finals would open up with the famed Memorial Day Massacre as Boston would spank the Lakers in a 148-114 victory in which Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looked every bit of his 38-year old age on his way to 12 points and three rebounds.
The NBA’s all-time leading scorer would rededicate himself and get into better shape with a few days off between games and lead the Lakers to a Game 2 victory at the Garden thanks to his 30 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists. Read that stat line again, he was 38 years old.
With the games now shifting to the Forum, the trio of Magic, Worthy and Abdul-Jabbar led their unit to a Game 3 blowout victory over the Boston Celtics and a 2-1 series lead. The Celtics would bounce back in Game 4 and steal one on the road to even up the series, thus setting up a monumental Game 5 at the Forum.
Magic would orchestrate things masterfully, scoring 26 points and dishing out 17 assists, but James Worthy and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar would combine for 69 points on 29-for-45 shooting from the field to win the contest and give themselves an opportunity to close out Boston in the Garden.
Red Auerbach, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Dave Cowens and John Havlicek to name a few had given the Celtics an aura of invincibility in the title round. Consequently, to say that the team and its fans were confident at home would be putting it mildly. No road team had ever celebrated the title at the Boston Garden and their ghosts and leprechauns would make sure of that in Game 6 and Game 7.
Mind you, the Lakers never got that memo.
The Lakers would prevail in Game 6 on the road and finally avenge their 1984 NBA Finals defeat. The center labeled as too old would win the Finals MVP with averages of 25.7 points per game, 9 rebounds per game and 5.2 assists per game on 60.4 percent field goal shooting.
James Worthy who had been called by many a choker kept showing up with big performances in the finals while the player dubbed Tragic led many to wonder if he was perhaps the best maestro the league had ever seen given his ability to score, rebound, pass, run the offense and lead.
The ’85 Lakers would not only win the title, but do so in convincing fashion. They would end their title run with a 15-4 postseason record as well as an impressive plus-10.7 playoff average scoring margin despite the huge score differential in their Game 1 loss to the Celtics.
Between the good regular season and the terrific postseason showing, the ’85 Lakers were a no-brainer for many of the FB&G staff at the fourth spot, and it says something about the three teams left in the countdown for this squad to finish this “low”.
Three teams to go…