The Lakers ran away with a Western Conference best 62 wins. In the playoffs, Los Angeles swept Phoenix, defeated Portland in five games, and took five games to beat the upstart Denver Nuggets–a team playing in its first Western Conference Finals. In the NBA Finals, the Lakers’ longtime rival Boston Celtics awaited with home court advantage, and the two teams squared off in the championship series for the ninth time.
In 1985 the Celtics looked to defend their NBA title and won home court advantage in the playoffs with a league-high 63 wins–Larry Bird would win his second consecutive MVP award. Their roster remained largely similar, and Boston reached the NBA Finals easily after defeating Cleveland in four games, Detroit in five games, and Philadelphia in a five game Eastern Conference Finals.
For the Lakers, Magic Johnson continued to start at point guard, but sophomore Byron Scott overtook Michael Cooper as the starting shooting guard. The Lakers’ frontcourt was the same as in 1984, as James Worthy (now in his third year) started at small forward alongside power forward Kurt Rambis and center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar–now in his 16th season.
Michael Cooper resumed his role as the backup guard, but the Lakers’ bench was significantly weaker without veteran forward Jamaal Wilkes who had torn ligaments in his left knee earlier in the season. Veteran big men Bob McAdoo and Mitch Kupchak provided depth in the frontcourt, and role players Larry Spriggs and Mike McGee played in four of the Finals games. Chuck Nevitt and Ronnie Lester scarcely saw minutes in the playoffs.
The Celtics’ starting backcourt saw some change from the previous year with Gerald Henderson being traded to Seattle. Dennis Johnson moved over to point guard and Danny Ainge joined him in the backcourt at shooting guard. The frontcourt still featured Larry Bird at small forward and Robert Parish at center, but regular season Sixth Man of the Year Kevin McHale (his second straight award) started at power forward in place of Cedric Maxwell in the NBA Finals.
Off the bench, Quinn Buckner continued to serve as the backup point guard, and Scott Wedman and aging Cedric Maxwell provided depth at forward. Greg Kite functioned as the fourth big man and newcomer Ray Williams played the role of fourth guard. M.L. Carr and Carlos Clark played sparingly in the championship series.
Game One: Celtics 148, Lakers 114
In a game that would come to be known as the “Memorial Day Massacre,” the Celtics built a 30 point lead by halftime and dealt the Lakers one of their worst playoff losses of all time. Every Celtics starter scored at least 13 points, the team as a whole shot 61% from the field and 78% from three-point territory, and backup wing Scott Wedman scored 26 points off a perfect 11/11 from the field. Kareem scored only 12 points for Los Angeles, and Magic grabbed only one rebound in 34 minutes of playing time. The Lakers looked to brush off this embarrassing loss and tie the series in game two.
Game Two: Lakers 109, Celtics 102
The Lakers struck back and led by 18 points at halftime. Kareem had a phenomenal game, tallying 30 points, 17 rebounds, 8 assists, and 3 blocks. On the other end, Bird struggled from the field, making only 9/21 shots on the way to 30 points and 12 rebounds. Magic turned in a solid 14 and 13 double-double, but Los Angeles struggled with foul trouble as both Worthy and McAdoo fouled out. Cooper provided a spark with 22 points off the bench, a valuable contribution as the Celtics bench scored only nine points. Dennis Johnson, Ainge, and McHale scored 15 apiece and Parish had a double-double with 18 and 10. The Lakers stole home court advantage with this win and headed back to Inglewood to take control of the series.
Game Three: Celtics 111, Lakers 136
Back home in Los Angeles, the Lakers blew the Celtics out in the second half by outscoring them 71 to 52. Kareem continued his stellar play, breaking the all-time playoff scoring record in the process, by recording 26 points, 14 rebounds, and 7 assists. A phenomenal sequence saw the Lakers’ center block a shot, corral the rebound, dribble all the way down the floor, and drain a skyhook. Bird continued to struggle from the field making only 8 of 21 shots. McHale led Boston with 31 points, but it was not nearly enough to offset Worthy’s 29 points, Magic’s near triple-double 17 points, 9 rebounds, and 16 assists, or Bob McAdoo’s 19 points off the bench.
Game Four: Celtics 107, Lakers 105
Game four was a closely contested affair, coming down to execution in the fourth quarter. With the score tied 103-103, Danny Ainge hit a jumper to put the Celtics up by two. Then Magic tied the game with a lay-up off an offensive rebound. With a chance to win the game on the last possession, Bird passed to an open Dennis Johnson who hit the game-winning shot to tie the series at two games apiece. DJ had 7 rebounds and 12 assists to go along with 27 points. Bird and McHale combined for 54 points and 23 rebounds. For Los Angeles, Magic turned in a triple-double with 20/11/12, and Scott and Worthy both scored 16 points. Kareem tallied a relatively tame 21 points in 37 minutes of play.
Game Five: Celtics 111, Lakers 120
Kareem bounced back in a big way, scoring 12 points in the first quarter on the way to 36 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 blocks. Worthy added a monster 33 points, and Magic tallied 26 points and 17 assists as the Lakers took a 3-2 series lead. McHale and Dennis Johnson both delivered double-doubles for the Celtics, and Parish led the team in scoring with 26. Bird once again struggled from the field, however, with only 20 points off 8/17 field goals. The series turned back to Boston as the Lakers looked to close out the Celtics in six games.
Game Six: Lakers 111, Celtics 100
Back in Boston, the Lakers exercised their demons by clinching the world championship on the Celtics’ home floor. Worthy delivered 28 huge points, Magic tallied another triple-double, and 38-year-old Kareem scored 29 points to lead the team. For the Celtics, McHale had 32 points and 16 rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter. Bird’s shooting woes continued as he made only 12 of 29 shots. This was the first time Los Angeles had beaten Boston in the championship series.
For Los Angeles, this championship was their second in four years and the third with Magic and Kareem. The Lakers’ center became the oldest player in NBA history to win the Finals MVP award behind averages of 25.7 points, 9 rebounds, and 5.2 assists. Los Angeles would lose in the playoffs the following season, but in 1987 they began a new streak of three consecutive trips to the NBA Finals–once again facing the Celtics.
The Celtics of 1986 are often considered to be one of the best teams in NBA history. They returned to the NBA Finals, this time facing the Rockets for the second time in six years. Though they lost in 1985, Boston would reach the championship series in both of the next two years, equaling the Lakers’ streak of four consecutive years.