The Boston Celtics lost to the Golden State Warriors in the 2022 NBA Finals, so they missed out on raising the 18 banner. Instead of focusing on what was supposed to be the NBA’s best No. 18 banner, we’ll take a look back at Boston’s No. 15.
That happened in 1984 against the rival Los Angeles Lakers. For the first time since 1969, opponents have met in a championship game. The Celtics had to fight their way back into the series as the Lakers dominated the game early and threatened to break the series.
The highlight of the 1984 NBA Finals was Kevin McHale dressing Kurt Rambis in Game 4 and a heat wave in Game 5. Lost in the shuffle was the battle between Larry Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Larry Bird calls out his teammates after Game 3 of the 1984 NBA Finals
The Lakers took home-court advantage from the Celtics 115-109 at the Boston Garden. They almost led the series 2-0, but Gerald Henderson’s final steal closed the two-point gap with 13 seconds left. The game went into overtime and the Celtics won 124-121.
The Lakers showed no mercy in Game 1 in Los Angeles, winning 137-104. The lopsided loss left Bird unhappy, accusing his teammates of being too soft.
“Before we put our heads where they belong, we’re in trouble,” Bird said, according to Jackie MacMullan’s book When the game belongs to us.
“We were a team with all our hearts, but the heart was out today. I can’t believe a team like this would get LA out and push us like they did. We played like sissies.”
Bird’s speech may be why Game 4 happened.
Bird’s fight with Abdul-Jabbar overshadowed by McHale’s Rambis drying rack
The Celtics seemed to take Bird’s message to heart in Game 4. With the Celtics trailing 76-70 in the third quarter and potentially 3-1 in the series, McHale tried to debunk Bird’s sissy myth. When Rambis was driving for a layup, the Celtics forward dressed him on his layup.
The bench was cleared and grumpy, but McHale was still in the game. He also issued a statement. The Celtics gained momentum and went on to win another overtime to tie the series.
The loss came less than two minutes after McHale took down Rambis. Two of the game’s biggest stars — Bird and Abdul-Jabbar — took part.
Abdul-Jabbar, who may have been unimpressed by McHale’s serious foul on his teammates, got down on Bird’s offensive rebound and swung his elbow wildly to connect with Bird’s face. The two players went chin to chin, creating another scene of clearing the bench. It was Abdul-Jabbar, who was more active in the fight, but he was elbowing the ball.
After the game, Lakers point guard Magic Johnson said both incidents sparked the Celtics offense.
“These events have really helped them and hurt us,” Johnson said in Sports Illustrated. “Now we know that if they have to elbow, hit us or slam us to win, they’re going to do it.”
The Celtics returned home to lead a 3-2 series in the heat, with no air conditioning in the garden in Game 5. They went on to win the series in seven games.
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