Considered one of the greatest rivalries in sports, the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers dominated the NBA throughout the 1980s. Many point to Larry Bird and Magic Johnson for reviving the league and laying the foundation for the heights its reached in the decades since.
With Bird and Johnson among the Hall-of-Fame talent played for either team, there are countless memories and heartbreak between the Celtics and Lakers, particularly in NBA Finals history. That applies to separate dates on this day in Lakers history.
The first came when the Lakers defeated the Celtics in Game 6 of the 1985 NBA Finals. After multiple instances of heartbreak, it marked the first time the Lakers defeated their longtime rival for a championship.
Then on June 9, 1987, Johnson had one of the more iconic moments in Game 4 of the Finals. The Lakers were trailing, 106-105, with seven seconds remaining in the game.
Michael Cooper threw an inbounds pass to Johnson, who did a hesitation dribble before driving toward the middle of the paint. After three dribbles, he gathered and went up for what is famously known as a “baby sky hook” or as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar put it, a “junior, junior sky hook.”
Johnson got the shot over primary defender Kevin McHale and secondary defender Robert Parish to find the bottom of the net.
Although Johnson’s game-winner has gone down in the annals of Lakers and NBA history, it was nearly wiped out by Bird. He got away from James Worthy for a clean look at a 3-pointer from in front of the Lakers bench.
But Bird missed long, and the Lakers emerged with a 107-106 victory at the Boston Garden to take a commanding 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals. Johnson finished with a game-high 29 points to go along with eight rebounds and five assists.
They Celtics were led by McHale’s 23 points and 13 rebounds, and aside from Bird missing what would have been a game-winner, might be haunted by blowing a 16-point halftime lead.