In the 1980s, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics always brought the best out of each other. Led by Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, the NBA’s greatest rivalry was always on full force.
The Lakers defeated the Celtics in the 1987 NBA Finals, the second time the franchise had beaten Boston in the decade. Their first meeting in the ensuing regular season came Dec. 11, 1987, and it lived up to expectations.
A close game ended with Magic hitting a 20-footer at the buzzer to give the Lakers a 115-114 win in Boston. Johnson finished with 18 points, 17 assists and eight rebounds. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers with 23 points, while Cooper and Byron Scott each scored 21.
The Celtics held a double-digit lead in the third quarter, and even led by six with just a couple minutes remaining, but the Lakers would not go away. Thompson and Abdul-Jabbar quickly cut the deficit down before Cooper hit a game-tying 3-pointer with 43 seconds left.
Thrilling as the game-winning shot was, there was plenty of controversy surrounding the last few seconds. After Danny Ainge missed the second of two free throws, the Lakers’ Mychal Thompson grabbed the rebound.
Michael Cooper immediately called timeout, but at the same time Kevin McHale stripped Thompson of the ball. The Celtics insisted that Thompson did not have control of the ball when the timeout was called, but the referees disagreed and Magic made the most of the moment, via NBA Cobwebs:
December 11, 1987: Magic Johnson’s game-winning buzzer beater gives the Lakers a 115-114 win over the Celtics at Boston Garden.
Johnson had 18 PTS/17 AST/8 REB for Los Angeles. Larry Bird had 35 PTS/9 REB/8 AST/5 STL for Boston.
— NBA Cobwebs (@NBACobwebs) December 11, 2021
Bird had his own all-around performance, finishing with 35 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and five steals. Dennis Johnson had 19 points and Jerry Sichting scored 17 off the bench for the Celtics.
When thinking of Lakers-Celtics much of the focus, rightfully, goes towards the NBA Finals showdowns between the teams, but often times the regular season matchups would have playoff-like atmospheres and intensity.
This was another example of that, and of the greatness of Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson.
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