When it was all said and done, the 1980s proved to be the rebirth of the National Basketball Association as we know it. It was during this decade where Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers and Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics became the global ambassadors of the game.
As the years went on, both teams went back-and-forth between championships, attempting to gain the upper hand on the other dynasty. Leading into the 1987-88 season, the Lakers stood on top of the NBA, coming off their 1986-87 NBA Finals victory over the Celtics.
With their core intact, the Lakers went full steam ahead into the following season, protecting their claim as the defending champions. At the conclusion of the 1987-88 campaign, the Lakers held a 62-20 record, clinching the Pacific Division and the top seed in the Western Conference.
Their initial playoff bout came via their first-round matchup against the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers jumped out to a 122-110 victory in Game 1, with Game 2 taking place on May 1, 1988.
Lakers head coach Pat Riley, now with three NBA titles under his belt, sent out his usual starting lineup of Johnson, Byron Scott, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Bob Weiss countered with Alvin Robertson, Frank Brickowski, Mike Mitchell, Jon Sundvold, and Greg Anderson.
The Lakers were clear-cut favorites entering the series against the Spurs, and rightfully so. San Antonio’s 31-51 record somehow allowed them to slip into playoff contention, only due to four other teams in the West having inferior records.
Although the Spurs jumped out to a 32-25 lead after the first quarter, they found out the hard way that it wasn’t just Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar on this stacked roster. With a consistent eight-man rotation, Riley’s squad wreaked havoc throughout all 48 minutes on the court.
The Spurs’ game plan involved swarming Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson periodically on the court, seeing as how the two Hall-of-Famers couldn’t be stopped in isolation and pick-and-roll scenarios.
The Lakers responded with a 35-26 second quarter, which gave them a 60-58 lead going into halftime. It would be the second half where the Lakers would exercise their comfortable lead, thanks in part to the production of Mychal Thompson.
The first overall selection in the 1978 NBA Draft had found a new home in the Lakers, joining the team during the previous season. His athletic style of play was a picture-perfect fit into their ideology, capable of running the floor and attacking the basket with aggression.
Thompson, who concluded Game 2 shooting 70.6 percent from the field, was electric at the confines of home. Now in his second season with the Lakers, the 6’10” big-man was graceful in the paint, but an athletic specimen in transition.
Both Thompson and A.C. Green helped ease Abdul-Jabbar’s load throughout the playoffs, taking the pressure off the elder statesmen to produce each night. The Lakers outscored the Spurs by 10 in the third quarter, creating a 12-point deficit that proved too much to overcome.
Los Angeles coasted to a 130-112 Game 2 victory over the Spurs, taking a 2-0 lead into San Antonio, where they would sweep the series. Thompson finished Game 2 with a team-high 29 points on 12-for-17 shooting, along with 16 rebounds and a steal in 34 minutes of action.
Their three-game set with the Spurs was the only cakewalk the team would face, with incoming seven-game series against the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and Detroit Pistons. Alas, the Lakers would yet again claim the trophy, stamping the 1987-88 campaign as back-to-back champions.