1984 NBA Finals
All along it had been a test of Los Angeles Lakers speed against Boston Celtics strength.
For two weeks and six games, there was no verdict as the momentum shifted back and forth. Until last night.
In front of a capacity crowd of 14,890 zealous fans inside the Boston Garden, the Celtics overpowered the Lakers with a punishing inside game and put together a huge, 52-33 victory on the boards to take a 111-102 victory and the NBA championship.
For the Celtics, who were led by Cedric Maxwell's eight rebounds and 24 points - 14 of which were scored from the free-throw line - it was their 15th title, and their first since 1981, when they beat the Houston Rockets.
Moreover, it was their eighth title over the Lakers, their seventh since the Lakers moved from Minneapolis.
And most of all, the seventh-game victory preserved the Celtics' record of never losing a seventh game in a title series.
Larry Bird, the unanimous choice for series MVP, scored 20 points, and guard Dennis Johnson scored 22, his 12-for-12 free-throw shooting helping the Celtics to a remarkable 51-28 edge from the line.
For the Lakers, who shot 48.8 percent to Boston's 39.5, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 29 points, James Worthy scored 21 and Magic Johnson scored 16 to go with 15 assists.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," Bird said. "But this is a great feeling. In the finals, L.A. had a chance to take us in four straight, but we hung in there. We knew we had an advantage on the boards. That's where I have the edge on (Michael) Cooper, and Robert (Parish) is a little quicker than Kareem. We really worked hard on both boards, and it showed."
"Before we went out there," said a jubilant Maxwell, "I said, 'Just hop on my back, and I'll carry you tonight, boys.'
"We played a great team in L.A."
After it was over, after the Celtics had beaten back a fourth-period Los Angeles run that had all but wiped out a 14-point Celtics lead, the fans who had watched the game in the stands pushed their way through security forces lining the sidelines and flooded onto the parquet surface, engulfing both Celtics and Lakers in a wild demonstration of celebration.
But the players somehow worked their way through the crowd and into their locker rooms, and the Celtics gathered as NBA commissioner David Stern presented the championship trophy to Red Auerbach, who is retiring as the Boston general manager.
"It feels great!" screamed Auerbach, whose customary victory cigar was clenched firmly between his teeth as he waved the trophy above his head.
"What ever happened to the Los Angeles dynasty?" he asked.
Good question, actually.
The Lakers, appearing in their fourth final series in the last five years, were crushed on the boards throughout the series and had depended on their fastbreak to win.
When it worked, as it did when they wiped out the Celtics in Game 3 by 33 points, the Lakers were impressive.
But when it didn't work, the Lakers were vulnerable to Boston's inside power game, which last night allowed the Celts to jump out to two nine-point leads en route to a 58-52 lead at the half.
"We're both very talented teams," said Lakers coach Pat Riley, "but we don't have the same kind of talent that Boston does. We're made differently. Theirs is an aggressive and rebounding talent, where we have wiry, speedy people. You hope your quickness will get to their size, and it did, for 3 1/2 games of this series."
In the second half, it was more of the same as the Lakers, playing without reserve center Bob McAdoo (strained Achilles' tendon), let the game slip away from them in a hurry.
Finally, in a final quarter in which Los Angeles cut a 14-point Boston lead to three, Magic Johnson committed a crucial turnover and let another shot get blocked, icing the game for Boston.
Before the crucial Boston scoring spurt in the third quarter, the Celtics were up by only 73-72 with 5 minutes, 16 seconds to go in the period. The crowd was tentative. The tenor of the game had not been set.
But the Celts began to power their way to the boards and through the lane, scoring 16 of their next 18 points on shots within the paint while the Lakers scored only six in the run.
That gave the Celtics a 91-78 lead going into the fourth quarter - a lead that they jacked to 14 points, at 99-85, with 7:57 to go in the game.
But the Lakers turned to a small lineup for more speed and roared back with a 15-6 scoring run of their own, cutting the Boston lead to five points at 105-100 with 1:56 to go.
At that point, the momentum was with L.A. for the first time in the game. The Lakers already had cashed in on two three-point field goals and had the Celtics reeling, Boston committing five turnovers in seven possessions in one section of the run.
But then disaster struck Magic Johnson, whose late-second gaffes had cost the Lakers victories in Games 2 and 4.
This time, Johnson brought the ball downcourt after a missed shot by Parish (14 points, game-high 16 rebounds), only to have it swiped from him by Dennis Johnson, preserving the five-point lead.
Though D.J. did not score on the other end (Cooper, 16 points, blocked his layup attempt), the Lakers had blown a big chance.
Worthy did cut the lead to 105-102 with 1:15 to play, but by then, the Lakers were in a position where they had to play perfectly to win.
Magic Johnson, streaking downcourt, had an off-balance push-shot blocked by Parish, and, with 45 seconds left, Dennis Johnson hit two free throws for a 109-102 lead - a lead that held up when L.A.'s desperation shots fell away and Bird closed out the scoring from the line.
And that's when the celebration started, when Maxwell and M.L. Carr high fived, when Bird raised his arms to signal final victory, when the Boston fans began their surge to the court.
This morning, the Celtics will follow the lead of last year's 76ers and go to Washington, where they will be greeted by President Reagan in the White House Rose Garden.
And tomorrow, the City of Boston will give them a parade.
They'll toast Bird, no doubt, and they'll get teary over Kevin McHale, Maxwell and the rest of them.
But if they are going to toast anything but a player, they will toast strength, which last night won out over speed in the final game of the NBA season.