August 12, 2022

You shouldn’t hang me on a hook. My dad hung me on a hook once. Once!

– Danny Vermin, “Johnny Dangerously”, 1984

The Golden State Warriors are in rare air entering Game 6 of the 2022 NBA Finals. They don’t just have a shot at their fourth NBA championship since 2015; they have a chance to do so on the Boston Celtics home turf.

Beantown’s dominance in the playoffs over the decades is such that only one team – the 1985 Los Angeles Lakers – has ever won an NBA title on Boston’s home turf, then the historic old Boston Garden. Such circumstances are rare, given the excellence of the Celtics’ general finals. Although this is Boston’s 22nd Finals appearance in franchise history, Thursday is only the ninth time the Celtics have been eliminated in the Finals at home. Eight of the previous nine times, Boston has either avoided elimination or won the championship on home soil.

The only flaw came in 85. And it turned the fortunes of the Lakers franchise upside down.

Despite their Hall of Fame pedigree, with the likes of Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain on their roster throughout the 1960s, the Lakers were 0-8 for life in the Finals against Boston in 1985.

After taking first overall in the 1979 draft, Magic Johnson had transformed the Lakers, leading them to two titles in his first four seasons. But LA had just suffered a heartbreaking seven-game loss to the Celtics the previous year, having given up Game 2 in heartbreaking fashion in the dying seconds and then being passed over in Game 7 at the Garden. Writers dubbed Magic Johnson “Tragic Johnson” for his mediocre acting.

So when the Lakers came into Boston 3-2 after beating the Celtics 120-111 at the Great Western Forum in Game 5, they were determined not to let history repeat itself.

“In the back of our minds, we all remembered what happened the year before,” recalled Mitch Kupchak, a key reserve on those Lakers teams and now president of basketball operations and general manager. Hornets. “We should have gone back to Los Angeles until two. But we didn’t. … I say that because we were going back to Boston now in 85, with a 3-2 lead. That demon was there, right? We cannot let this happen again. A lot of that was the fact of how we lost the year before. It felt like we had given it…

“And (the other) part was the Celtics-Lakers rivalry. The Lakers had never beaten the Celtics (in the NBA Finals), until that year. I think they had lost seven or eight (Editor’s note: eight) time. Jerry West was the general manager, and he never mentioned it, but it was always in the paper. To this day, Jerry probably carries this with him. It was like a silent demon that had to be exorcised. …and then there’s the normal motivation of trying to win a ring, isn’t there? We never said the Lakers never beat the Celtics, because that was in the 60s. It’s the 80s. But it was in the paper every day, and we all read the newspaper. It was in the news. »

Then there was what awaited any team of visitors coming to the old garden.

“Four showers, only two worked,” Kupchak said. “There was no air conditioning. We had to bring, like, fans. The locker room was big enough for seven people; we had 15. We just felt that was all Red Auerbach was doing, his way of trying to gain a competitive advantage.

Prior to Game 6 in 1985, CBS studio host Brent Musburger and play-by-play man Dick Stockton each hinted at the Celtics’ historic home playoff dominance. Stockton noted just before the whistleblower, “keep in mind that with the (then) 15 world championships the Celtics have, they’ve only been beaten once in a world championship series, and it was on a visitation ground in St. Louis 27 years ago. when the former St. Louis Hawks, led by Hall of Famer Bob Pettit, handed Bill Russell his only NBA Finals loss in 12 appearances.

“The court has been magical for the Celtics over the years,” Stockton said. “See if it continues.”

After taking an early lead, the Lakers couldn’t pull away. The first half was hard fought, with 18 draws. Johnson and Abdul-Jabbar were each slowed by three fouls in the first half, and both spent the last 2 minutes and 30 seconds of the second quarter. With James Worthy taking over, the Lakers came into the halftime tied with the Celtics at 55.

“But I think the advantage goes to the Lakers because they’ve had Magic Johnson and Kareem on that bench for a very long time, and this fatigue that we were talking about shouldn’t affect those two players over time,” CBS said. color commentator, Hall of Famer and former Celtics player and coach Tommy Heinsohn.

This premonition turned out to be correct. LA took control of the game in the third quarter, beating Boston 27-18. Abdul-Jabbar made his first two shots of the quarter and the Lakers led 82-73 after three. But Johnson picked up his fifth foul early in the fourth. The Lakers had to turn to their 38-year-old center, Abdul-Jabbar – who was humiliated in Game 1 of the Finals, in the famous 148-114 ‘Boston Massacre’ on Memorial Day.

But Kareem recovered in Game 2 – famously riding Game 2 on the Lakers team bus alongside his father, Al – and scoring 30 points, 17 rebounds and eight assists in a breakthrough in the garden.

“He played like he was 25,” Kupchak recalled.

Eleven days later, the Lakers beat Boston again in the Garden.

In Game 6, Abdul-Jabbar scored eight of his team-high 29 points in the final three minutes of the fourth, with his signature double fists raised in celebration after dropping into another sky hook with a minute to do emblematic of what the moment meant to him and his team. Johnson had a triple-double, with 14 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists, but Abdul-Jabbar was the unanimous selection for NBA Finals MVP.

“Unusual sight – the Celtics lose a championship at home,” said Heinsohn, who had won eight titles as a player in Boston. “You have to have character to win on the road. … when you win on the road, there’s not a lot of applause to come, but you sure appreciate those guys on the bench.

The Lakers would defeat Boston again in the 1987 Finals – in Los Angeles, this time – and become the first NBA team to win back-to-back championships since the 1969 Lakers the following season, beating Detroit in seven games. This gave Magic and Kareem five titles in nine years, making them one of the greatest dynasties in league history.

But that didn’t happen until the Lakers broke through in 1985.

In that same tiny, airless Boston Garden visitor’s locker room, the champagne now flowed freely.

“It took the most odious phrase out of the English language,” Lakers owner Jerry Buss told CBS afterwards. “We can never again say that the Lakers never beat the Celtics.”

(Photo of fans outside TD Garden: David Butler II/USA Today)