On the occasion of the 221st consecutive sellout at Boston Garden, with 15 championship banners hanging from the ceiling, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored six straight points late in the fourth quarter and the Los Angeles Lakers held off the Celtics, 111-100, to win the NBA championship today.
With Abdul-Jabbar, 38, scoring a team-high 29 points along with seven rebounds and four assists, the Lakers denied the Celtics the opportunity to become the first NBA team in 15 years to repeat as titlists and in the process erased a lifetime of frustration. The Lakers had lost eight straight previous championship series to Boston.
For that matter, it was only the second time in their illustrious history the Celtics have lost a championship series. The St. Louis Hawks beat them in the 1957-58 season, also four games to two. It also marked the first time Boston lost a deciding game at the Garden.
"This removes one of the most odious statements in basketball," Lakers owner Jerry Buss said. "It can no longer be said the Lakers have never defeated the Celtics in a championship series."
Coach Pat Riley, winner of his second championship ring in four seasons, agreed. "It's like writing an autobiography. It's cathartic," he said. "Everything (in the past) has been purged, as it should be. Winning one time against them may not make a lot of difference to some, but it does to this team. Now we're 1-1 against them."
James Worthy scored 28 points on 11-for-15 shooting for the Lakers and Earvin (Magic) Johnson, thought by some to be the goat in their seven-game defeat last year, had 14 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds. He ended the series with 84 assists, breaking the record set by former teammate Norm Nixon for a six-game championship series by 24.
He said last season's loss "bothered me. Any time you make mistakes . . . it bothers you. It was a long year to wait for this moment."
The Lakers won this series in large part because of their improved rebounding, particularly after an embarrassing 148-114 loss in the first game. They were outrebounded today, 54-44, giving Boston a 259-256 edge for the series. But that was far closer than the 337-306 Boston advantage of a year ago.
The Celtics were consistently outhustled by the Lakers today. "As soon as we left the locker room, everybody on this team knew that we'd win today," said Los Angeles forward Kurt Rambis, who had 10 rebounds. "That's what we did, we won this game on hustle."
"They pounced on all the loose balls, they got all the big rebounds and Kareem made all the excellent passes," Celtics guard Dennis Johnson said. "You just have to give them all the credit."
Today, as he did throughout the series, Abdul-Jabbar, the series MVP, turned back the Celtics at nearly every turn. Ten of his points came in the final quarter, with his last six putting the game -- and the title -- on ice for the Lakers.
"I'll be there next year defending the championship," said Abdul-Jabbar, who scored 121 points in the Lakers' four victories. "It will be a good way to play my last year."
"He is the most unique, most durable athlete of our time, probably that you'll ever see," Riley said. "I'm so proud of him. He's been written off so many times and told to retire. You better enjoy him now because there won't be another like him."
In the Celtics' 107-105 victory in Game 4, much was made of their ability to stay close with three substitutes on the floor. That situation was reversed today. For much of the second quarter, the Celtics stayed with their starters while Los Angeles shuttled players in and out of the game.
Although the teams were tied, 55-55, at the half, the Lakers were far fresher in the second half.
"We stayed close with our two key people (Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson) on the bench," Riley said. "We didn't crack those last three or four minutes. If we were down by seven points, things might have been difficult."
Instead, the relatively fresh Lakers went against a Boston team that would use only seven men over the course of the game, with each starter playing at least 39 minutes.
"Fatigue wasn't a factor. We just didn't hit the shots we wanted," said Boston Coach K.C. Jones, citing the combined six-for-31 shooting by guards Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge. "They were playing us to hit from the outside and we just didn't do it." The Celtics shot only 39 percent (37 for 96) from the floor.
Jones also refused to use Larry Bird's elbow, finger and ankle problems as excuses. Although he scored 28 points and got 10 rebounds, Bird missed 17 of 29 shots today and shot 41.4 percent for the series.
"I live and die with the jump shot," he said. "That's what got me here and that's what won us championships. Every one I missed, I said the next one's going in, but they didn't."
Even so, the Celtics did their best to make things uncomfortable for Los Angeles. The Lakers were leading, 82-73, entering the final quarter but Boston closed to 86-82 with 8:56 left behind the play of Bird and Kevin McHale (32 points, 16 rebounds).
The next six points were scored by Abdul-Jabbar, James Worthy (28 points) and Rambis. Bird then scored four straight points to cut the margin back to six with 6:46 remaining but McHale fouled out 1:35 later trying to block a shot by Rambis.
McHale, the fifth-year veteran from Minnesota, averaged 26 points and nearly 11 rebounds a game in the finals. With him out of the game, Boston never got within five.
"They just beat us," he said later. "There are no sour grapes here. They get all the glory."
And, at long last, retribution as well. "That was the difference between last year and this year," Magic Johnson said. "They came back last year and we made mistakes. This year, they came back but we held them off every time."