INGLEWOOD, CALIF., JUNE 14 -- Stilted and stifled in the first half, the Los Angeles Lakers used an 18-2 burst at the start of the second half as a springboard to their fourth NBA title in eight seasons, defeating the Boston Celtics, 106-93. Los Angeles won the best-of-seven series four games to two.
In decidedly atypical fashion, Los Angeles won Game 6 with defense, limiting Boston to four-of-15 shooting in the third quarter and 37 second-half points. The Lakers' early second-half spurt shook away their first-half blues and kicked in Showtime, their buzzword for fast-breaking offense.
A short time after that happened, most in the sellout crowd of 17,505 got to shake a little, too, dancing at midcourt with the team's dance troop to a recording of Randy Newman's "I Love L.A."
The object of most of the affection was guard Magic Johnson. Capping what Lakers owner Jerry Buss and General Manager Jerry West called "a perfect year," Johnson, the league's most valuable player in the regular season, was a unanimous choice for the same honor in the championship series. Today, the 6-foot-9 do-everything player had 16 points, 19 assists and eight rebounds. For the series, Johnson averaged 26 points, 13 assists and eight rebounds.
Los Angeles was led today by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 32 points. Forward James Worthy added 22 and front-court reserve Mychal Thompson assured his place as one of the great all-time midseason acquisitions by contributing 15 points and nine rebounds. Boston guard Dennis Johnson had a game-high 33 points. All-NBA forward Larry Bird was limited to six-of-16 shooting from the field and finished with 16 points.
"We just wore 'em down and they couldn't keep up," said Magic Johnson. "It was defense to the rebound to the break. They were getting one shot, and that one shot was not the shot they wanted."
That, however, was not the case in the first half. After losing two of three games in Boston last week, the Lakers were expected to return home and roll over the Celtics, who had lost the first two games of the series here by 13 and 19 points. The anticipation was so great that the notoriously late-arriving Los Angeles crowd was in place and cheering an hour before game time.
The only problem was, the Lakers players perhaps had spent too much time anticipating, too. Johnson, who said he didn't sleep at all Saturday night, went two for nine in the first half. The Celtics, beat up and hobbled for most of the postseason, were playing as if they had rediscovered the Fountain of Youth.
Center Robert Parish was recapturing his reputation as the best running big man in the league, hitting the wings for a pair of fast-break baskets. His backup, Bill Walton, had averaged just 3.5 minutes a game in the finals because of a broken foot; by halftime today, he had played seven minutes in two appearances.
Hitting 50 percent of their shots, the Celtics took a 32-25 lead after the first quarter and a 56-51 advantage into the locker room at halftime. It seemed that what was -- according to the calendar -- the longest season in NBA history, would be extended at least two more days for a seventh and deciding game.
"We felt good, we were doing what we wanted to do," said Boston assistant coach Jimmy Rodgers. "There was no way to anticipate what would happen."
That may have been true, but gradually, a specific picture started to form. Magic Johnson hit a driving layup and forward A.C. Green added two free throws to make the score 56-55, Boston. On their subsequent possession, forward Kevin McHale attempted a pass to guard Danny Ainge but it was batted away by Worthy.
The basketball was headed out of bounds, but Worthy kept it in play with a headfirst dive. Johnson recovered it with no defender in front of him, scoring on a dunk with 9:30 left, giving Los Angeles its first lead since a 10-9 advantage not five minutes into the game.
After that, things continued to unravel for Boston. Parish turned the ball over; Ainge, who singlehandedly kept the Lakers at bay with five three-point field goals in the Celtics' 123-108 victory in Game 5, missed two shots and then was called for an offensive foul.
That led to a jumper by Johnson, his first score from the perimeter in the game. It wasn't until the 7:40 mark that the Celtics finally scored in the second half, Dennis Johnson hitting a jumper. But the visitors would go the next 3 1/2 minutes before they got another basket. By that time they trailed, 69-60, and scored just eight more points in falling behind, 81-68.
"It would be nice to have that third quarter back, but you can't do it," said McHale. "I still thought we could put together an 8-0 run or something, but we never did. It was frustrating because we were right there and then we were all out of sync. We were forcing too much, trying too hard, trying to make something out of nothing."
"You could see what they were doing, but we just didn't have any answers for it," said Rodgers. "That's what they live on. You've gotta shoot the ball well against them because that can cover a multitude of mistakes.But, if you don't, then you've got problems because then they can run, and that's what they're all about."
At least that's the general perception of the Lakers, a one-dimensional image that was proven false over the course of the season. That was especially apparent in the playoffs -- throughout the postseason the team's defense was perhaps more consistent than its offense -- but applied to the regular season as well.
"I'm glad it's over," said Los Angeles Coach Pat Riley. "As a team we could feel the pressure begin to mount, and rightfully so. We had to win. I think we were in a no-win situation in the way the whole season and the playoffs developed. It's just a natural phenomenon on the favorite or the team that's supposed to do so well -- the squeeze gets to you."
The pressures of the finals were a far cry from the start of the season, when most observers felt the Lakers' dominance of the Western Conference had ended.
"I didn't think so," said Magic Johnson. "We were fast, we could shoot, we could rebound, we got inside people -- we had everything. Usually there's something you have to work around. I never played on a team that had everything before."