When the Lakers won the 1985 championship, Los Angeles expected the players were just getting started. Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar proved to be the duo that could seemingly last forever. However, a season later, Ralph Sampson of the Rockets makes a prayer of a shot in a series-deciding game, stunning the Los Angeles Forum and ending the Lakers quest for a repeat. The Lakers rivals won the NBA championship that in 1986. In 1987 their arch nemesis tip-toed by to end up in the 1987 Finals.
The Lakers weren’t the same Lakers they’ve always been. Sure, they were still a fast team to watch but they weren’t the constant speedsters they were at the start of the decade. The Lakers style was more controlled yet still kept defenses on its feet. Magic Johnson led the Lakers way as he started to become the number one option. Magic averaged almost 24 points per game and 12 assists, two numbers that became career highs. You can also notice how Johnson’s field goal attempts increased in the 1986-87 season. Riley’s approach was to use Johnson for most of the game and get Kareem touches at the end of games.
Magic Johnson captured his first MVP, the first for a point guard since Oscar Robertson, swingman Michael Cooper won Defensive Player of the Year and the Lakers cruised to a 65-17 record, its best in the Showtime Era. The Lakers sailed to the Finals and faced the opponent they wanted to face: the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics just came off a championship parade in 1986 and a miraculous steal by Larry Bird to send them back to the Finals. This time though, the Celtics just weren’t the same. The Celtics 1987 run had them easing through Chicago, though it didn’t help that they had to play seven games against both the Bucks and Pistons. The Celtics were very injury-prone in the 1987 playoff run and its starting five was forced to play extended minutes throughout the run including Kevin McHale’s broken foot; an injury he played through for the remaining three months of the Celtics season.
The Lakers dominated the Celtics in games one and two. The Celtics tried to get in Magic’s head in Game 2 and stuck Danny Ainge with him, but Magic responded with twenty assists, only one assist shy of tying his own NBA Finals record. The Celtics took game three but then Magic Johnson sky-hooked LA to a 3-1 lead. On the last play of Game 4, Dennis Johnson tries to find someone to inbound to when Larry Bird fakes out (and pushes) James Worthy to free himself to the corner, he catches the inbound and the shot goes long, barely. Everyone assumed the shot would have gone in. The game remains an all-time classic and maybe more so had Bird made that shot. The Celtics had to take game 5 to defend home court for the last time and they did comfortably. The Celtics controlled the pace of the game and left Magic Johnson doing his business without much help from his supporting cast.
In game 6, similar to games one and two, the Lakers breezed through the Celtics and won the franchise’s tenth championship (fifth in L.A.). At the championship parade, Pat Riley guaranteed the Lakers to go back-to-back. The Lakers delivered, but not without a Game 6 controversy. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar being “fouled” by Laimbeer in the same game Isiah Thomas suffered from a jammed finger and broken ankle to will the Pistons in a pivotal Game 6 stands out as some of the most memorable moments in NBA Finals history. In the end, Los Angeles celebrated the 1988 Championship as well, the last Lakers title until twelve years later.