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1987 NBA Finals

1987 NBA Finals
Team Coach Wins
Los Angeles Lakers Pat Riley 4
Boston Celtics K. C. Jones 2
Dates June 2–14
MVP Magic Johnson
(Los Angeles Lakers)
Television CBS (U.S.)
Announcers Dick Stockton and Tom Heinsohn
Game 1: Jake O'Donnell and Hugh Evans
Game 2: Ed T. Rush and Jack Madden
Game 3: Darell Garretson and Joe Crawford
Game 4: Earl Strom and Hugh Evans
Game 5: Jake O'Donnell and Ed T. Rush
Game 6: Darell Garretson and Joe Crawford
Hall of Famers Celtics:
Larry Bird (1998)
Dennis Johnson (2010)
Kevin McHale (1999)
Robert Parish (2003)
Bill Walton (1993)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (1995)
Magic Johnson (2002)
James Worthy (2003)
K. C. Jones (1989, player)
Pat Riley (2008)
Earl Strom (1995)
Eastern Finals Celtics defeat Pistons, 4–3
Western Finals Lakers defeat SuperSonics, 4–0

The 1987 NBA Finals was the championship round of the 1986-87 NBA season. The match took place between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. The Lakers won 4–2, beating the Celtics in the Finals. The key moment of the series was Magic Johnson's junior sky hook in Game 4. This was the tenth time that the Celtics and Lakers met in the NBA Finals (more than any other Finals matchup) and would also mark the Celtics' last appearance until the two teams met again in 2008.

This was the first NBA Championship Series conducted entirely in the month of June. The last time there were no NBA Championship Series games in the month of May was in the 1970-1971 season, when the finals (a four-game sweep that year) ended on April 30. It is also the first NBA Finals series to be conducted on a Sunday-Tuesday-Thursday rotation, which was in use until 1990 and revived since the 2004 NBA Finals; in between the NBA Finals were conducted on a Sunday-Wednesday-Friday rotation.


  • Background 1
    • Road to the Finals 1.1
    • Regular season series 1.2
  • Series summary 2
    • Game 1 2.1
    • Game 2 2.2
    • Game 3 2.3
    • Game 4 2.4
    • Game 5 2.5
    • Game 6 2.6
  • Team rosters 3
  • Television coverage 4
  • Quote from the Finals 5
  • Aftermath 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


The Celtics finished the season with a 59-23 record, topping the Eastern Conference, despite finishing with a sub-par road record and an outstanding 39-2 at home. The Celtics lost backup swingman Scott Wedman to an ankle injury early in the season, but returned to play even better than the previous season. While Bill Walton's frequent foot injuries returned and Kevin McHale played on a broken foot late in the season, but had better stats than the previous season. In the playoffs, the Celtics swept Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, and defeated the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons in a pair of seven-game series.

The Lakers returned to the NBA Finals and were rewarded with homecourt advantage, besting the Celtics by accumulating a 65-17 record. During the season head coach Pat Riley made an offensive adjustment by assigning guard Magic Johnson as the focal point of the offense, while acquiring Mychal Thompson from the San Antonio Spurs before the trade deadline in a successful effort to lessen center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's minutes heading into the post-season. The Lakers swept the Denver Nuggets, then beat the Golden State Warriors in five, before earning another playoff sweep against the Seattle SuperSonics in the conference finals.

The first two games would be played in Los Angeles, the next three games in Boston, and the final two games were scheduled to be played in Los Angeles. The Lakers defeated the Celtics four games to two.

Game 4 of this series is widely regarded as one of the most exciting in NBA Finals history as it came down to a flurry of activity and multiple lead changes in the final seconds.

Road to the Finals

Los Angeles Lakers (Western Conference Champion) Boston Celtics (Eastern Conference Champion)
# Western Conference
1 z-Los Angeles Lakers 65 17 .793
2 y-Dallas Mavericks 55 27 .671 10
3 x-Portland Trail Blazers 49 33 .598 16
4 x-Utah Jazz 44 38 .537 21
5 x-Golden State Warriors 42 40 .512 23
6 x-Houston Rockets 42 40 .512 23
7 x-Seattle SuperSonics 39 43 .476 26
8 x-Denver Nuggets 37 45 .451 28
9 Phoenix Suns 36 46 .439 29
10 Sacramento Kings 29 53 .354 36
11 San Antonio Spurs 28 54 .341 37
12 Los Angeles Clippers 12 70 .146 53
1st seed in the West, best league record
Regular season
# Eastern Conference
1 c-Boston Celtics 59 23 .720
2 y-Atlanta Hawks 57 25 .695 2
3 x-Detroit Pistons 52 30 .634 7
4 x-Milwaukee Bucks 50 32 .610 9
5 x-Philadelphia 76ers 45 37 .549 14
6 x-Washington Bullets 42 40 .512 17
7 x-Indiana Pacers 41 41 .500 18
8 x-Chicago Bulls 40 42 .488 19
9 Cleveland Cavaliers 31 51 .378 28
10 New Jersey Nets 24 58 .293 35
11 New York Knicks 24 58 .293 35
1st seed in the East, 2nd best league record
Defeated the (8) Denver Nuggets, 3–0 First Round Defeated the (8) Chicago Bulls, 3–0
Defeated the (5) Golden State Warriors, 4–1 Conference Semifinals Defeated the (4) Milwaukee Bucks, 4–3
Defeated the (7) Seattle SuperSonics, 4–0 Conference Finals Defeated the (3) Detroit Pistons, 4–3

Regular season series

The Los Angeles Lakers won both games in the regular season series:

Series summary

Game Date Home Team Result Road Team
Game 1 Tuesday, June 2 Los Angeles Lakers 126-113 (1-0) Boston Celtics
Game 2 Thursday, June 4 Los Angeles Lakers 141-122 (2-0) Boston Celtics
Game 3 Sunday, June 7 Boston Celtics 109-103 (1-2) Los Angeles Lakers
Game 4 Tuesday, June 9 Boston Celtics 106-107 (1-3) Los Angeles Lakers
Game 5 Thursday, June 11 Boston Celtics 123-108 (2-3) Los Angeles Lakers
Game 6 Sunday, June 14 Los Angeles Lakers 106-93 (4-2) Boston Celtics

Game 1

June 2
9:00 pm EDT
Boston Celtics 113, Los Angeles Lakers 126
Scoring by quarter: 26–35, 28–34, 31–32, 28–25
Pts: Larry Bird 32
Rebs: Larry Bird 7
Asts: Dennis Johnson 13
Pts: James Worthy 33
Rebs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 10
Asts: Magic Johnson 13
Los Angeles leads the series, 1–0
The Forum, Inglewood, California
Attendance: 17,505
  • No. 11 Jake O'Donnell
  • No. 25 Hugh Evans

The Lakers coming off a four-game sweep of the Seattle SuperSonics. The Celtics coming off a grueling seven-game win over the Detroit Pistons. Magic Johnson led a 126-113 victory with 29 points, 13 assists, eight rebounds and no turnovers. James Worthy, on the receiving end of many of Johnson's passes, had 33 points and nine rebounds. The Lakers ran 35 fast breaks in the first two quarters and led by 21 at intermission.

Game 2

June 4
9:00 pm EDT
Boston Celtics 122, Los Angeles Lakers 141
Scoring by quarter: 34–38, 22–37, 36–32, 30–34
Pts: Larry Bird 23
Rebs: Robert Parish 14
Asts: Dennis Johnson 9
Pts: Byron Scott 24
Rebs: Johnson, Rambis 5 each
Asts: Magic Johnson 20
Los Angeles leads the series, 2–0
The Forum, Inglewood, California
Attendance: 17,505
  • No. 4 Ed T. Rush
  • No. 14 Jack Madden

The Celtics plan for Game 2 was to concentrate on stopping Magic Johnson. Danny Ainge, who at 6'5" could not deal with the 6'9" Magic. Michael Cooper emerged as the star of the game.

With the Lakers leading by seven in the second quarter, Cooper pushed the Lakers through a 20-10 outburst, scoring or assisting on all 20 points. When it was over, he had popped in 6 of 7 three-point attempts, a playoff record.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar added 23 points on 10 of 14 shots, while Magic posted 20 assists and 22 points. In Cooper's big second quarter, he racked up eight assists, tying a Finals record. It all added up to a 141-122 rout, Boston's sixth straight road loss in the playoffs.

Game 3

June 7
1:00 pm EDT
Los Angeles Lakers 103, Boston Celtics 109
Scoring by quarter: 29–22, 27–38, 22–26, 25–23
Pts: Magic Johnson 32
Rebs: Magic Johnson 11
Asts: Magic Johnson 9
Pts: Larry Bird 30
Rebs: Larry Bird 12
Asts: Ainge, McHale 5 each
Los Angeles leads the series, 2–1
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 14,890
  • No. 10 Darrell Garretson
  • No. 17 Joe Crawford

The Celtics recovered from their two knockout blows in Games 1 and 2 with a counterpunch of their own. A little-used backup center, Greg Kite, provided the spark. Kite, entering the game late in the first quarter when Robert Parish encountered foul trouble, played 20 minutes, and while he failed to score, he grabbed nine rebounds, blocked a Magic Johnson layup, and did solid body work on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The defensive minutes Kite gave Boston from the bench were just enough, as Larry Bird scored 30 points and Dennis Johnson hit 11 of 22 attempts from the field to finish with 26 points. The resurgent Celtics shot 17 of 21 from the floor in the second quarter.

Kevin McHale Celtics' forward bounced back in Boston with 21 points and 10 rebounds while letting the air out of James Worthy's game, limiting the Lakers' forward to only 13 points and three rebounds. Magic led the Lakers with 32 points in the 109-103 loss.

Game 4

June 9
9:00 pm EDT
Los Angeles Lakers 107, Boston Celtics 106
Scoring by quarter: 22–29, 25–26, 31–30, 29–21
Pts: Magic Johnson 29
Rebs: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 11
Asts: Cooper, Johnson 5 each
Pts: Kevin McHale 25
Rebs: Kevin McHale 13
Asts: Dennis Johnson 14
Los Angeles leads the series, 3–1
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 14,890
  • No. 12 Earl Strom
  • No. 25 Hugh Evans

After their Game 3 win, Larry Bird said. "This (Game 3) was the most important game of the series for us. If we lost, it might've been tough to get up for Game 4. Now it's going to be easy."

The Celtics took it right to the Lakers, controlling the boards and taking a 55-47 lead into halftime. The Celtics had a balanced scoring attack with Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge, and Dennis Johnson all scoring in double figures. In the 3rd quarter, Bird finally got hot by scoring 12 in the quarter and helping the Celtics lead by as many as 16 points. But Los Angeles fought back to cut the Celtics lead to 85-78 going into the 4th.

In the 4th quarter the Lakers continued fighting back until they managed to tie the game at 95-95 on a Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skyhook with 5:30 remaining. The Celtics responded on both ends of the court by going on an 8-0 run, helped by good defense which led to 2 fast-break lay-ups to take a 103-95 lead with 3½ minutes left. Mychal Thompson and Abdul-Jabbar broke the Lakers' scoring drought by each hitting 1-of-2 from the line to cut the lead to six. Then, on the Celtics' next possession, Robert Parish lost the ball to Michael Cooper. Cooper passed the ball ahead to Magic Johnson, who started a break. Cooper spotted up in 3-point territory, while Magic drove, forcing Cooper's defender to help out. Magic then kicked the ball out to a now wide open Cooper who drained the trey to cut the lead to 103-100.

On the Celtics next possession, Larry Bird forced a pass to Kevin McHale in the post, which instead sailed out of bounds, giving possession right back to the Lakers. James Worthy then hit a tough fade-away over Kevin McHale and Robert Parish in the lane to cut the deficit to one. On the very next possession, Bird missed a step-back jumper over the outstretched frame of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and the Lakers got the ball back with just under 45 seconds remaining. The Lakers called a timeout to set up a pick for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But Magic told him to fake it as his defender, Robert Parish, attempted to fight through the pick, and then roll to the basket. He did. The pass was there for an alley-oop dunk, and the Lakers took a 104-103 lead; their first lead since early in the 1st quarter. The Celtics called timeout with 29 seconds left in the game.

Out of the timeout Bird threw the ball inbounds and was immediately face-guarded by James Worthy. In fact, Worthy had a fist-full of Bird's jersey to make sure Bird wouldn't score. With Worthy's defense, the Celtics couldn't get their best player the ball and instead went through the motions of their offense until Danny Ainge got open. That forced Worthy to let go of Bird and help out on Ainge. Bird immediately got himself open by going to the 3-point line right in front of the Lakers' bench. Ainge found Bird wide open and Bird hit the three point bomb with 12 seconds left, to put Boston up 106-104 and sent the Boston Garden crowd into a frenzy.

On the next possession, Abdul-Jabbar was fouled and went to the line, where he made the first and missed the second. McHale and Thompson both went up for the missed shot, and the officials ruled that McHale forced the ball out of bounds. The Celtics protested that the ball was off Thompson, but possession was awarded to the Lakers with seven seconds left. Replays showed the ball was indeed last touched by McHale.

What followed was another play for the ages. Magic set a pick on Kevin McHale, which almost opened up a lay-up for Worthy, but Dennis Johnson was able to switch over in time on help defense. However, that left McHale scrambling to guard Magic who just got open and received the inbounds pass near the left sideline. Twenty feet from the basket, Magic had the advantage on the post-defender McHale. Magic dribbled, hesitated to get McHale off-balance, then drove into the key. Magic then lofted a hook shot, which just cleared the fingertips of both McHale and Parish, and swished through the net giving the Lakers a 107-106 lead with only 2 seconds left.

The Celtics still had one last shot, Dennis inbounded the ball to Bird, who had broke to the corner of the basket after faking out Worthy by walking him up the court. Larry, to his surprise, found himself wide open behind the 3-point line right in front of the Lakers' bench. Bird caught the in bounds pass from Johnson, turned, and put up a fall-away jumper as time expired. The shot was off the mark, and the Boston crowd let out a collective groan as the Lakers' bench danced off the court to celebrate the hard-fought victory, which gave the Lakers a commanding 3-1 series lead.

Game 5

June 11
9:00 pm EDT
Los Angeles Lakers 108, Boston Celtics 123
Scoring by quarter: 25–25, 23–38, 29–33, 31–27
Pts: Magic Johnson 29
Rebs: Magic Johnson 8
Asts: Magic Johnson 12
Pts: Dennis Johnson 25
Rebs: Kevin McHale 14
Asts: Dennis Johnson 11
Los Angeles leads the series, 3–2
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 14,890
  • No. 11 Jake O'Donnell
  • No. 4 Ed T. Rush

The Celtics had to win Game 5 in the Garden, and would control most of the game. Danny Ainge set the tone by nailing 5 of 6 from 3-point range to give Boston early control.

Magic countered for Los Angeles with 29 points, 12 assists, eight rebounds and four steals, but he received little help. Before the game Bird had told his teammates, "If they want to celebrate, let's not let them do it on the parquet." The Celtics had incentive enough. They got their second win, 123-108, and the series jetted back across the continent.

Game 6

June 14
3:30 pm EDT
Boston Celtics 93, Los Angeles Lakers 106
Scoring by quarter: 32–25, 24–26, 12–30, 25–25
Pts: Dennis Johnson 33
Rebs: Johnson, McHale 10 each
Asts: Danny Ainge 6
Pts: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 32
Rebs: Mychal Thompson 9
Asts: Magic Johnson 19
Los Angeles wins the series, 4–2
The Forum, Inglewood, California
Attendance: 17,505
  • No. 10 Darell Garretson
  • No. 17 Joe Crawford

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar arrived for Game 6 with a shaved head and a determination to close out this series. For a while, though, it appeared like the Celtics would steal it. Magic Johnson had only four points at the half and Dennis Johnson poured in 18 for the Celtics on his way to a game-high 33 as Boston led 56-51 at intermission.

The Lakers scored the first two baskets of the second half to cut it to 56-55. On the Celtics' ensuing possession, the ball came loose toward the sideline and James Worthy gave chase. Worthy went to the floor, batted the ball inbounds to a breaking Magic Johnson, and Magic slammed home a breakaway dunk. This gave the Lakers their first lead of the game, 57-56, and they never trailed from that point, winning 106-93.

Worthy would finish with 22 points, and Mychal Thompson had 16 points and 10 rebounds off the bench, but the play of the Lakers' two stalwarts, Magic and Kareem, would be the dagger that finished off the Celtics. Magic recovered from his cold first half to post 16 points, 19 assists, and eight rebounds, and Kareem would pump in a team-high 32 points.

"Magic is a great, great basketball player," Bird stated flatly, settling the issue for the moment. "The best I've ever seen."

Indeed, Magic would gain the NBA Finals MVP award and his fourth championship ring.

"Back in the High Life Again" by Steve Winwood was the closing song at the end of this series.[1]

For the Lakers, This would be their last NBA Finals series triumph over the Celtics until 2010.

Team rosters

Television coverage

The Boston Celtics season documentary Home of the Brave, narrated by David Perry, recaps Boston's 1987 season while the Los Angeles Lakers documentary Drive for Five, narrated by legendary Lakers announcer Chick Hearn, recaps the Lakers' magnificent 1987 season en route to a fourth title of the 1980s.

CBS' James Brown filled in for Pat O'Brien when he attended the birth of his son. Brown was on for Games 3 and 4. Both Brown and O'Brien reported on the Lakers' sideline. While Lesley Visser was on for all the games as sideline reporter for CBS as she reported on the Celtics' sideline.

Quote from the Finals

Five seconds to go, Magic with a hook shot, scores with two.
— Dick Stockton calling Magic Johnson's 'junior sky hook' in Game 4.
To the left, goes Magic, he's got it. He didn't shoot it, five seconds left. Magic down the middle, just what I thought, a hook shot at twelve, good!!!! Two seconds left, the Lakers take the lead, on Magic Johnson's running sky-hook.
— Chick Hearn on the aforementioned play.


The 1987 Finals would be the Celtics' last until 2008, but would be the last for the 'Big Three' of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish. In K.C. Jones' final season as Celtics' coach they still won the Atlantic Division title by winning 57 games, but the Celtics fell in six games to the Detroit Pistons, in the rematch of their Eastern Conference Finals showdown in 1988. The Celtics would not reach that far again for the next 14 years.

Following their championship win, Lakers coach Pat Riley guaranteed a repeat championship during the team's championship parade a few days after winning the NBA Finals. The 1987-88 NBA season, despite winning three games less than the previous year, was still a success for the Lakers. However their playoff run wouldn't be as smooth as expected. Other than a three-game first round sweep of the San Antonio Spurs, the Lakers were pushed to a Game 7 by the Utah Jazz, Dallas Mavericks, and Detroit Pistons before claiming the first repeat championship since the Celtics of 1969.

See also


  1. ^ 1987 NBA Finals on YouTube

External links

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