The 2019-20 NBA season was unique. The suspension caused by the COVID-9 pandemic and social justice-inspired strike of the players were unique. Some things remain constant, though, such as the dominance of the Lakers. After wrapping up Championship number 17 to tie the record with the Boston Celtics, let’s relive five of the best Lakers final performances of the past.
vs. Philadelphia 79ers – 1980
The 1980 final truly introduced the world to Magic Johnson, arguably the greatest living LA Laker. Going into game 6 of the finals, the Lakers held a 3-2 lead over Philadelphia. There was a catch, though.
The all-conquering Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the season’s MVP, was ruled out of the game with a hurt ankle. Announcing the injury was not kidology from the Lakers. Abdul-Jabbar did not even fly to Pennsylvania to watch the game in the stands of The Spectrum.
Magic Johnson stepped in to play center. Initially, it looked like a wrong move from coach Paul Westhead. Caldwell Jones easily won the opening tip, and fears arose that the 76ers would run rampant. Magic Johnson had other ideas, quickly living up to his nickname as he scored 42 points, also notching up 15 rebounds and 7 assists.
The Lakers eventually won by a score of 123-107, claiming the series 4–2. More importantly, this final saw the birth of the feted Showtime era in Lakers history.
vs. Boston Celtics – 1985
Lakers vs. Celtics is the most oft-contested final in NBA history. The two franchises have clashed 12 times in the final, with 1985 marking the ninth. The Celtics had won the previous 8 meetings, including the final of the preceding year.
This clash of the titans needed no additional spice. However, there was genuine hostility between the two sides in the 1980s. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, franchise player of the Celtics, were sworn enemies on the court. This feud brought unparalleled levels of mainstream attention to a previously flagging NBA, with the rivalry between the superstars transferring to the teams they represented.
The Lakers and Celtics traded victories in the first 4 games, tied at 2-2 going into the fifth. The Lakers won this game 120-111, setting up a mouthwatering prospect. They had the opportunity to become the first away side to secure a Championship in the Boston Garden.
They did so with a 111-100 victory, thanks primarily to breathtaking performances from Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was Boston’s first final defeat since 1958. The Lakers beat the Celtics again in 1987, and one or both teams featured in every final of the 1980s. However, toward the end of the decade, another famous Lakers final unfolded – and a new rivalry was born.
vs. Detroit Pistons – 1988
In 1988, the Lakers conquered the Detroit Pistons 4-3 in the NBA final. 1988 was a historic victory, as it made the Lakers the first team to secure back-to-back titles since the Boston Celtics in 1969. Can you guess who Boston conquered in their 1968 and 1969 finals?
1988 was among the hardest won of the Lakers’ championships. Going into the sixth game, Detroit held a 3-2 lead. The Lakers looked to be cruising to victory to tie the series, but Detroit’s Isiah Thomas sparked into life in the 3rd quarter. Ending the game with 43 points and 8 assists, Thomas would surely have won the title for the Pistons had he not rolled his ankle and was forced to play the final quarter with a severe sprain.
The Lakers squeaked through the game with a 103-102 victory, secured when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored a pair of free throws in the dying seconds. Pistons fans remain angry about the foul call, which they claim was unjustified. The Lakers went on to win game 7 by 108 to 105 and secure their eleventh NBA title.
This victory proved to be the end of an era. The Lakers and Pistons matched up again in 1989, but this time Detroit – now firmly entrenched in their celebrated Bad Boys era – routed LA 4-0 in the series. 1988 was the final Championship for the Showtime-era Lakers, as the team endured a fallow 1990s. That decade memorably belonged to the Chicago Bulls.
vs. Indiana Pacers – 2000
2000 was the Lakers’ first appearance in the NBA final since 1991, where Chicago crushed them 4-1. Just the previous year, the Lakers were swept in the playoffs by the San Antonio Spurs. By the turn of the century, LA had formed a new legendary roster, spearheaded by Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Phil Jackson, a six-time champion with the Bulls, was also drafted in as coach.
Shaq was the season MVP in 1999-2000, as well as the finals MVP. While he was the undoubted icon of the Lakers at this stage, this finals series saw the rise of Kobe Bryant. After missing the third game of the series through injury, Bryant was the star of the show in the fourth.
Entering the fourth game of the series against the Indiana Pacers, the Lakers held a 2-1 lead. Bryant scored 28 points on the way to an OT victory, with the Lakers winning by 120-118. Bryant effectively bailed the Lakers out, especially as O’Neal was banished from the court as the first-ever player to foul out of the NBA Finals.
The Pacers ran out comfortable winners in game 5, scoring 120 points to the Lakers’ 87 and dragging the series back to 3-2. The Lakers conquered their opponents 116-111 in game 6 though, with Shaq responsible for 41 points.
The 4-2 series victory was notable for two other reasons. Larry Bird coached The Pacers, which added a little spice to the occasion, while it was also the first of three back-to-back Championship wins for the Lakers. To this day, no American sports franchise has equaled this achievement.
vs. Boston Celtics – 2010
The Lakers went into the 2010 NBA final as defending champions, having conquered Orlando Magic 4-1 the previous year. Under the usual run of things, they would surely have been the favorites to achieve a double-double. No clash between the Celtics and Lakers is ever typical, though – especially seeing the Celtics beat the Lakers in 2008’s final, preventing LA from seeking a second threepeat within the decade.
Now firmly ensconced as LA’s franchise player following the departure of Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant was arguably the greatest player in the NBA. A young upstart in Cleveland named LeBron James picked up the MVP award for the season, though. Does anybody know what happened to him?
The teams traded victories leading into game 7, with the series tied at 3-3. The game itself was initially a cagey affair, with neither team opening more than a single-point lead. The Celtics ended the first quarter firmly in control before the Lakers roared back in the second. All the same, at the halfway point, the Celtics still led 40-34.
Boston extended their lead early in the third quarter but fell apart in the fourth. The offense line committed countless fouls, with Rasheed Wallace eventually fouling out. Bryant didn’t have his best night offensively but still scored a game-high 23 points, 10 of which came in the final quarter. The Lakers eventually won 83-79 to claim their final Championship until the 2019-20 season.
The Lakers are rarely out of the title picture for long. Who would bet against the franchise picking up title number 18 in the 2020-21 season? According to the bookmakers, the Brooklyn Nets are likeliest to stand in their way. Another classic final could await in July.