In their third battle in the NBA finals in four years, the Los Angeles Lakers won the rubber match beating the Boston Celtics 4-2. During the victory parade in Los Angeles, Lakers coach Pat Riley guaranteed a repeat.
Laker guard Byron Scott believed it was a brilliant move.
Guaranteeing a championship was the best thing Pat ever did. It set the stage in our minds. Work harder, be better. That’s the only way we could repeat.
The Lakers (62-20) and Celtics (57-25) appeared to be on a collision course as they once again were the top seeds in their conference. The Lakers were able to return to the NBA Finals, but only being pushed to seven games in the conference semis and finals.
The Celtics also were pushed to seven games in the conference semis against the Atlanta Hawks that culminated in a shootout between Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins. The Celtics, however, lost to the up and coming Detroit Pistons in the conference finals 4-2.
The series followed the 2-3-2 format, with the Pistons taking a 3-2 lead before 41,732 in their finale at the Pontiac Silverdome. The Lakers narrowly escaped with a 103-102 win in Game 6 despite a 43-point performance by Piston guard Isiah Thomas (who injured his ankle during the game). Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sank the winning free throws after what Piston fans called a “phantom foul” by Bill Laimbeer.
Game 7 was the most watched NBA game in history at the time. Finals MVP James Worthy took over with 36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists in the only triple double of his career (and only second ever in a NBA Finals Game 7), as the Lakers overcame the Pistons 108-105. The Pistons were largely without star Isiah Thomas whose Game 6 ankle injury limited him to only 10 points in 28 minutes.
With the win, the Lakers became the first team since the 1968-69 Celtics to repeat as champions. Riley wisely did not guaranty a three-peat, as this was the fifth and final title for the Showtime Era Lakers.
The Pistons would sweep the Lakers in their rematch in the 1989 NBA Finals in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s final season. Pat Riley would step down after the 1990 season.
The following season, under Coach Dunleavey, the core team of Magic Johnson, James Worthy and Byron Scott returned to the NBA Finals, losing 4-1 to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls (their first title).
The Lakers would not return to the NBA Finals until 2000 when Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant led the team to a 4-2 victory over Indiana.