Tip-Off Timer: '87 Was End of Bird-Magic, Celtics-Lakers
In the NBA, 1987 was a tough year.
That's when it became official the Celtics were never going to be the same again, and neither was the Celtics-Lakers rivalry. Meaning it was also the end of Bird-Magic.
It was the third time in four years that Boston and L.A. had met for the NBA championship, a kind of Finals familiarity that hasn't happened since then. It also was the series Magic Johnson missed a wide-open Kareem Abdul-Jabbar underneath and instead took a tough skyhook in the lane that wound up being the game-winner in Game 4.
(Relax, just a joke)
What fewer might remember about Game 4 was that Larry Bird had a chance to win it with a 3-pointer from deep in the corner right in front of the Lakers' bench.
Bird missed that shot, but many Celtics fans think he was fouled by Wes Matthews, an L.A. sub who wasn't even in the game. But he may as well have been guarding Bird on that final possession, what with Bird fading away into a row of standing Lakers on the sidelines.
By then, the Celtics were pretty much on borrowed time anyway. Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale were beginning to wind down. But it wasn't just age, it was injury. McHale played that series on what was later revealed to be a broken foot.
The 1987 Finals also was when the Celtics felt the hurt of Len Bias' death. Bias, who had died of an overdose after being drafted the previous summer, was supposed to give Boston an infusion of much-needed youth and athleticism.
Instead, the Celtics' Big Three had to play too many minutes that season, with Bird leading the league in minutes at more than 40 per.
It will remain a mystery whether or not Bias could have given the Celtics the kind of player they needed to stay on top a few more years. Without Bias, the Celtics gave way to the Pistons, who were not only physical but had some young, energetic players of their own (Dennis Rodman, John Salley).
The Lakers, of course, weren't done. They went on to beat the Pistons in 1988, then lost to Detroit in 1989. Those were two very good series. But they were nothing like Boston-L.A.
1987 was the end of that.
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