Legendary Teams: 1987 Los Angeles Lakers

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, “Big Game” James Worthy. Michael Cooper, A.C. Green, Byron Scott. The 1987 Lakers had no shortage of talent and were coached by the great Pat Riley, with Jerry West leading the front office. 

The Lakers’ offense was the most exciting, fast paced, and flashy offensive force the NBA had seen. Led by Magic Johnson’s statline of 24 points and 12 assists per game as well as high scoring outputs from James Worthy (19 PPG) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (17.5 PPG), they were juggernauts with the basketball. On the other end of the floor, the Lakers were just as deadly with their defensive schemes and personnel. 

The Lakers were dominant throughout the regular season and won 65 games. In the first round of the Playoffs, the Lakers swept the Denver Nuggets in three games. The Nuggets were led by the duo of Alex English (28 PPG) and Fat Lever (19 PPG/9 APG). In the second round they would face the Golden State Warriors, spearheaded by Sleepy Floyd (19 PPG/10 APG) and featuring Hall of Famer Chris Mullin who was then playing in his sophomore NBA season. The Warriors were able to win one game, but the Lakers would move on to the next round. In the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers played the Seattle SuperSonics. Seattle was fronted by a three-headed-monster of Dale Ellis, Xavier McDaniel, and Tom Chambers, all three averaged over 20 points per game. Regardless of their opponents, the Lakers were able to sweep the series in four games and move on to the NBA Finals.

It was only right that the Lakers would meet the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals. The two teams faced one another in 1984 and 1985 and each claimed victory in one series. Magic Johnson vs. Larry Bird was (and still is to this day) one of the greatest rivalries across all of sports. This was Showtime LA up against the grit and attitude of Boston, it was East vs. West, the Lakers and the Celtics. 

In Game 1, Larry Bird scored 32 points for the Celtics, but it was not enough to stop the Lakers. James Worthy scored 33 points and gathered 9 rebounds. Magic Johnson put up an impressive statline of 29 points, 8 rebounds, and 13 assists. Byron Scott also added 20 points for the Lakers in a Game 1 victory. 

The Lakers displayed a commanding victory in Game 2 and won the game 141-122. Magic had 20 points in addition to a staggering 22 assists. Meanwhile, Byron Scott scored 24 points and Kareem had 23 while shooting 10 for 14 from the field. The Lakers took a 2-game lead at home and now had to go to Boston for games 3, 4, and 5.

In Game 3, the Celtics looked like an entirely different team. Magic’s 32 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists could not hold off the Celtics. Boston’s star center Robert Parrish found himself in foul trouble early in the game and was substituted out for backup Greg Kite. Kite played 22 minutes and provided a defensive spark while guarding Kareem. In addition to Greg Kite, Celtics forward Kevin McHale stood his ground on defense and limited the scoring output of James Worthy. The Celtics offense was led by Larry Bird’s 30-point performance as well as a 26 point night from Dennis Johnson. The Celtics won the game 109-103. 

In Game 4 it seemed as if the Celtics were going to tie the series when they had a 16-point lead. Throughout a majority of the 2nd half, the Lakers managed to fight back into the game due to the scoring outbursts of Magic Johnson and James Worthy. The Lakers found themselves down by a single point in the final seconds. Magic Johnson took the ball towards the paint and attempted one of Kareem’s famous skyhook shots. The basket went in and Los Angeles took the lead with as little as two seconds remaining. Larry Bird got a chance to attempt a game-winning shot but missed. The Lakers won the game 107-106 and took a 3-1 series lead.

With their backs against the wall, the Celtics went into Game 5 firing on all cylinders. Magic Johnson’s staggering 29 points, 12 rebounds, 8 assists, and 4 steals were not enough to stop the incredible team play of the Celtics that night. All five of Boston’s starters scored more than 20 points throughout the game and the Celtics claimed a 15-point victory.

Returning to Los Angeles with another chance to close out the Finals, the Lakers would not allow the moment to escape them. Stalwart defense by Los Angeles held Larry Bird to 6 for 16 from the field, and limited Danny Ainge to a 1 for 9 performance. On the offensive end, Kareem provided 32 points and James Worthy scored an additional 22 points. Magic Johnson was facilitating the Laker offense all night as he had 19 assists throughout Game 6. The Lakers won Game 6 by a score of 106-93 to finish the series in 6 games. 

Throughout the series, Magic Johnson averaged 26 points, 8 rebounds, 13 assists, and 2 steals in each game and was voted Finals MVP. This would be the third time in Magic’s career he would be voted Finals MVP, and it was his fourth championship after 7 seasons in the NBA. On a larger scale, victory in the Finals meant that the Lakers were 2-1 against the Celtics in the NBA Finals during the 1980s. The Lakers repeated as NBA Champions the next season. 

The “Showtime” Lakers changed basketball forever. From their flashy highlights, to their breakneck pace and their incredible defensive schemes, the Lakers were at the forefront of pushing the game forward. Perhaps the most important innovation made by the Lakers was evolving the Point Guard position via Magic Johnson and how he laid the foundation for future players. 

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