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History week: 1980 Celtics vs. Lakers dream Finals, Game 7

What would have happened if the Celtics and Lakers met in a dream 1980 Finals matchup?

Game 7 recap

BOSTON - The first three seventh game showdowns between the Celtics and Lakers were all won by Boston, by a combined total of just seven points - and the latest edition followed the pattern of nail biters.

Meeting for the first time in 11 years for the title in 1980, the final game became a storybook finish for a future Hall of Fame free agent castoff and a great rookie in another epic decisive game between the historic rivals at Boston Garden.

Never having even won a playoff series in his first 10 years or even a college conference title, veteran guard Pete Maravich made all the difference off the bench in a spine-tingling 109-107 Boston victory.

Maravich led all scorers with 30 points off the bench, and his last basket came on a 21-footer from the top of the key that put the Celtics ahead 107-106 with 31 seconds left.

Laker head coach Paul Westhead designed a play to go to center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but rookie Earvin Johnson instead tried a foul line fadeaway that came up well short under the tight defense of M.L. Carr.

Jabbar rebounded the airball and was fouled with eight seconds to go. He made the first foul shot to tie it 107-107, yet missed the second and the rebound was knocked out of bounds by the Lakers.

After a timeout advanced the ball to halfcourt, Boston head coach Bill Fitch designed a play for the red-hot Maravich to shoot, with options to pass to Bird or Cowens.

With the title on the line Bird threw the ball in to Maravich, who drew a double team 22 feet from the basket out front. Pistol Pete passed to an open Bird, who had quietly slipped to the near corner. It was a pass that a less mature Maravich might not have made, trying to win it himself.

Instead when he rose to shoot from the top of the key, Maravich used his vision and ability to hang in the air to find the open man. With the season and title on the line, Bird coolly sank a clutch 20-foot left baseline jumper with three ticks remaining to put Boston on top.

The clutch jumper sent the 15,320 at the aged Boston Garden into a frenzy. "Oh my this place is going crazy," screamed long-time Celtic radio announcer Johnny Most from his perch high above the parquet floor.

But there was still one more chance left for the explosive Lakers. Coach Paul Westhead designed a play to go into Jabbar for his patented hook, with a backscreen second option for sixth man Michael Cooper's "coop-a-loop" dunk.

But neither play materialized. Johnson tried to loop a long in-bounds pass in to Kareem, but the always-hustling Dave Cowens - playing recklessly with five fouls - deflected the entry pass intended for Jabbar, then dove on the ball as time expired to give Boston its first championship in four years.

Hundreds of jubilant fans streamed onto the floor as the Celtic players fought their way to the locker room tunnel.

Once safely in the locker room, Boston was able to celebrate their hard-earned championship in earnest. Perhaps one player, along with Bird, cherished the moment more than any other.

"I came to Boston to help them win a championship, and I feel blessed to have been able to finally win a title and help the Celtics hang another banner," said an ecstatic Maravich, who nearly signed with the rival 76ers before settling on Boston instead after being unceremoniously waived by the woeful Jazz.

"Coming from Utah where I was benched and wasting away after my knee injury, I can barely believe my good fortune," he continued. "It took a while to round into shape, and there were times I didn’t think I could get back to a high level again and really help this team. But finally in the playoffs I started to regain my old form.

"To be able to win my first championship of any kind with a great rookie like Larry Bird and an old summer basketball camp friend in Dave Cowens is like a dream come true. My team lost a state title in high school on a last-second shot that was disallowed," he recalled.

When asked if he was going to retire after the win and ride off into the basketball sunset, Pete replied that "I want to enjoy this win for a while before I make a decision. Right now, I feel totally content for the first time in my basketball career."

Celtic general manager Red Auerbach lit up another victory cigar after his carefully-crafted squad hung his 13th title banner. He took a few satisfied drags on the stogie before addressing the press.

"The addition of Pete put us over the top, but Larry really made the difference all year," he offered between puffs. "Pete gave us what we lacked, real outside scoring and creativity off the bench, which is what I signed him to provide.

"The best deal I made in the off-season was NOT trading Nate Archibald," he continued. "Dave came back strong and M.L. had a great year as sixth man. Cedric and Chris played well. Rick Robey is the best backup center in the NBA.

"People have been talking about a new dynasty in Los Angeles. But the dynasty is still right here," he bellowed, pointing at the championship trophy he held in his hands. "And this is just the beginning of a new one."

Cowens earned his third ring and first since 1976, while Bird also won his first title at any level after guiding Indiana State to the 1979 NCAA finals with a 33-0 record - only to lose to Michigan State, 75-64.

In the post-game celebration, CBS announcer Brent Musburger asked Bird if this win "got him even with Magic Johnson after what happened last year."

Bird thoughtfully ran his hands through his beer-soaked blonde mane before answering. "No, we're professionals now - but I won this one for Terre Haute," he replied. The quick-handed Bird then snagged the cigar out of Auerbach's grasp, smiled impishly and took a puff as Red laughed.

It was the second game seven Finals win for Cowens against his nemesis Jabbar. Boston beat Kareem and Milwaukee on the road 102-87 back in 1974 as Dave outscored Kareem 28-26 and edged him on the boards, 14-13.

Jabbar outscored Cowens 29-18 this time, but Dave out-rebounded Kareem 13-10. Cedric Maxwell scored 21 clutch inside points and veteran playmaker Nate Archibald added 10 assists for Boston. Bird tallied 22 points to go with a dozen rebounds and nine assists.

"We suffered the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune again," said Laker rookie coach Westhead, a Shakespearean scholar who took over the team 14 games into the season after a serious bicycling accident put then-coach Jack McKinney in a coma and guided them within a game of the title.

Two late turnovers by Laker rookie Earvin Johnson played a key role in the outcome. "We helped them, we gave it to them, and at the same time they took it," he lamented after the loss before disappearing into the showers to ponder the tough defeat that will haunt him all summer. As it went all series, Boston enjoyed an edge from the new three-point line. The Celtics made six triples, with Maravich knocking down four of six long balls. LA canned just one three-pointer.

Boston also out-rebounded LA 52-43, including 21 offensive boards that helped stem the lethal Laker fast break.

Rookie phenom Bird was voted Finals MVP. He averaged 24.9 points, 13 rebounds and six assists per game in the series in a brilliant all-around display of basketball.

Game 7 at Boston Garden

BOSTON 109 (4-3)

Bird 10-19 5-6 22, Maxwell 4-7 3-4 11, Cowens 8-17 2-3 18, Ford 2-5 0-0 6, Archibald 5-12 2-3 12, Carr 2-5 1-2 5, Maravich 11-16 4-4 30, Robey 1-2 1-2 3, Henderson 1-4 0-0 2, Judkins 0-1 0-0 0.

Totals: 44-88/19-24/109. 3-pointers (6-13): Maravich 4-6, Ford 2-5, Judkins 0-1, Bird 0-1. Team rebs-3.

LOS ANGELES 107 (3-4)

Wilkes 7-14 2-2 16, Chones 4-9 1-2 9, Jabbar 12-23 5-7 29, Johnson 7-15 4-4 18, Nixon 7-13 5-6 19, Cooper 3-7 2-3 8, Landsberger 2-5 1-2 5, Holland 1-3 0-0 3.

Totals: 43-89/20-26/109. 3-pointers (1-7) Holland 1-2. Team rebs-3.

1 2 3 4 F

Boston 26 28 27 28 109

LA Lakers 29 27 25 26 107

Attendance: 15,320

Rebounds-Boston 51 (Cowens 13), LAL 43 (Landsberger 11). Assists: Boston 23 (Archibald 10), LA 24 (Johnson 9). Total fouls-LA 27, Boston 28.

To contact the author, you can email Cort Reynolds at cdrada2433@yahoo.com.