The Top Five Greatest Celtics Teams: #4 1983-’84 Celtics

Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird came into his own in the 1983-’84 season.

The fourth best team in Boston Celtics’ history was the 1983-’84 team. This squad was coming off a devastating loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the postseason the year before with a very talented roster. They had too many players who filled similar roles. President Red Auerbach signed guard Danny Ainge (who was playing for the Toronto Blue Jays) in 1981. Then the Celtics acquired reserve point guard Quinn Buckner and sharpshooter, Scott Wedman. These players did not mesh because of the logjam the Celtics had created with too many players for only several minutes of play.

Shortly after the Celtics were swept by the Bucks in 1983, head coach Bill Fitch resigned. K.C. Jones succeeded Fitch because he was a former player and it was felt that the players would respond well to Jones.

Auerbach fixed the logjam by acquiring guard Dennis Johnson from the Phoenix Suns for center Rick Robey along with a swap of draft picks on June 27th. Johnson had the ability to defend the Bucks’ Sidney Moncrief and Philadelphia 76ers’ Andrew Toney. The Celtics extended both Bird and Parish’s contracts just before the season began.

The Celtics were loaded in both the backcourt and the frontcourt. They had Cedric Maxwell in the starting lineup at power forward next to Robert “The Chief” Parish at center. Larry Bird was entering the prime of his career and he would enjoy a career season in 1983-’84. Kevin McHale came off the bench to provide scoring in the post while being able to defend with his long arms. Also, the Celtics used Ainge, Buckner, M.L. Carr off the pine in the backcourt and they employed Wedman and backup center Greg Kite to provide depth in the frontcourt.

With Johnson providing the playmaking at the point guard position and Gerald Henderson as a combo guard, the Celtics had a complete team that could compete with the Bucks and 76ers in the Eastern Conference. Johnson was asked to become the scorer for the Seattle SuperSonics and Suns, but the Celtics were already stacked with all-around scorers so he was just asked to open up space for Bird, McHale, and Parish.

This version of the Celtics finished 62-20. They had six players who averaged double figures in points led by Bird at 24.2. Bird had the killer instinct this season and made many clutch plays. The Celtics were 7th in points scored (112.1) while finishing in 4th in the league in points allowed (105.6).

Over the course of the season, the Celtics were consistent after they lost the season opener in Detroit against the Pistons. It was the fifth consecutive season the Celtics posted at least 30 wins at the then-Boston Garden. This was the ninth time the Celtics recorded 60-plus victories in the history of the franchise.

The Celtics had an impressive run in the postseason. They breezed right through the then-Washington Bullets in four games (at that time, the NBA had best-of-five in the opening round of the playoffs). Then Bernard King and the New York Knicks gave the Celtics a scare by extending the series to the limit with the Celtics coming out on top in seven in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Celtics were able to exact revenge on the Bucks by ousting them in five games to make a trip back to the NBA Finals.

The Celtics would play a familiar opponent with different players this time around. They would spar with the Los Angeles Lakers, who were beaten by the Celtics on seven occasions in Finals matchups throughout the 1960s. One of these times was when the Lakers were in Minneapolis in 1956-’57 before they moved to Los Angeles for the 1960-’61 season. Bird and Lakers superstar guard Magic Johnson would meet again after both players squared off in the 1979 NCAA championship game when Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores were defeated by Johnson’s Michigan State team. This would also be the start of one of the greatest rivalries in the history of sports between two players who came from different backgrounds and had opposite personalities. Bird came from French Lick, Indiana. He was reserved off the court. Meanwhile Johnson was from a bigger city in Lansing, Michigan. Johnson was outgoing and he led the “Showtime” Lakers.

The Lakers had an opportunity to take a commanding 2-0 series lead, but Johnson misunderstood Lakers coach Pat Riley ordering him to call timeout if McHale made both free throws. The Lakers held a 115-113 advantage in Game 2 with 18 seconds left, but McHale missed both free throws and Johnson inexplicably called timeout. This allowed the Celtics to set up their halfcourt defense. Henderson stole a James Worthy pass intended for Byron Scott and drove the length of the court for a layup to send the contest into overtime. Wedman eventually nailed a key jumper to even the series at 1. After the Lakers rolled over the Celtics in Game 3, the Celtics used their physicality to rile up the Lakers and swing the tide. Early in Game 4, the Lakers jumped out to a lead, but McHale’s clothesline of Kurt Rambis on a layup attempt in the second quarter brought the Celtics back into the series. The Celtics would again tie the series at 2 and ship the home-court advantage back to Boston. In Game 5, the Celtics outplayed the Lakers in sweltering conditions at 121-103. After the Lakers extended the series to seven by winning Game 6 in Los Angeles, the Celtics overcame the Lakers, 111-102 in Game 7.

Johnson scored 22, 22, 20, and 22 points, respectively, in the final four outings. Bird was monumental in the Game 5 victory. The Celtics came out on top again over the Lakers.

All of this success transpired because of the aggressive play of the Celtics in the offseason.

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