Lakers legend James Worthy is one of the best NBA players ever, but his bad pass that prevented Los Angeles from winning Game 2 of the 1984 NBA Finals against the rival Boston Celtics will forever be one of the biggest mistakes in Finals history.
The Lakers led 113-111 with less than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter when Celtics forward Kevin McHale went to the free-throw line. He missed both free throws, and Lakers point guard Magic Johnson grabbed the rebound on the second miss.
Johnson called a timeout instead of holding onto the ball and running out the clock or getting fouled.
In Tuesday night’s much-anticipated ESPN 30 for 30 documentary on the Celtics vs. Lakers rivalry titled “Best of Enemies,” former Lakers coach Pat Riley said Johnson shouldn’t have called timeout. Riley said Johnson was his smartest player and wouldn’t turn the ball over. There was no reason to halt play in that moment.
By taking the timeout, Johnson gave the Celtics a chance because the Lakers had to inbound in their backcourt.
Worthy inbounded to Johnson, received the ball back and fired a cross-court pass that was intercepted by C’s guard Gerald Henderson, who drove to the basket and scored to tie the game.
Worthy revealed during the 30 for 30 that he “never recovered” from that mistake for the rest of the game. The Lakers forward also said he thought about the play for the first two minutes of overtime.
Worthy admitted he “blew it.” He certainly wasn’t “Big Game James” at that time.
The Celtics carried the momentum into overtime and won, tying the series at one game apiece. They eventually claimed the championship with a Game 7 victory to cap off a historic NBA Finals.
But if Henderson doesn’t make that steal and the C’s go down 0-2, they probably lose the series, too. A loss to the Lakers in 1984 could have significantly damaged the Celtics’ and Larry Bird’s legacies in the 1980s.
For that reason, Henderson’s steal was mightily important, and more than 30 years later it still doesn’t receive the proper appreciation it deserves.
Thumbnail photo via Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports Images