When you think of Magic Johnson, you think of him as a dazzling point guard, capable of scoring, leading and passing with astounding skill and wizardry.
At 6-foot-9, Johnson was big for a guard, but you certainly don’t think of him as a “big man.”
Thirty-seven years ago Tuesday, Johnson came up big in every possible way. He filled in at center for NBA legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who was out with an injured ankle) and scored 42 points in an NBA Finals-clinching Game 6 win for the Los Angeles Lakers over the Philadelphia 76ers.
This was the first of five championships that Johnson, Abdul-Jabbar and Michael Cooper won together. Johnson won his first of three NBA Finals MVPs. The only player to win more is Michael Jordan (6). Johnson and Shaquille O’Neal are the only Lakers with three.
Johnson’s 42 bettered the 40 Abdul-Jabbar scored in a Game 5 win, a game in which Johnson shot 4-of-13 from the field. Johnson scored his 42 with a variety of moves and shots from both inside and outside, including Abdul-Jabbar’s patented hook shot.
Johnson scored more than 16 points in the series in only one other game, a Game 5 loss in which he tallied 28.
Johnson’s career high for points in a game was 46 against the Kings on Dec. 23, 1986. That’s the only game in which he scored more than the 42 he had in the NBA Finals.
The last player to score at least 42 points in a Game 6 or Game 7 of the NBA Finals is Michael Jordan, who had 46 in the clinching Game 6 against the Jazz in 1998.
Oft-forgotten from that game is that Jamaal Wilkes scored 37 points for the Lakers. Wilkes won three NBA titles, two with the Lakers, and averaged 20 points per game that season and 20.3 points per game in that series. He played in 113 playoff games. That is the only game in which he scored at least 30 points.
Elias Sports Bureau: Did you know?
Magic Johnson's 42 points and 15 rebounds are one of only two 40-15 games in a Finals clincher. The other was a 50-point, 19-rebound game by Bob Pettit for the St. Louis Hawks against the Boston Celtics in 1958.