In 1983–84, the Celtics, under new coach K. C. Jones, would go 62–20 and return to the NBA Finals after a three-year hiatus. Boston came back from a 2–1 deficit to defeat the Lakers for their 15th championship. Bird renewed his college rivalry with Lakers star Magic Johnson during this series. After the season Auerbach officially retired as general manager but maintained the position of team president. He was succeeded by Jan Volk, who had been with the Celtics since graduating from Columbia Law School in 1971, serving as the team’s General Counsel since 1976 and assistant general manager since 1980. In his first major transaction Volk made an offseason deal with the Seattle SuperSonics to send Henderson in return for their first round pick in the 1986 NBA draft.
In 1985, the Lakers and Celtics met again in the championship round, with the Lakers winning.This was the first time the Lakers had defeated the Celtics in the finals, and the only time the team won a championship at Boston Garden. During the following off-season, the Celtics acquired Bill Walton from the Los Angeles Clippers in exchange for Cedric Maxwell. Walton had been an All-Star and league MVP while leading the Portland Trail Blazers to the 1977 NBA championship, but injuries had hobbled him since. Considering the talent Boston had in its frontcourt – Robert Parish emerging as an All-Star center and one more future Hall of Famers – Walton was willing to come off the bench to help the team. Considered the best passing center in NBA history, he stayed healthy and was a big part of the Celtics’ success in 1986.
Dennis Johnson was a key contributor to the “Big Three” title teams of the 1980s.
In 1985–86, the Celtics fielded one of the best teams in NBA history. The team went 67-15, winning all but one game at home. Bird won his third consecutive MVP award and Walton took home the Sixth Man of the Year Award. The Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets in the NBA Finals in six games, the franchise’s 16th championship and last of the 20th century.
The Celtics won the second pick in the 1986 NBA draft after a remarkably poor year by the Seattle Supersonics, whose draft pick rights had been included in the 1984 trade of Gerald Henderson. They drafted University of Maryland star Len Bias, one of the most heralded prospects of his era. Bias died 48 hours later of an accidental cocaine overdose. Despite the loss the Celtics remained competitive in 1986–87, going 59–23 and again winning the Eastern Conference Championship. Injuries to key players led to a Lakers series win in six games.
In 1988, the Celtics lost in six games to future champion Detroit Pistons in the Eastern Conference Finals. Following the season, head coach K.C. Jones retired and was replaced by assistant Jimmy Rodgers. Boston’s hopes for 1988–89 faded when only 6 games into the season Larry Bird underwent a procedure to remove bone spurs in his feet. Bird did not play until after the All-Star Break, and the Celtics won just 42 games before a first round playoff defeat to the Detroit Pistons, who would go on to win the championship. Bird returned in 1989–90 and led the Celtics to a 52–30 record. In the playoffs the Celtics collapsed after winning the first two games in a best-of-five series against the New York Knicks, losing 3 straight, including the decisive fifth game at Boston Garden. Rodgers was consequently fired and replaced by assistant coach and former Celtics’ player Chris Ford.