On February 12, 1984, the Atlanta Hawks (28-23) went up against the Los Angeles Lakers (32-17). More importantly, Doc Rivers – a rookie point guard from Marquette University – went up against Magic Johnson — the first of their 13 matchups in the NBA.
The Purple and Gold came out on top 108-87, and the Lakers icon completely outplayed the 22-year-old Rivers. He finished the game with a triple-double — 23 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists. Rivers, on the other hand, had 4 points, 2 assists, and 3 steals in 24 minutes as a starter.
The other 12 matchups went pretty much the same. Magic came out victorious nine times, leaving Doc with only three career wins against the Johnson-led Lakers. Rivers averaged 14.9/2.5/5.9 in those games, and Magic put up 20/7.8/12.7 on .521/.350/832 shooting splits — enough for Doc to declare him his toughest matchup in the NBA.
The toughest guy for me to guard was Magic. I was a great defender, and I’d get up into him the first game, and he had that smirk like he’s looking over talking to me, and it pissed me off, I’m not gonna lie.Doc Rivers, All The Smoke
The smirk only aggravated guarding Magic, but the thing that made it impossible for Doc to contain him was his frame. At 6-9, 215 pounds, Johnson was a mismatch for most of the guys in the league at the time — 6-4 Rivers included. But despite that, the current 76ers head coach doesn’t see the Lakers superstar as the best guy he had to face. Talent and skill-wise, another guy stood out during Doc’s playing career.
There’s not a lot you can do with it ’cause he was so big. He was a big dude. So for me, he was the hardest because of the size, but Michael was the best I had to guard.Doc Rivers, All The Smoke
Rivers already publicized his stance on the GOAT debate, labeling Jordan as the greatest to ever do it, despite the fact LeBron James “will have the greatest career ever.” That’s a unique argument on its own, and Doc used the same logic when indirectly comparing Magic to MJ.
Rivers obviously has Michael higher on his All-Time list but singles out Johnson as the toughest matchup from his 13-year NBA career. All the point guards from his time would probably say the same thing.