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1986 NBA Season – Memorable Team, Memorable Performance

April 4, 2014


The memorable performance came against the memorable team *photo courtesy of CNN Sports Illustrated

And so was the theme again.  The Celtics and Lakers were going to play for the championship for the third consecutive season.  The rest of the season was just preludes to that.  However, unlike 1985 one of those teams would run across a challenge in their conference.

As for the rest of the league, there still were the young stars.  Patrick Ewing led the rookie class while Michael Jordan powered the sophomore class.

Jordan and the Bulls’ opening game of the season against Cleveland ended up deciding the last playoff spot in the East.

October 25, 1985 – Cleveland Cavaliers 115 @Chicago Bulls 116 (OT)

The Bulls had a lot of turnover from their 1985 team.  On draft day, the Bulls had swapped 1st round picks with the Cavs.  Chicago got Charles Oakley and Cleveland got Keith Lee and Ennis Whatley.  The day before the draft, the Bulls traded Steve Johnson to San Antonio for Gene Banks.  Wes Matthews was waived in July.  Caldwell Jones signed with Portland.  And a day before this game, the Bulls acquired George ‘Iceman’ Gervin from San Antonio for David Greenwood.  Rod Higgins was also waived to make room for Gervin.  The Bulls also had to deal with the Quintin Dailey saga.  Dailey missed this game and several others in the early season because of being admitted to a rehab facility.  He played in 35 games before being suspended for the season.

The Bulls also signed former Phoenix Sun Kyle Macy as a free agent.  They were 4 days away from signing John Paxson.  Macy, Gervin, Banks and Oakley joined the holdovers – Jordan, Orlando Woolridge, Sidney Green, Dave Corzine and Jawann Oldham.  Oldham was starting at center for this game while Corzine got an icy boo from the Chicago Stadium crowd (sure, it probably didn’t help that he performed under expectations, but Corzine was also brought to Chicago for Artis Gilmore in 1982).

Cleveland had significantly less turnover.  Whatley only played 8 games with the Cavs (not including this one) before being released in December.  Keith Lee didn’t start playing until December because of injuries.  Other than those two, the only newcomer on Cleveland was Dirk Minniefield, who had been drafted by Dallas in 1983 but hadn’t played a game until this one.

The starting lineup of Roy Hinson, Phil Hubbard and Mark West in the front-court as well as John Bagley and World B. Free in the back-court was the same from 1985, when they made the playoffs for the first time in 7 years and proved to be a challenge for top-seeded Boston.  The reserves of Melvin Turpin, Edgar Jones, Ron Anderson and Ben Poquette were back.  Veteran leader Lonnie Shelton wouldn’t be back until December.  This was Shelton’s last season in the league.

A subplot of the early part of this game was the young-veteran two-guard matchup between Jordan and Free.  Jordan’s first basket was a double-pump jumper from the baseline to give Chicago a 6-2 lead.  But Free tied it at 6 when he hit a step-back jumper from the wing over MJ.

Jordan led the Bulls to a five-point lead when he found Oldham for a layup and then hit a double-pump banker from the elbow.  Woolridge was also off to a great start as he finished with 10 1st quarter points, highlighted by a reverse breakaway slam.  But Free kept the Cavs within striking distance.  On one play, he drove right past MJ and finished against Corzine at the basket.

A pull-up three by World tied the game at 28 late in the quarter and gave Free 15 points.  Minniefield then got a steal and layup and Cleveland led 30-28 going into the 2nd quarter after trailing most of the 1st quarter.

The Cavs took an early four-point lead before Chicago went on an 8-0 run.  First, Jordan hit from the top of the key.  Then Macy hit a three and on the next possession found Corzine on the break for a banker and a foul.  The crowd then got more into the game when Gervin checked in.  Iceman hit two jumpers but didn’t play many minutes because of being traded to the team the day before.  While, Gervin played some great games for the Bulls (especially when MJ was out), he was more-or-less out of the rotation by the end of the season, which was his last in the NBA.

The Bulls grabbed a 54-52 lead at the half as Jordan had 14 points and Woolridge 12.  Free was still at 15 after not scoring in the 2nd quarter.

The Bulls came out flying in the third as Jordan hit a pull-up from the wing and then found Oldham in transition for a slam.  The Bulls eventually took a 67-57 lead when Oakley found Jordan on a backdoor cut for a layup.  Then Macy fed Woolridge in transition for a slam over a standing Mark West and a foul on West.  The three-point play gave Chicago a 70-57 lead.

Cleveland went on a 10-0 run as Free and Bagley got breakaways and then Bagley hit a fallaway in the lane over Gervin.  On the next possession, MJ committed his 4th foul on a clear-out after an offensive rebound.  Before the Bulls could get Jordan out, Free drove against him 1-on-1 and scored to cut the lead to 72-69.  Then on a 2-on-1 break, Bagley found Free.  World banged into Jordan (who simply was trying but couldn’t get out of the way), scored and drew MJ’s 5th foul.  The three-point play tied the game.

However, Woolridge (with help from Oakley and Corzine, both of whom would be starting with Woolridge in the Bulls frontcourt at playoff time) helped the Bulls gain a 79-77 lead going into the 4th quarter and then maintain an 89-88 lead halfway through the 4th before a Ron Anderson three-point play gave Cleveland the lead.

Jordan came back in after that play with 6:20 left.  But Cleveland maintained its lead as Sidney Green fouled out for Chicago.  A Bagley up-and-under layup gave Cleveland a 103-98 lead with just under 3:00 left.  But then for the rest of the game, Corzine proved his worth to the crowd and perhaps changed some boos to cheers.

First, Corzine rebounded a Macy airball and scored on a Roy Hinson goaltending to cut the lead to 103-100.  Then Corzine got a defensive rebound and Woolridge hit a pull-up from the baseline to cut the lead to one.  However, on Cleveland’s next possession they got 4 shots.  Finally, Free hit from the top of the key with a foot on the three-point line at the end of the shot clock.  This gave the Cavs a 105-102 lead with 1:00 left.

But then the Cavs almost self-destructed in a big way.  Macy missed a three but Phil Hubbard committed a loose-ball foul on Woolridge.  Hubbard didn’t think so and argued to the point of getting a technical (it’s one thing to say that this is the worst time of the game to get a tech but it’s another to think that the last thing an official wants to do is call a tech in the last minute of a close game).  Chicago could tie the game with three free throws.

Macy hit the technical but Woolridge only made 1-of-2 with 50 seconds left.  Cleveland ran down the clock but Bagley missed a runner and Corzine rebounded.  Jordan and Woolridge each missed a shot before Oldham got another offensive rebound and was fouled with 12 seconds left.  Jawann made the first to tie it but missed the second.  However, Woolridge got the offensive rebound on a long bounce and Chicago got a timeout with 10 seconds left.

As if you know what’s coming, they gave the ball to Jordan on a clear-out from the top.  MJ missed a leaner and the Bulls missed two tip attempts as the buzzer went off and the game was going into overtime.

MJ made up for his miss by taking over in the early part of the overtime (remember all of his 4th quarter and overtime action was with 5 fouls, and no there wasn’t a ‘Jordan got away with one’ non-call.. not this time).  First, Macy kicked out to him for a jumper at the top of the key.  Later he hit from the elbow and then from the deep wing at the end of the shot clock.  His latest basket gave the Bulls a 113-106 lead with 1:58 left.

But then the game turned around way too quickly.  Hinson slammed over Oldham and drew Jawann’s 6th foul.  Hinson missed the free throw but after a Bulls miss at the end of the shot clock, 6’9″ Gentle Ben Poquette nailed a pull-up three on a prototypical ‘NO-NO-NO, YESSSSSSSS!’ shot.  Then Bagley got a steal and Minniefield a layup to tie the game at 113.

Jordan missed from the wing and Gene Banks (who came in the game for Oldham) fouled Hinson on the rebound.  Roy hit two free throws with 53 seconds left to give the Cavs a 115-113 lead.  But after a timeout, Woolridge drove and drew Hubbard’s 6th foul.  Orlando made the two free throws for his 35th point to tie the game.

Bagley then missed and the Bulls got the ball back.  Jordan drew a foul on a leaner with 22 seconds left.  MJ missed the first shot but hit the second for a 1-point lead.  The Cavs went to Hinson.  Roy missed from the post over a lunging Woolridge and Jordan with 8 seconds left.  Corzine got the rebound and everybody ran away from him (as if it was a normal defensive rebound in the middle of the game instead of in the last seconds with the trailing team, Cleveland, needing to foul).

Corzine stood there and ran out the clock and Chicago took an opening-game win.

However, 4 days later when the Bulls traveled to Golden State to play the Warriors.  Jordan broke his foot during the Bulls’ 111-105 win.  Jordan missed the next 64 games while the Bulls struggled mightily.  Chicago was 3-0 after their win in Golden State, but when Jordan returned on March 15 in a game against the Bucks, the Bulls loss to Milwaukee dropped them to 24-44.

Ironically, that same day a Cavs loss to New Jersey dropped them to 25-42.  And despite still being in the 8th playoff spot with that record, Cleveland fired coach George Karl the next day.

Cleveland and Chicago ended up playing on the last day of the season.  Cleveland won at home but that didn’t end up deciding a playoff spot.  Chicago finished at 30-52 and Cleveland at 29-53.  The Cavs 7-game losing streak before that last win proved to have done them in.

And while the Bulls were swept by Boston, they did play that memorable game versus the memorable team.

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Roy Hinson (21) – Small Forward

Phil Hubbard (6) – Power Forward

Mark West (6) – Center

John Bagley (14) – Point Guard

World B. Free (27) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Melvin Turpin (6)

Edgar Jones (6)

Dirk Minniefield (11)

Ron Anderson (13)

Ben Poquette (5)

Cleveland Coach: George Karl

Chicago starters (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (35) – Small Forward

Sidney Green (10) – Power Forward

Jawann Oldham (12) – Center

Kyle Macy (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (29) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

George Gervin (4)

Gene Banks (2)

Charles Oakley (5)

Dave Corzine (11)

Chicago Coach: Stan Albeck

December 25, 1985 – Boston Celtics 104 @New York Knicks 113 (2OT)

Early on the 1986 season, the Boston Celtics weren’t quite the dominant team they would become later.  More than anything, Larry Bird’s shooting was down as he was starting to battle the back problems that eventually hindered his career.  Bird hurt his back over the summer shoveling gravel for a new driveway.

Also, the Celtics bench was new and hadn’t quite come together yet.  The only bench players remaining from the 1985 playoff team was the only two players who played in Game 6 versus the Lakers, Scott Wedman and Greg Kite.  M.L. Carr retired.  Quinn Buckner was traded to Indiana for a future draft pick (the Celtics later traded that draft pick and another future one back to Indiana for Jerry Sichting).  Ray Williams signed with the L.A. Clippers.  Carlos Clark was waived.  And in perhaps the biggest and most surprising move of all, Cedric Maxwell was traded to the Clippers for Bill Walton.

Walton, Wedman and Sichting proved to eventually be the keys off the bench in 1986.  The Celtics also signed David Thirdkill and drafted Sam Vincent to help out.  Despite a very good 21-6 record going into the New York game, the Celtics weren’t quite what they would become.

For the Knicks, their big move was drafting Patrick Ewing with the #1 pick in the 1985 draft.  They also drafted Gerald Wilkins in the 2nd round.  Gerald was Dominique Wilkins’ brother and would prove to be a wise pick by New York as well.  Other than that, the roster was filled with holdovers from their 24-58 1985 team.  So naturally, the Knicks were 9-19 going into this game and, with averaging 95 points per game in the early season, were the lowest scoring team in the NBA since the 1957 Rochester Royals (a really hard stat for me to believe but it is true.. maybe I’m just used to watching today’s NBA).

Furthermore, Bernard King was still recovering from his torn ACL and was out for the season, although he was sitting on the bench.  Bill Cartwright would also be out for all but 2 games with a broken foot.  So the Knicks, along with Ewing and Wilkins, trotted out Rory Sparrow and Trent Tucker in their starting back court as well as Louis Orr and Pat Cummings at the forwards.  The bench consisted of Darrell Walker, Ken Bannister, James Bailey and Ernie Grunfeld (who was in his last season).

The scoring came very slowly as the Celtics early-season struggles from the field came to life and the Knicks’ struggle to score points also manifested itself.  Bird, despite not shooting well, did have some highlights in the first quarter with a left-handed runner off the glass and then a turnaround jumper from the baseline to put Boston up 23-14 at the end of the 1st quarter.

The Knicks got back into it a little bit in the 2nd quarter with the Celtics’ bench in the game.  A Sparrow alley-oop to Ewing helped cut the lead to 37-30.  But Kevin McHale got a three-point play and later Bird hit a three.  A Robert Parish follow-up of a McHale miss with 3 seconds left put Boston up 46-32 at the half.

The in the 2nd half, Dennis Johnson led Parish for a layup and then D.J. fed McHale for a driving layup.  Later, Parish hit a turnaround from the post and Danny Ainge hit two free throws after a breakaway foul was called on Tucker.  Then Bird hit a banker from the wing at the end of the shot clock after a spin move.  Boston eventually led 58-33 and the crowd at MSG was booing soundly.

But then when the Celtics bench came back in, the Knicks put on the press and went on a 10-0 run despite Ewing committing his 4th foul.  The run concluded when Sparrow went coast-to-coast.  After Ainge found Wedman for a wing jumper to halt the run, Sparrow hit two more field goals.  The key to the Knicks along with the press was that Sparrow was pushing the tempo.  The Knicks under Hubie Brown were usually a plodding half-court team but that had only yielded them 33 points in about 30 minutes.

Boston regained a 63-47 lead after a Walton runner.  But after James Bailey made a free throw, the Knicks put on the trap at half court and forced a turnover from Sichting.  Wilkins got the steal and ignited the crowd with a right-handed flying slam with 8 seconds left in the quarter.  The Celtics then turned it over with 2 seconds left.  A long pass then went to Bailey in the lane.  James hit a turnaround and was fouled with 1 second left.  The three-point play cut the Celtics’ lead to 63-53 at the end of the third.

While Gerald Wilkins continued to spark the Knicks off the bench, the Celtics held to a 77-67 lead halfway through the 4th quarter.  Ewing had come back in and scored 6 points to cut that lead.  But after a timeout, Tucker found Sparrow for a wing jumper and Orr scored on a putback after two missed free throws from Sparrow and was fouled.  That three-point play cut it to 77-72.

Ewing twice answered Celtics points with turnaround bankers from the post.  Then his double-pump bank shot from the post cut the Celtics lead to 82-80.  Ewing had scored the last 8 Knick points.  A McHale field goal and two free throws put Boston back up 86-80 and New York called a timeout with 1:51 left.

On the inbounds, Ewing went to the basket.  He missed but followed it up for a field goal.  Then a minute later, Ewing’s jumper in the lane cut the lead to 86-84.  D.J., who was struggling from the field with a sprained wrist, missed a driving hook shot and then fouled Sparrow in the back court with 34 seconds left.  Rory hit both to tie the game.

Without a timeout, Bird patiently waited at the wing for McHale to get open in the post.  McHale did get the ball but Ewing came over and blocked his shot.  Ewing was calling for the ball at the offensive end as the Knicks went in transition without a timeout.  But they couldn’t (or wouldn’t) give him the ball and Cummings missed from the elbow.  D.J.’s desperation shot missed at the buzzer and the game was going to overtime.

A Sparrow jumper from the top of the key gave the Knicks their first lead of the ballgame to start overtime.  But Ainge came back with a pull-up from the foul line.  Ewing lunged at the shot and injured his knee on the landing.  While Patrick did come back in this one, the knee cost him the next three games and then several in the 2nd half of the season as he only played in 5 games after missing the All-Star game.

The Knicks stayed with Boston as Louis Orr hit two field goals before fouling out.  Cummings also fouled out as Bird and McHale combined for 5 free throws to give Boston a 97-92 lead with 1:09 left.  After a New York timeout, Ewing got the ball at the top again.  He crossed-over and drove down the lane for a score.  Bird then missed from the wing but Wilkins turned it over at the Knick end with 38 seconds left.

But Bird again missed from the baseline as the shot clock was winding down and Ewing rebounded.  New York called a timeout with 16 seconds left, down three.  Parish almost stole an inbounds pass intended for Ewing.  But Patrick recovered it and fed Trent Tucker in the corner for a three.  The game was tied with 11 seconds left and Boston got a timeout this time.

Ainge, after the ball was inbounded, was trying to find Bird but Larry was covered well.  So Ainge went to the baseline, pulled up and missed.  McHale got the rebound but Grunfeld blocked his shot and the game was going into a 2nd overtime.

Boston started the 2nd overtime well as Parish fed D.J. on a back door cut for a reverse.  But Grunfeld came back with a wing jumper.  Then Ewing hit a turnaround banker over Parish from inside and Wilkins drove down the lane for a finger roll.  After McHale hit a free throw, Ken Bannister hit a pull-up from the elbow and Sparrow got a steal and layup for a 107-100 Knick lead.

Boston called timeout with 2:37 left.  But after Bird missed another wing jumper to finish 8-for-27, the Knicks salted away the game from the foul line as the Celtics slowly took out their tired starters.

Boston would rebound to win 8 of their next 9 games before heading to Atlanta for the next game on this list.  New York would finish the season at 23-59 but Ewing would win rookie-of-the-year.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (23) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (29) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (24) – Center

Dennis Johnson (8) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (4) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Scott Wedman (2)

Bill Walton (4)

Jerry Sichting (4)

Rick Carlisle (4)

Sam Vincent (0)

Greg Kite (2)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

New York starters (points scored)

Louis Orr (10) – Small Forward

Pat Cummings (6) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (32) – Center

Rory Sparrow (22) – Point Guard

Trent Tucker (7) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Gerald Wilkins (14)

Darrell Walker (0)

Ken Bannister (8)

James Bailey (8)

Ernie Grunfeld (6)

New York Coach: Hubie Brown

ewing 1986

Patrick Ewing won rookie of the year in 1985-86 and led the Knicks to a memorable comeback victory over Boston on Christmas Day 1985 *photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated tumblr

January 18, 1986 – Boston Celtics 125 @Atlanta Hawks 122 (OT)

The Boston Celtics were starting to come on.  They had won 8 of 9 since losing at New York on Christmas Day and had won 4 in a row.  But the first half of this game showed how far they may still need to come.

The Atlanta Hawks had started the season at 8-11 but had won 13 of their last 18 games.  Dominique Wilkins still led the way offensively with veteran center Tree Rollins anchoring them defensively.  Rollins and point guard Eddie Johnson (who would be traded to Cleveland for Johnny Davis in less than a month) were the only ones remaining from the pre-Dominique era.

Doc Rivers and Randy Wittman arrived in the 1983 draft (Wittman was acquired for Tom McMillen).  Antoine Carr and Cliff Levingston arrived from Detroit for Dan Roundfield.  Kevin Willis was selected in the 1984 draft.  Jon Koncak was selected at #5 in the 1985 draft.  Spud Webb was signed after the 5’7″ dunker was drafted and waived by Detroit.  This was how Atlanta acquired its talent around Wilkins that was starting to make noise.

They made noise in the first half of this game in front of the largest crowd at the Omni.  Wilkins scored six straight points to put Atlanta up 18-14.  Then after Larry Bird banked one in for his 10th point, the Hawks ran off another 8 consecutive points with Willis and Dominique each getting 4.

The Celtics’ problem with the Hawks was that because of the talent around Wilkins, Bird couldn’t hide defensively and had to play Dominique.  While Bird used positioning to try and force a jump shot, Wilkins was attacking him early and scoring.  Also, the Hawks’ ‘athletes’ were getting on the offensive boards and making second and third shots.  Also, Spud Webb’s quickness was a factor.  Webb ended the 1st quarter with a driving banker to put Atlanta up 34-25.

Antoine Carr started the 2nd quarter with two baskets and then Eddie Johnson found Levingston out on the break for a slam.  Boston called timeout down 40-27, but it didn’t help much.  Levingston put back a Johnson miss and then Webb got out for a breakaway.  The Celtics called another timeout down 46-31.

Boston had to call a third timeout after Doc Rivers got a steal and slam and then found Wittman for a jumper from the top of the key.  Atlanta was now up 54-35.  Rivers would later get accidentally scratched in the eyeball on a reach-in from Ainge and be out for the half and ineffective for most of the rest of the game.

But the Hawks kept flying.  Rollins’ three-point play on a put back gave the Hawks a 20-point lead.  Later, a Wilkins banker on the drive gave the Hawks a 22-point lead.  Wilkins later hit an incredible shot while being grabbed in the lane.  That three-point play put Atlanta up 68-47 and then Eddie Johnson drove down the lane for a 23-point lead.  A Kevin McHale free throw cut it to 70-48 at the half.

Larry Bird and the Celtics came out for the 2nd half with fire in his eyes.  The Celtics at times seemed bored during the season and needed stuff to psyche them up.  The Hawks grabbing a 70-48 halftime lead and trash-talking did the trick.  Don’t poke the bear.  Bird started the half with two jumpers and later his wing jumper followed by two free throws cut the Hawks lead to 74-58.

Later, Bird hit a floating jumper after a spin in transition and then his fallaway cut the lead to 76-64.  When Larry put back a Dennis Johnson miss on the break, Boston had cut the lead to 77-68.  And when Larry hit a fallaway banker, Boston had cut it to 81-73.

Other Celtics contributed to their 3rd quarter charge as well.  Most notably, Scott Wedman hit a big three after Atlanta regained an 84-73 lead.  Then Wedman tipped in a Bird miss.  When Bird kicked to D.J. for a jumper from the top, Boston cut the lead to 88-80 going into the 4th quarter.

Rivers had his best post-eyeball scratch stretch when he scored 6 of the first 8 Atlanta points in the 4th quarter as the Hawks regained a 96-84 lead.  But Rivers was mostly on the bench down the stretch in favor of Eddie Johnson at the point.  D.J. found Wedman for a wing jumper and Robert Parish hit a turnaround from the post.  Then Atlanta had to call a timeout after Bill Walton hit a jump hook from the post.  Boston was down 96-90.

The timeout didn’t help Atlanta much.  Ainge found Wedman for a corner jumper and then Bird found Parish on a pick-and-roll for a reverse.  The Hawks called another timeout, only up two.  Again, it didn’t help much.  Parish tipped in a Bird miss to tie the game and then a Wedman jumper from the elbow gave the Celtics a 98-96 lead.

At this point, it was almost as if the Hawks were saying “O.K. they actually came back and took the lead, let’s play now.”  Wilkins hit two free throws and then found Rollins for a slam.  Then Dominique hit a hook from inside to give Atlanta a 102-100 lead.  After McHale tied it with a baseline jumper, Wittman hit a bank shot and then Tree Rollins got a steal.  Rollins’ outlet started a great passing Hawks break in which Johnson found Wittman, who hit a cutting Levingston for a layup and a foul.  Atlanta led 107-102 after the three-point play and Boston called a timeout with 3:00 left.

But the Hawks went back into protecting-the-lead mode.  Parish hit two free throws and then D.J. swung it to Wedman for a wing jumper.  Wilkins then missed his second straight shot and Parish gave Boston a 108-107 lead when his turnaround from the post got the roll.

After an Atlanta timeout with just over 1:00 left, Wilkins drew McHale’s 6th foul.  But he missed both free throws and when Parish found Bird at the wing for a jumper, Boston led 110-107 with 48 seconds left.  Atlanta used another timeout.

Wilkins got it at the wing and just pulled up for a three off the inbounds.  He made it and the game was tied.  But then Bird drew a foul that drew the ire of every Hawk.  With 28 seconds left, Bird gave Boston a 112-110 lead with two free throws.  But Eddie Johnson came right back with a driving layup.  Boston called a timeout with 20 seconds left.

They were trying to pop Bird out to the top to get a shot off at the buzzer.  But Larry couldn’t break open, so D.J. found Parish in the post.  Chief, almost reluctantly, took a turnaround jumper at the buzzer that may have been a bit out of his normal range.  It hit the back rim and the game was headed to overtime.

The extra period started back-and-forth until a Walton tip-in of a Parish miss and then a D.J. driving layup after a hesitation move outside gave Boston a 120-116 lead.  Willis tipped in a Rollins miss to cut the lead back to 120-118 but Atlanta missed two shots that could have tied the game.

D.J. made a free throw with 32 seconds left to give Boston a 121-118 lead.  Then Eddie Johnson was fouled on a drive but he could only split the free throws.  Bird then put the game away with 4 free throws.

For the Celtics, their winning streak went to 13 games going into the All-Star break.  A few Hawks would make an impact at the All-Star break in Dallas.  Most notably, Spud Webb won the dunk contest against reigning champion Dominique Wilkins.  Dominique also made his All-Star Game debut.

The Hawks finished 50-32 and gave the Celtics their only playoff loss before the NBA Finals in 1986.  But Boston beat them back 4-1 in the Semifinals, putting them away with a 36-6 scoring advantage in the third quarter of the clinching Game 5, this included a 25-0 run.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (41) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (20) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (22) – Center

Dennis Johnson (9) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (0) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Scott Wedman (21)

Bill Walton (10)

Jerry Sichting (2)

David Thirdkill (0)

Rick Carlisle (0)

Greg Kite (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (36) – Small Forward

Kevin Willis (12) – Power Forward

Tree Rollins (5) – Center

Doc Rivers (14) – Point Guard

Randy Wittman (10) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

Eddie Johnson (13)

Cliff Levingston (15)

Jon Koncak (5)

Spud Webb (8)

Antoine Carr (4)

John Battle (0)

Atlanta Coach: Mike Fratello

February 9, 1986 – All-Star Game @Dallas: East 139, West 132

Not only was this the All-Star weekend that 5’7″ Spud Webb won the dunk contest but where Larry Bird won the first three-point shootout.

The game was entertaining as well, even if it didn’t really have a signature moment.  This was the only All-Star Game that Michael Jordan missed in his career, because of his broken foot.

Magic Johnson started it by dishing the ball off.  First, he alley-ooped to Ralph Sampson and then found Alvin Robertson for a slam on the break.  Later he found his Laker teammate James Worthy for a jumper.  Worthy then got a layup on a 3-on-2 break to give the West a 12-6 lead.

Worthy then finished an up-and-under on a 4-on-2 break to give the West an 8-point lead.  But Isiah Thomas came right back with a drive and a finish against Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.  Then Isiah got a steal and layup.  Worthy got a flying slam on the break after Kareem blocked a Julius Erving shot.  But Erving later scored 6 straight East points to cut the lead to 20-18.

The first quarter finished like that as the West led 36-34 going into the 2nd quarter.  Then off the bench, Artis Gilmore and Alex English contributed for the West.  But Dominique Wilkins got out for two dunk contest-worthy fast break slams to keep the East in it.

But the West gained a 53-44 lead when Kareem scored on a sky hook and then Magic found him on the break for a slam.  However, Isiah came back with a left-handed drive and then Larry Bird hit a three from the corner.  After a Kareem put back, Bird hit a left-handed hook in the post and then another three.  The lead was down to 56-54.

Later, when Bird outletted to the Doctor for a breakaway reverse slam, the East led 62-60.  Isiah got a steal and layup for a 4-point lead.  Then Moses Malone got a rebound and outletted to Isiah, who found Sidney Moncrief for a slam and a foul.  The three-point play completed an 11-0 East run and gave them a 67-60 lead.  The West cut it back to 69-66 at the half.

After an Isiah crossover and left-handed drive for a 71-66 East lead, Worthy scored 6 straight points to put the West in front.  The action continued back-and-forth until the East gained an 84-80 lead when Wilkins got a 360 layup on the break.  Later, Dominique did it again to finish against Kareem.

But the West came back as Sampson and their bench led the charge.  Clyde Drexler found English for a reverse layup for a 98-96 lead.  Drexler then finished the quarter with two drives to give the West a 102-100 lead going into the 4th.

The West gained a 113-106 lead as Drexler, Gilmore, Adrian Dantley and Marques Johnson led the way.  It was mentioned that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in his 16 All-Star Game appearances, had not won the MVP.  With him having a good game, it was figured that the West would go to him to try and get him that MVP.

With the West up five, Kareem got a defensive rebound and outletted to Marques Johnson, who found Worthy for a flying slam and a 122-115 lead.  The East went on a 5-0 run as Bird and Isiah each got field goals and assists.  But Kareem put back a Worthy miss and then Magic found Sampson for a slam on the break.  Later, Kareem hit two free throws for a 128-121 West lead.

But Buck Williams came back with a turnaround in the lane and then Kevin McHale hit two free throws.  Hometown representative Rolando Blackman hit a jumper to stem the tide.  But then Moses Malone hit two free throws and then had a strong finish against Kareem to cut the West lead to 130-129.  Moses played most of the game in the middle as the East’s backup centers, Robert Parish and Patrick Ewing, either got little or no playing time (Ewing was out with an injured knee).

Isiah then got a steal from Kareem in the post when he doubled down.  Thomas was fouled on the break and hit two free throws for an East lead.  Magic then drove and lost the ball on a play where he seemed sure he was fouled.  Isiah pushed it right back and was fouled and, again, made both free throws.  Malone then rebounded a Sampson miss and the East seemed in control.

But Magic got a steal and was fouled.  He made two free throws with 1:11 left to cut the East lead to 133-132.  But Buck Williams followed up a Malone miss for a three-point lead.  The West couldn’t score but got another chance when Kareem got a steal.  But Magic badly missed a three from the wing and Bird got a breakaway to pretty much seal the game.

Instead of Kareem getting his first MVP, Isiah got his 2nd MVP with 30 points and 10 assists.  Kareem would never get an All-Star MVP, but then again he never really liked the All-Star Game anyway.  It was simply rest that other players got that he didn’t get.

East starters (teams) and point totals

Larry Bird (Boston Celtics) 23 – Small Forward

Julius Erving (Philadelphia 76ers) 8 – Power Forward

Moses Malone (Philadelphia 76ers) 16 – Center

Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons) 30 – Point Guard

Sidney Moncrief (Milwaukee Bucks) 16 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Buck Williams (New Jersey Nets) 13

Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks) 13

Jeff Malone (Washington Bullets) 6

Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics) 8

Maurice Cheeks (Philadelphia 76ers) 6

Robert Parish (Boston Celtics) 0

Patrick Ewing (New York Knicks) dressed but didn’t play

East Coach: K.C. Jones (Boston Celtics)

West starters (teams) and point totals

James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers) 20 – Small Forward

Ralph Sampson (Houston Rockets) 16 – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers) 21 – Center

Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers) 6 – Point Guard

Alvin Robertson (San Antonio Spurs) 4 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

Rolando Blackman (Dallas Mavericks) 12

Artis Gilmore (San Antonio Spurs) 10

Alex English (Denver Nuggets) 16

Adrian Dantley (Utah Jazz) 8

Clyde Drexler (Portland Blazers) 10

Akeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) 3

Marques Johnson (Los Angeles Clippers) 6

West Coach: Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers)

kareem '86 asg

Kareem was going for his 1st All-Star Game MVP in his 16th appearance in 1986 *photo courtesy of Mitchell and Ness

February 14, 1986 – Boston Celtics 120 @Portland Blazers 119 (OT)

This was 5 games after the All-Star break and 2 days until the Boston Celtics would travel to the Forum and take on the Los Angeles Lakers in a nationally televised game.  So in essence, this was a trap game.  But the Celtics had lost their only game at Boston Garden of the season to Portland a few months earlier and had their 13-game winning streak snapped at Sacramento earlier in the week in their first game following the All-Star break.  Plus Kevin McHale, who had played the All-Star Game, was out with an achilles injury.

Portland was 29-26 coming into this game but they were slipping.  They had lost 4 games in a row and Jack Ramsay was altering his starting lineup.  Athletic Jerome Kersey was starting in one of his two games that season while Terry Porter was starting in one of the three games he would start all year.  Although these guys were starting for a rare time in 1986, they would be heard from in the future of the Blazers.

Normal starters Clyde Drexler, Mychal Thompson and Steve Colter were coming off the bench.  Holdovers Jim Paxson and Kiki Vandeweghe were in the lineup along with Sam Bowie.  Bowie had missed a month with a broken left leg.  This was Bowie’s 3rd game back but, unfortunately, it was his last of the season as his leg wasn’t quite recovered.  Bowie would suffer various broken legs over the next few seasons and only played 5 games until February 2, 1989.

Robert Parish got three early field goals against Bowie to give the Celtics an 8-2 lead.  But Kiki Vandeweghe would score 11 of the Blazers first 17 points to bring them back.  Bird matched him and Boston led 28-25 after one quarter.  But Portland was getting mileage from its lineup as Kersey was playing well and Drexler and Colter were responding off the bench.

Portland gained a 49-46 lead when Drexler lobbed to Bowie for a slam.  But Bird tied it when Ainge found him for a corner three.  The ties continued until halftime, when the score was 55-all.  Paxson and Kersey got the first two field goals of the second half but Scott Wedman, who was in the lineup for McHale, tied it again with two bank shots.

This trend continued throughout the rest of the quarter until Boston finished with an 8-2 run and led 87-81 going into the 4th.  After a Jerry Sichting jumper gave Boston an 8-point lead, Portland cut back into it with six free throws.

Bird hit two field goals to try and fend them off but Colter hit a three and Porter another field goal to cut the Celtics lead to 95-92.  Bird then hit a tough double-pump left-handed shot in the lane and was fouled.  He missed the free throw but the Celtics regained a 99-94 lead when Bill Walton hit a hook in the lane.  Walton, the former Blazer who led them to a championship, got a nice ovation in the pre-game that was extended a few seconds.  But Bill fouled out and wasn’t a factor in the game.

Portland cut it to one but Bowie committed his 5th foul and Bird put back his own miss.  Portland finally tied it at 103 a few minutes later when Colter got a steal and layup.  Dennis Johnson hit two free throws.  Drexler scored on a baseline drive and was fouled but missed the free throw.  D.J. drove down the lane for a score.  Drexler hit two free throws with 1:02 left to tie the game at 107.

Then the Blazers got a 3-on-2 break where Drexler found Vandeweghe for a layup and Boston called timeout with 41 seconds left.  After the inbounds, Colter got a steal from Ainge and Portland had the ball with 35 seconds left leading by two.  They ran down the shot clock cut Drexler missed on the drive.

Boston took it in transition and D.J. found Bird for a pull-up from the elbow with 6 seconds left to tie the game at 109.  Portland called timeout but didn’t get off much of a shot as Kiki missed against a double team.

Bird hit an elbow jumper and D.J. got a three-point play, but Portland came back to lead 115-114.  However, D.J.’s corner jumper with 1:00 left put Boston back up 116-115.  Colter hit two free throws and Parish hit a hook shot.  Portland called timeout with 37 seconds left.

They gave it to Kiki Vandeweghe, who drove the lane and dished to Jerome Kersey.  Kersey banked it in with 17 seconds left.  Jerome had had his career-high (at that point) 22 points in Portland’s win at Boston Garden.  He had another 21 in this game.

After a Boston timeout, the ball found Bird at the wing guarded by Kersey.  Bird drove head down into the lane and Kersey stayed with him.  But then suddenly, Bird pulled up and had only an inch of daylight.  That was all he needed to nail the jumper with 3 seconds left.

It turned out to be Bird’s 2nd game-winner against Portland in two years as Kersey missed the Blazers last attempt at the buzzer and Portland had dropped 5 in a row.  It would get worse as Portland dropped 12 in a row in February.

The Blazers would finish at 40-42 and was the 6th seed in the West.  They would lose to Denver in 4 games the 1st round despite winning Game 2 in Denver.  Jack Ramsay would leave for the Indiana Pacers after 10 seasons on the Blazers bench and a 1977 Championship with Bill Walton.  Portland would finish with 49 and 53 wins in 1987 and 1988, respectively and earn home-court advantage in the 1st round.  But both years, they would lose in 4 games without winning a road playoff game.

All the while, taking the injured Bowie over Jordan was looking worse and worse.

Boston starters (points scored)

Scott Wedman (8) – Small Forward

Larry Bird (47) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (20) – Center

Dennis Johnson (29) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (2) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Bill Walton (6)

Jerry Sichting (2)

David Thirdkill (6)

Rick Carlisle (0)

Greg Kite (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

Portland starters (points scored)

Jerome Kersey (21) – Small Forward

Kiki Vandeweghe (38) – Power Forward

Sam Bowie (4) – Center

Terry Porter (6) – Point Guard

Jim Paxson (10) – Shooting Guard

Portland bench (points scored)

Clyde Drexler (20)

Mychal Thompson (5)

Steve Colter (15)

Portland Coach: Jack Ramsay

February 28, 1986 – Philadelphia 76ers 123 @Dallas Mavericks 120

Once again a powerhouse team from the East traveled to take on a slumping Western Conference team.  The Philadelphia 76ers came into this game with a 37-21 record, which was 9 games behind Boston for the best record and 3.5 games behind the Milwaukee Bucks for the 2nd best record in the East.

The 76ers new coach Matt Guokas had moved Julius Erving to the back court after Andrew Toney would miss most of the season with foot injuries.  Erving and Cheeks started along with Bobby Jones, Charles Barkley and Moses Malone.  Third-year guard Sedale Threatt was coming along as a reserve and the 76ers had signed Bob McAdoo a month earlier.

The Dallas Mavericks came into this game at 29-28 (still good for 4th in the West) and on a 5-game losing streak.  The Mavericks had grabbed three 1st round picks in 1985 and selected Detlef Schrempf, Bill Wennington and Uwe Blab.  Each would struggle.  To try and solve their issues at center, Dallas had traded Kurt Nimphius to the Clippers for James Donaldson in the first month of the season.

Donaldson joined a stellar lineup of Mark Aguirre, Rolando Blackman, Sam Perkins and Derek Harper with Jay Vincent, Brad Davis and Dale Ellis coming off the bench.  The problem though with this stellar lineup was defense and the fact that were 9-19 against teams that were .500 or above.

But Dallas got off to a good start in this one as Blackman and Aguirre each hit two field goals and Donaldson and Perkins contributed to give the Mavs a 12-4 lead.  They would hold that lead throughout the 1st quarter as they got out on the break and executed their offense, both of which contributed to their hot shooting.

Aguirre scored 12 points while Blackman contributed 11.  Dallas took a 33-22 lead into the 2nd quarter after Vincent hit a driving banker.

Dallas kept their lead at around the same margin throughout the 2nd quarter.  Aguirre scored 8 more points to lead the while.  Meanwhile, Barkley was hitting some jumpers from the top of the key and had a ‘Barkley is mad’ driving slam after committing a technical foul.  Sir Charles led the way with 12 points but Moses Malone was held to 6 and Maurice Cheeks 2.  Dallas led 61-51 at the half.

But Moses and Cheeks got going in the 2nd half as Philly exploited Dallas’ weak defense.  A 6-0 run cut the lead to 69-66.  But that wouldn’t be the biggest run of the 3rd.  After Dallas established a 77-71 lead on a Harper jumper, Malone hit a face-up jumper and later a free throw after Donaldson committed his 4th foul.

Then Threatt got a steal and layup and Cheeks did the same to give the 76ers the lead.  Cheeks then found Barkley for a slam.  Erving rebounded a Cheeks miss and hit on a reverse.  Malone hit a baseline jumper.  And then Barkley put back a Malone miss and Philly led 86-77.  They were on a 15-0 run.

Blackman cooled it with a three-point play but Philly was able to keep its lead for the rest of the quarter and led 92-86 going into the 4th.  The 76ers had 41 points in the 3rd quarter.

The final quarter started back-and-forth until Dallas put together back-to-back baskets from Perkins and Vincent to cut the lead to 98-96.  Then Barkley took over like Moses did in the 3rd.  Charles drove baseline for one layup.  Then he got a slam after a Bobby Jones feed.  Barkley then got a block on Aguirre (Charles playing defense?!?!) and scored at the other end when Cheeks found him for a jumper from the top of the key.

Then after Brad Davis faked like he was calling a timeout and drove for a layup, Barkley scored again on a putback and Philly led 106-98.  Dallas now had to call a real timeout.  But when Erving alley-ooped to Barkley for a slam, Philadelphia led 111-100.  Charles established an early career-high in this game.

But Dallas came back sparked by Dale Ellis.  After Aguirre hit a field goal, Ellis got a steal and breakaway plus the foul.  After that three-point play, Ellis hit the newer version by connecting from beyond the three-point line.  This cut the lead to 111-108 and forced a Philly timeout.

The 76ers came out of the timeout with a backdoor play and Erving alley-ooped to Barkley.  Charles, incredibly, finished with the left hand against two guys.  But Brad Davis, who played most of the 4th quarter with Ellis in the back court, hit a baseline jumper and then found Aguirre for a layup.  Then when Aguirre drove past Barkley down the lane for a score, Dallas led 114-113.

The 76ers came right back as Erving found Moses for a layup.  Then after Davis hit two free throws, Bobby Jones split a pair to tie it at 116 with 1:09 left.  Aguirre hit a pull-up from the baseline.  Barkley came back with two free throws.

Then after a Dallas timeout, Blackman drove and was fouled rebounding his own miss.  He hit both with 34 seconds left.  But Philly came back after a timeout and Cheeks hit Malone for a jumper in the lane.  Dallas didn’t call a timeout and ran down the clock for the last shot.

Finally, Davis found Aguirre at the wing beyond the three-point line.  But Mark just jacked up an airball without attacking.  Philly got the rebound and a timeout with 2 seconds left.  They inbounded from three-quarter court and THIS happened.

Seriously, how can I describe a once-in-a-lifetime game-winner.

Dallas would snap their losing streak in their next game and finish 4th in the West with a 44-38 record, which was the same record they had in 1985.  But unlike 1985, they beat their 1st round opponent, the Utah Jazz, and got to play the Lakers in the 2nd round.  That series will be covered later.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Bobby Jones (3) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (35) – Power Forward

Moses Malone (28) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (13) – Point Guard

Julius Erving (20) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Bob McAdoo (6)

Sedale Threatt (14)

Perry Moss (0)

Clemon Johnson (4)

Philadelphia Coach: Matt Guokas

Dallas starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (34) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (14) – Power Forward

James Donaldson (10) – Center

Derek Harper (9) – Point Guard

Rolando Blackman (29) – Shooting Guard

Dallas bench (points scored)

Jay Vincent (8)

Brad Davis (6)

Dale Ellis (8)

Uwe Blab (2)

Dallas Coach: Dick Motta

April 6, 1986 – Boston Celtics 94 @Philadelphia 76ers 95

Coming into this game the Boston Celtics were on a 14-game winning streak.  If they won out for the season, they would tie the 1972 L.A. Lakers for the best win percentage for a regular season at the time.  McHale was back and the Celtics rotation was 8 deep and playing well.

The Philadelphia 76ers were locked in 3rd place and were hit by injuries.  The biggest of which was Moses Malone, who was out with a fractured orbit that he suffered against the Bucks on March 28.  Bob McAdoo was also out and Bobby Jones was just returning.  These injuries put rookies Greg Stokes and Terry Catledge into the starting lineup and made Charles Barkley comment that the 76ers would have to play a perfect game to beat Boston.

The two rivals battled to an 8-8 tie before Larry Bird knocked down a three-pointer.  Julius Erving came back with a field goal and two free throws to bring his point total to 8 and give Philly a 12-11 lead.  Erving and Barkley were effective in the 1st quarter to keep the 76ers in it.  Although the Celtics were playing well, it was noted that they may be going through the motions more than they should.  The game was tied at 26 at the end of the quarter.

Barkley got the first two baskets of the 2nd quarter to bring his point total to 10.  The 76ers took a 9-point lead against the Celtics’ bench.  The 76ers were sparked by Clemon Johnson off their bench.  Boston came right back with an 8-0 run (5 of those points from Bird) to cut the lead to 37-36.

Philly kept a slight lead and increased it to as many as 6 after back-to-back baskets from Sedale Threatt.  But the Celtics bench led them back.  Scott Wedman hit a corner jumper to cut the lead to 47-46.  Then off an inbounds pass to Bill Walton under the Philly basket, Walton found a cutting Rick Carlisle for a layup with 10 seconds left in the half.  Boston took a 48-47 lead into the break despite trailing most of the half.

Robert Parish scored the first 5 Boston points of the 3rd quarter.  Dennis Johnson scored the next 6 as Boston took a 59-54 lead.  They increased that lead after Danny Ainge hit two free throws and then Parish hit a jumper in the lane.  The teams traded baskets for a few minutes until Philly cut it to 69-64 after Threatt stripped Bird in the back court (and the ball hit Bird in the eye, to add insult) and scored.

But Barkley committed his 4th foul and McHale hit two free throws.  McHale held Barkley without a field goal in the 2nd half.  Maurice Cheeks responded with back-to-back field goals that cut the lead to 71-68.  Controversy struck after Cheeks’ second basket.

As Maurice drove in for a breakaway layup after a steal, Sedale Threatt pushed Danny Ainge out of bounds.  Ainge came back at him and took a right cross on the chin from Threatt that left Ainge out cold on his feet.  Threatt ended up getting ejected with two technicals for the punch.  Ainge did not get a technical and instead both technical free throws after coming to.  Then Ainge and Clemon Johnson got into an argument and the officials only issued a tech to Clemon.  So Ainge hit another free throw.  Ainge was  quite the agitator, and this Philly-Boston rivalry was alive and well.

The Celtics took a 76-68 at the end of the 3rd quarter after a McHale layup.  The 76ers had not seen the ball since Cheeks’ layup.

But perhaps as a makeup call, Jerry Sichting was called for an offensive foul despite taking a shot in the head that drew blood.  Bird got a technical by telling the official, in his own way, that Sichting was bleeding.

Boston, though, was able to keep its 8-point lead as Bird went crazy in the 4th quarter (what else is new?).  Bird hit two fall-away jumpers from the wing and then got a cutting layup on a McHale feed.  Barkley committed his 5th foul and a Bird baseline jumper that bounced in gave Boston an 88-78 lead.

A Sichting wing jumper gave Boston its biggest lead at 90-79.  Then Erving, who had been silent since scoring 10 points in the 1st quarter, came to life.  He first put back a Clemon Johnson miss with his customary finger roll.  Then the Doctor connected from behind the arc to cut the lead to 90-84.  To follow that up, Dr. J got a steal and went coast-to-coast to finish with a finger roll.  The 36-year-old still had some magic.

But Dennis Johnson’s wing jumper put Boston back up 94-88 and Philly called a timeout with 1:17 left.  Barkley then made a play by finding a cutting Catledge for a three-point play.  Then in a quirky defensive matchup scheme, Barkley was sent out to play D.J.  Believe it or not, Charles knocked the ball away from Johnson at the top of the circle.  D.J. then fouled Cheeks on the scramble.

Maurice hit 1-of-2 from the line to cut the lead to 94-92.  Philly forced a Sichting miss with 20 seconds left but knocked the ball out of bounds.  Boston moved the ball around waiting to get fouled.  Finally, Bobby Jones fouled Bird with 7 seconds left.  It should have been a death sentence but instead something happened that happened about as often as Halley’s Comet appears, Bird missed both free throws (O.K. I’m sure Bird missed two free throws much more often than Halley’s Comet appeared, but admit it, you were shocked when you read that Bird missed two clutch free throws! Also, the last time Halley’s Comet appeared was in 1986! The year of this post! Voila!).

Philly called a timeout with 6 seconds left and on the inbounds, Barkley drove against McHale.  Kevin was able to tie him up with 3 seconds left, forcing a jump ball at the free throw line.  Barkley was able to tip the ball back behind the three-point line to Erving.  Dr. J launched right over Ainge (who was standing with his arms up) and nailed the three at the buzzer as the crowd and 76ers team went crazy.

In dramatic fashion, the Celtics now had no chance of tying the 1972 Lakers record.  They would finish 67-15, which was the best NBA record since the 1973 Celtics finished at 68-14.  These two teams would be featured in the playoffs in the next two games on this post (including the memorable performance against the memorable team).

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (18) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (10) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (13) – Center

Dennis Johnson (22) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (12) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Scott Wedman (4)

Bill Walton (1)

Jerry Sichting (8)

Rick Carlisle (6)

Greg Kite (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Greg Stokes (4) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (14) – Power Forward

Terry Catledge (13) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (20) – Point Guard

Julius Erving (23) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Sedale Threatt (8)

Bobby Jones (0)

Perry Moss (3)

Clemon Johnson (10)

Philadelphia Coach: Matt Guokas

April 18, 1986 – East Quarterfinals, Game 1: Washington Bullets 95 @Philadelphia 76ers 94

There are many basketball games where one can say that it was only the tale of the 4th quarter.  This is one of them.  One chapter are the first 8 minutes and then other is the final 4 minutes.

The Washington Bullets, despite making the playoffs for the 3rd straight season, had not finished above .500 since the last time they missed the playoffs (42-40 in 1983).  They fired coach Gene Shue after a 32-37 start and former Bulls coach Kevin Loughery came in.  The team went 7-6 under Loughery to finish the season.

The Bullets had one of the most unique rookies in NBA history in 7’7″ Manute Bol.  Bol was the son of a Dinka tribal elder in the South Sudan.  Bol didn’t have much of an offensive touch but he quite the disruptive force on the defensive end.  The Bullets had budding star Jeff Malone and veteran Gus Williams in their back court.  Bruisers Cliff Robinson and Charles Jones started up front with Bol.  Veteran Dan Roundfield came off the bench.  The Bullets were without key cogs in Jeff Ruland and Frankie Johnson.

The 76ers were still without Moses Malone, which was obviously a big factor if they were to try and challenge Boston later in the playoffs.  Malone, as it turned out, would be out for the playoffs.  Without Malone and Bob McAdoo, the 76ers still had two rookies up front along with Charles Barkley, Bobby Jones and Julius Erving (when he was not playing guard).

The Philly fans must have thought that this series would be no problem nonetheless as there were many empty seats in the Spectrum (the 76ers announcers even had to mention that unless there was a sellout for Game 2, it would be blacked out locally).  The 76ers seemed to be as sluggish as the game went back and forth.

Washington led 25-22 after one quarter.  The 76ers came back to take a 45-44 halftime lead on two Maurice Cheeks free throws.  The 76ers grabbed a 56-50 lead in the 3rd quarter as a Barkley steal and breakaway reverse slam woke the crowd up.  But Roundfield found Robinson for a three-point play and the game returned to its back-and-forth play.

Jeff Malone led Washington with 21 points heading into the 4th quarter (and he wouldn’t score in the 4th quarter).  a Roundfield tip-in at the buzzer cut the Philly lead to 70-68 going into that final quarter.

Reserve streak-shooting guard Sedale Threatt was cold in the first three quarters, but he hit the first shot of the 4th when he followed up his own miss on the break.  Threatt later penetrated and found Barkley for a layup.  Then Barkley kicked out to Bobby Jones for an elbow jumper.  Philly led 76-70 and Washington called a timeout.

The next few baskets were traded by Cliff Robinson and Threatt before Cheeks found Barkley with an under-handed pass from half-court for a breakaway layup.  Later, Threatt’s 8th point of the 4th quarter gave the 76ers a 86-77 lead and the crowd was alive.  Threatt later hit a pull-up jumper in transition for an 89-77 lead.  Barkley then got a steal and slam.

Washington wasn’t helping themselves as Gus Williams missed two free throws and then after Barkley committed his 5th foul, Robinson missed twice from the line.  With just under 4:00 left, Threatt’s free throw gave the 76ers a 94-77 lead.  They were on a 10-0 run and Washington was coming unglued.

But the first 8 minutes of the 4th quarter were only part of the tale, remember.  Washington brought in defensive ace Dudley Bradley to try and spark them.  His first contribution was throwing an airball from three-point range that Roundfield grabbed, put in, and drew a foul.  After that three-point play, Bradley forced a turnover at the other end.

Two more Roundfield baseline jumpers cut the lead to 94-84 and Philly was forced to bring Barkley back in.  Charles missed two free throws with his team still up 94-85.  Malone then found Robinson for a slam after Philly almost came up with a steal.  The Bullets put on the pressure and got more chances.  Bradley hit a three from the corner and then Roundfield followed up a Bradley miss.  The score was down to 94-92 and Philly called timeout with 35 seconds left.  Washington was surging but would they run out of time?

It looked like it as Catledge rebounded a Cheeks miss and the Bullets had to foul Erving with 3 seconds left.  But the voodoo even hit the Doctor.  He missed two free throws but got a third chance after a lane violation was called on Washington.  Dr. J hit the hat-trick with a third miss and Washington got a timeout.

It looked like a broken play as Bradley got the inbounds pass just in front of half court.  While Bradley was a defensive ace, he would be the last option for any offensive set no matter who the other four guys were.  But Bradley dribbled and spun at the top of the key before forcing a shot from beyond the three-point line just before the buzzer.

It banked in.  And Washington ran off the court in a stunning celebration after scoring the final 18 points of the game.  If you don’t believe it, witness it here:

Philly would come back and win the series in 5 games and take on Milwaukee in the 2nd round.  The Bucks were trying to break a jinx (explained later).

These two teams would engage in a trade a few days before the 1986 NBA draft.  The 76ers sent Moses Malone, Terry Catledge, a 1986 and 1988 1st round pick to the Bullets for Cliff Robinson and Jeff Ruland.  It doesn’t look like a good trade for the 76ers, does it?

Well, it got worse as Ruland and Robinson battled injuries while Malone was an All-Star for three more seasons.  On the same day, the 76ers traded the top pick of the 1986 NBA draft to Cleveland for Roy Hinson.  And you wonder why Charles Barkley seems pretty angry all the time.  Those two trades turned out to be turrible (sorry, had to).

Washington starters (points scored)

Cliff Robinson (18) – Small Forward

Charles Jones (2) – Power Forward

Manute Bol (4) – Center

Gus Williams (17) – Point Guard

Jeff Malone (21) – Shooting Guard

Washington bench (points scored)

Dan Roundfield (20)

Darren Daye (2)

Tom McMillen (2)

Dudley Bradley (9)

Washington Coach: Kevin Loughery

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Greg Stokes (6) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (26) – Power Forward

Terry Catledge (13) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (11) – Point Guard

Julius Erving (11) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Sedale Threatt (11)

Bobby Jones (12)

Perry Moss (0)

Clemon Johnson (4)

Philadelphia Coach: Matt Guokas

April 20, 1986 – East Quarterfinals, Game 2: Chicago Bulls 131 @Boston Celtics 135 (2OT)

It was the memorable team that was not to be denied.  The Boston Celtics had far and away been the best team in the 1986 NBA season.  They had a 40-1 home record during the regular season.  Now they were to run roughshod through the competition until they played the Lakers in the Finals.

Michael Jordan had been out for 3/4 of the season and his best performance since coming back was 31 points.  But MJ put up 49 in Game 1 against Boston in the Garden.  But 30 of them came in the 1st half.  The Celtics ran away in the 2nd half and won 123-104.

Now in a CBS-nationally televised Game 2, the audience would see a performance that they hadn’t quite seen before (and one we haven’t quite seen since).  A hallowed record would go up against the best team that season and one of the greatest of all-time.  That hallowed record is still up.  Yes, this is the memorable performance against the memorable team.

The Celtics’ best assets were their half-court offense and team defense.  The half-court offense would be well on display against a young, inexperienced and sometimes over-anxious defense.  But the Bulls would try to break the Celtics team defense by setting up isolations.  More often than not, Jordan and Orlando Woolridge would go 1-on-1 against their man and try to score.  With Jordan, there would be a lot of help.  There were times when Jordan drove by Dennis Johnson and would get cut off or his shot blocked by interior players.  But more often than not, Jordan would score against the help.  Woolridge struggled as the help defense forced him into tough shots.  But when he did score, the Celtics often compounded it by fouling him as well.

Jordan and Kevin McHale got their teams off to great starts as each hit the first 6 points of the game for their team.  The pace was fast as the teams went to a 10-10 tie before you could blink.  Woolridge then drove the lane, scored and drew a foul for one of his many three-point plays.  Then Jordan found rookie Charles Oakley for a jumper from the top of the key.  Oakley and Dave Corzine had worked their way into the starting lineups for the playoffs, and each played a solid game (though the stats may not exactly say it).  The Bulls led 15-10.

Jordan only had the first 6 Bull points at that moment, but he got his next basket while Larry Bird was guarding him in transition.  It is a highlight commonly shown as Bird getting beat but in reality, Larry did a heck of a job staying in front of Jordan despite MJ’s constant quick between-the-legs dribbles.  But Jordan did make the jumper over him.

Jordan finished the 1st quarter with 17 points as the Bulls kept their lead and had a 33-25 advantage at the end of the 1st quarter.  Bird was scoreless in the 1st quarter but came alive in the 2nd as Boston came back to tie the game at 43.

But then Jordan isolated against D.J. and hit a wing jumper over him.  Then Jordan penetrated and found Woolridge for a basket and a foul.  Bill Walton committed his 3rd foul on the play.  Robert Parish was already on the bench with 3 fouls.  The Bulls led 48-43 and kept that lead for the rest of the half.  Jordan scored 4 more points (including two free throws with 5 seconds left in the quarter) to finish the half with 23.  The Bulls committed a dumb foul in the back court on Bird with 3 seconds left and Larry hit a free throw to cut the Chicago halftime lead to 58-51.

McHale started the 3rd quarter with a hook shot in the lane.  But Jordan got a three-point play on a putback of a Woolridge miss.  The Bulls kept their lead as the crowd was like they weren’t used to the Celtics trailing at the Garden.  The Bulls took a 74-66 lead when Woolridge went 1-on-1 against McHale, scored and drew the foul for a three-point play.

Bird and D.J. brought the Celtics back to within 77-75, but then D.J. committed his 4th foul on Jordan.  MJ hit two more free throws and then Jordan kicked out to Kyle Macy for a jumper from the top of the key.  With D.J. out, Danny Ainge now had to guard Jordan.  Ainge seemed to get a rise out of this matchup as he scored the game’s next 6 points to tie the game at 81.

Ainge’s emotion got the best of him when he got a technical after Oakley tipped in a Jordan miss on a play that everyone in the building except the Bulls (and ultimately, the refs) thought was goaltending.  Ainge drove past Jordan for a left-handed layup to cut the Bulls lead to 84-83.  But MJ came right back with a spin past Ainge and then a basket and a foul as he drove into Walton and drew body contact (while making an unbelievable shot, of course).  This was Walton’s 5th foul.

Jordan hit a pull-up in the lane over a helping McHale to give him 36 points and give the Bulls a 91-85 lead late in the 3rd.  But Ainge hit a three from the wing with 7 seconds left to cut the lead in half going into the 4th quarter.

The Celtics played an unbelievable, championship-level 4th quarter but couldn’t put the game away because of one man.  Bird started the quarter with a pull-up from the top of the key and then threw a haymaker by knocking down a 30-footer from the top at the end of the shot clock to give Boston a 93-92 lead.  Jordan hit two free throws after D.J. committed his 5th foul and then hit a high-arcing banker from the foul line to give Chicago a 96-95 lead.

But another arrow was thrown when McHale recovered a loose ball in the middle of the lane while falling backwards onto Dave Corzine.  While laying on Corzine, McHale threw in a shot as the crowd went wild.  But Jordan hit two more free throws after Ainge committed his 5th foul.  While the Celtics did have guards on their bench, anybody other than Ainge or D.J. guarding Jordan would’ve just been sad.  So each with 5 fouls was critical.

If that wasn’t enough, Bird later committed his 4th foul but it a three to give Boston a 102-100 lead.  Then McHale got a block and Bird outletted to Ainge for a breakaway and a four-point lead.  After a Bulls timeout, Jordan isolated, drove and scored against 4 guys.  Bird came back with a turnaround in the post.  Jordan drove and drew the 6th foul on Walton.  But MJ after making his first 16 free throws of the game, he missed two.  For one brief fleeting millisecond, he was human.

Boston couldn’t take advantage at the other end and Jordan came back with a jumper from the top of the key.  But the Celtics regained a 108-104 lead when McHale found Parish on a cut for a slam.  Bird committed his 5th foul and Jordan drove baseline for a slam to cut the Celtics’ lead to 108-107.  The teams then traded baskets.  Ainge hit from the top of the key on a Bird kickout.  Jordan found Corzine for a hook off the glass.

MJ then gave the Bulls a 111-110 lead with a pull-up in the lane against Ainge.  Ainge tied it with a free throw.  Then Jordan hit a pull-up from 10-feet away at the right of the lane with 1:47 to go.  The Bulls led 113-111 and Jordan had 52 points.  But 40 seconds later, Parish kicked out to D.J. who drove, drew a foul and scored on a tough runner.  The three-point play gave Boston a 114-113 lead.  Jordan came back and missed.  Oakley rebounded but his shot was blocked by Parish.

The Celtics went in transition and Ainge lobbed to McHale for a layup and a 116-113 lead with 45 seconds left.  The Bulls called timeout.  The Celtics double-teamed Jordan but ball movement found Oakley under the basket.  He couldn’t score but drew Parish’s 5th foul.  Oakley split the pair though and Boston had a chance to ice it.  Bird missed a turnaround in the post against two guys.  Parish rebounded but Jordan knocked the ball away to Oakley.  The Bulls got a timeout with 7 seconds left.

Down two, MJ went for broke.  He pulled up for three but missed as the buzzer sounded.  It was over for a second until everyone realized the ref had called a foul on McHale on Jordan’s shot.  The rules of that age really screwed Jordan (although nobody watching the game live on that day knew about it).  These days, if you are fouled on a three-point shot, you get three free throws.  But it was still only a two-shot foul in 1986.  Also, with no replay to put any time back on the clock, MJ got to shoot the two free throws with the time expired, nobody on the line surrounding him (so with everyone in the Boston Garden shouting every imaginable thing they could think of at him) and if he missed, Boston won right there.  Now that’s pressure but just imagine if Jordan got a chance to win the game like that.  Ohhhh boyyyy.  He made both to tie it and the game went into overtime.

The adrenaline from those two free throws had to have pumped Jordan up in the overtime.  He started it with a wing jumper and then later hit a pull-up from the baseline while drawing D.J.’s 6th foul.  That three-point play gave Jordan 59 points and the Bulls a 123-119 lead.  But Jerry Sichting, who came in for D.J., hit a shot and Parish hit two free throws to tie the game with 1:00 left.

The Celtics ran at Jordan and he swung the ball to Woolridge.  Orlando drove baseline and wildly missed a reverse but Corzine tipped it in for a 125-123 Chicago lead.  The Celtics got a timeout with 15 seconds left.  They inbounded to McHale, who kicked out to Ainge at the top.  Ainge drove by a gambling Jordan (remember the “you reach, I teach” commercial?) and scored to tie the game with 12 seconds left.

The Bulls had to send Jordan away from the ball to get him the ball (if that made sense) away from the defense.  Corzine eventually found him with a cross-court pass and Jordan missed a pull-up off the back rim from the wing.  Boston got the rebound and called timeout with 2 seconds left.  They got it to Bird well within range from 30 feet out (as he proved earlier) but his shot was off the back of the rim and the game was going into a 2nd overtime.

The Bulls went away from Jordan in the 2nd overtime (I guess to conserve his energy, or something) and, naturally, didn’t fare well.  Woolridge got a basket.  But Bird and Sichting hit jumpers.  Then Sichting swung the ball to Ainge in the corner for a jumper and a 131-127 lead with 1:59 left.  Now, the Bulls went back to Jordan as he went for Elgin Baylor’s playoff record of 61 points (against the Celtics in the 1962 NBA Finals).  Jordan hit a pull-up from the wing against Ainge to tie the record and then on the next possession, he drove to the lane and hit a runner to tie the game at 131 and give him a playoff record of 63 points.

The memorable performance was over but the memorable team proved why they were the best.  McHale, while double-teamed, kicked out to Sichting for a jumper from the top of the key.  Then Parish rebounded a Jordan miss.  Without a timeout, Bird and Parish worked a pick-and-roll and The Chief hit a short jumper to put the game out of reach with 9 seconds left.

The Celtics went on to sweep the Bulls as the held Jordan to 19 in Game 3.  The Celtics would lose one game in their next two series and get to the NBA Finals easily (like they should have).  For the rest of the year, they wouldn’t be challenged in a game at Boston Garden.  But this game would leave a mark as neither team and nobody watching would forget the performance that was put on by the later-to-be-known-as the greatest player of all time.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Orlando Woolridge (24) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (10) – Power Forward

Dave Corzine (8) – Center

Kyle Macy (7) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (63) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

George Gervin (0)

Sidney Green (7)

Gene Banks (8)

John Paxson (4)

Mike Smrek (0)

Chicago Coach: Stan Albeck

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (36) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (27) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (13) – Center

Dennis Johnson (15) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (24) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Scott Wedman (2)

Bill Walton (10)

Jerry Sichting (8)

Rick Carlisle (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

michael-jordan-1986-63-points michael-jordan-horizontal-gallerymichael-jordan-63-pt-game michael-jordan-celtics-game

photos courtesy of Sole Collector, CNN, The Third City, and CNN Sports Illustrated

May 6, 1986 – West Semifinals, Game 5: Dallas Mavericks 113 @Los Angeles Lakers 116

The Lakers, after a 62-20 season, easily dispatched the San Antonio Spurs in round 1.  But trouble was arising in round 2.  After beating Dallas in the first two games at the Forum, the Lakers lost a pair of two-point games in Dallas.  The series was tied.  This was unfamiliar territory for the Lakers.

Not only had they not lost a playoff series to a Western Conference team since Houston beat them in the 1981 1st round mini-series (2-1), the Lakers had not been in a 2-2 series against a Western Conference team since Magic arrived (incredible, but true).  Now they were in one against a young, talented Mavericks team.  Mark Aguirre and Rolando Blackman led the way.  Derek Harper and Sam Perkins were young studs.  And James Donaldson gave the Mavericks someone to compete with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

Pull-ups by Blackman and Aguirre got the Mavericks started.  Then after a left-handed finger roll by Kareem, pull-ups by Harper and Aguirre gave Dallas an 8-2 lead.  Although the Lakers got their points, Dallas’ hot shooting kept them ahead.  Furthermore, James Worthy committed his 3rd foul with Dallas up 20-18.  He was out for the half.  However, Kareem scored back-to-back baskets.  And Magic, who now knew to pick up the scoring load with Worthy out, hit three consecutive perimeter jumpers to give the Lakers a 29-25 lead after one quarter.

Jay Vincent and rookie Detlef Schrempf gave the Mavericks a spark off the bench.  Back-to-back slams by each tied the game at 31.  Dallas later took a 36-33 lead before a Kareem sky hook and one tied the game.  Kareem hit another sky hook for a 38-36 L.A. lead and 14 points for Kareem.  But Dallas stayed with the Lakers and eventually regained a 46-43 lead when Aguirre found Donaldson for a slam.

But Michael Cooper, the Lakers steady 6th man, hit a three to tie the game again.  Later, Perkins committed his 3rd foul and Magic’s pull-up gave the Lakers a 52-48 lead.  This gave Magic 17 points to go with Kareem’s 19.  Derek Harper hit a three to cut it to one but Kurt Rambis rebounded a Cooper miss and reversed it back in with 8 seconds left to give L.A. a 54-51 lead.  That was the halftime score.

The 3rd quarter continued the back-and-forth trend.  James Worthy came back in and scored three quick buckets.  But an Aguirre fall-away in the lane gave Dallas a 62-61 lead.  Although Perkins committed his 4th foul and wasn’t a factor in this game, Dallas kept a slight lead.  But trouble started to arise from the Mavs at the free throw line.  Aguirre and Blackman each missed a pair in the quarter.  Harper and Vincent each split a pair to give Dallas a 69-66 lead.

But Kareem spun baseline against Donaldson in the post, reverse slammed, and drew a foul.  This tied the game and later, Magic recovered a Dallas deflection, drove down the lane, hit a reverse over his head and drew the foul.  That three-point play gave the Lakers a 74-73 lead.  Magic had another three-point play on a cut from Kareem.

Baskets by Worthy and Cooper gave L.A. an 81-76 lead late in the 3rd.  But Brad Davis dropped a three from the top of the key with 8 seconds left to cut the lead to two.  But the Lakers came right back and Cooper hit a three from the wing with 1 second left.  The Lakers grabbed momentum and an 84-79 lead going into the 4th.

A Worthy layup after an up-and-under gave the Lakers a 92-84 lead early in the 4th.  But then James committed his 4th foul and field goals by Blackman and Aguirre cut the lead to four.  But Kareem kicked out to Cooper for a three from the top.  Then Kareem hit a sky-hook in the lane for a 97-88 Lakers lead.  The Mavericks strategy against Kareem was to single-cover him and not let him pass to open teammates.  Either they switched their strategy or the players didn’t follow as a double-teamed Kareem repeatedly found open cutters/shooters.  Kareem finished with 9 assists along with 34 points.

The Lakers stayed ahead for the quarter but Dallas kept creeping closer.  Eventually Blackman hit a wing pull-up over Cooper at the end of the shot clock to cut the Lakers lead to 105-103.  A double-teamed Kareem kicked out to Worthy for an elbow jumper.  But Harper pushed and found Perkins for a corner jumper.  Kareem again kicked out to Worthy.  He missed this time but got his own rebound.  But Harper stole it from him and took it coast-to-coast to tie the game at 107.

After another Kareem kickout and Worthy swing, Cooper hit from the top of the key to give L.A. a 109-107 lead.  Aguirre split a pair of free throws (Dallas finished 20-for-33 from the line).  Then Kareem tipped in a Worthy miss for a 111-108 Lakers lead and a Dallas timeout with 1:39 left.

The last few minutes of the game showed Laker experience against Dallas inexperience.  After the timeout, Perkins missed a contested jumper from the wing.  The Lakers rebounded and ran down the clock.  Kareem found a cutting Magic for a layup and Dallas had to call another timeout, down 113-108.  Aguirre missed a tough, contested three.  Perkins got the rebound but threw the ball out of bounds.

The Lakers had a chance to put it away but Worthy committed his 5th foul trying to rebound a Kareem miss.  Perkins subsequently hit two free throws with 31 seconds left.  The Lakers called a timeout and ran down the shot clock.  Kareem got it in the post and hit his trademark sky-hook with 9 seconds left to give L.A. a 115-110 lead.  Davis hit a three and Worthy a free throw with 1 second left.  But Aguirre’s prayer from over half-court sailed over the backboard.

The Lakers took a 3-2 lead and finished off the Mavericks in Game 6 in Dallas.  The Lakers moved on but for once they had a challenge in the Western Conference playoffs.  And it would only get tougher from there.

Dallas meanwhile had been a young team on the rise for a few years and now seemingly had all their pieces together for a championship.  But one of the players who only ended up playing 1 minute in Game 5, Dale Ellis, didn’t end up being one of those pieces.  He was traded to Seattle for Al Wood.  This would come back to haunt Dallas after the Mavericks went 55-27 in 1987, for 2nd in the West.  The Mavericks were upset by 7th seeded Seattle in the 1st round with Ellis leading the way with a 29.5 points per game average.

It turned out that the 80’s Mavericks’ best (and only) chance for a championship came in 1988 and they would run into a familiar opponent and make it a tougher series than 1986.

Dallas starters (points scored)

Mark Aguirre (27) – Small Forward

Sam Perkins (7) – Power Forward

James Donaldson (11) – Center

Derek Harper (16) – Point Guard

Rolando Blackman (23) – Shooting Guard

Dallas bench (points scored)

Jay Vincent (15)

Brad Davis (8)

Dale Ellis (0)

Detlef Schrempf (6)

Bill Wennington (0)

Dallas Coach: Dick Motta

LA Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (19) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (6) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (34) – Center

Magic Johnson (29) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (6) – Shooting Guard

LA Lakers bench (points scored)

Maurice Lucas (2)

Michael Cooper (17)

Petur Gudmundsson (2)

A.C. Green (1)

LA Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

May 11, 1986 – East Semifinals, Game 7: Philadelphia 76ers 112 @Milwaukee Bucks 113

Since joining the Eastern Conference for the 1980-81 season, the Milwaukee Bucks had played the Philadelphia 76ers 4 times in the playoffs.  Each time, the 76ers had eliminated the Bucks and moved on.  But in 1986, the Bucks were eager to reverse their jinx.

However, the 76ers came back from a double-digit deficit to win Game 1 in Milwaukee and then took a 2-1 lead after a Game 3 win in Philly.  The Bucks won Game 4 in the Spectrum despite 37 from Charles Barkley and then won Game 5 in Milwaukee.  Philly came back with a complete performance in Game 6 to tie the series.

The key to two of Milwaukee’s three victories so far was guard Sidney Moncrief.  Moncrief had torn a tissue in his heel in the 1st round series against New Jersey.  Moncrief played in Games 2 & 4 and had scored in double figures but didn’t play in the other games.  The Bucks team hadn’t changed much from 1985.  Terry Cummings and Paul Pressey manned the forward positions.  Moncrief and sharp-shooter Craig Hodges were in the back court with Ricky Pierce bringing the instant offense off the bench.  The middle was filled with bruisers Randy Breuer, Alton Lister and Paul Mokeski.

The 76ers still thin without Malone and now Greg Stokes.  Furthermore, Terry Catledge didn’t play in Game 7 so Philly was down to 7 players now that Bob McAdoo was back.  Julius Erving, Maurice Cheeks and Sedale Threatt were the guards going with McAdoo, Bobby Jones, Charles Barkley and Clemon Johnson up front.  This was a veteran lineup (other than Barkley and Threatt) that gave Philly its best chance to steal Game 7 on the road.

Moncrief gutted through the pain again to play in Game 7, and he was a big factor.  Moncrief’s first step was slowed but he picked his spots and got his points.  Cheeks and Clem Johnson got Philly off to a good start but Milwaukee stayed with them led by Cummings.  Terry had more energy early than Barkley and showed it by moving and hitting jumpers from the wing and from inside.

Cheeks scored 9 of Philly’s first 15 points.  Clemon Johnson, who got the call in the middle, scored 9 first quarter points after his previous career playoff high was 10.  Furthermore, Sedale Threatt came into the game and popped three jumpers, including one from the top with 7 seconds left to give Philly a 32-30 lead after one quarter.  Cummings, after scoring 13 points, had gone out late in the quarter with a dislocated finger.

Despite Cummings still being out, Milwaukee went on a 10-0 run to take a lead at 40-34.  But Threatt and Clemon continued their scoring as they came back to tie it at 47.  Cummings eventually came back in and didn’t miss a beat with his jumper.  Moncrief continued to inspire despite committing 3 fouls.  He hit a jumper in the lane while drawing a foul to give the Bucks a 55-51 lead.  A Pierce drive gave them a six-point lead.

Jumpers by Moncrief and Cummings held off a late Philly run led by Threatt.  Sedale’s step-back jumper from the baseline at the buzzer cut Milwaukee’s halftime lead to 63-58.  The NBA draft lottery was at halftime of this game and Philly had a stake in it as they had the Clippers 1st round pick from 1979 obtained in exchange for Joe Bryant (who was playing in Italy by this time and teaching Italian to his 7-year-old son, Kobe).  76ers coach Matt Guokas came out onto the floor and asked former 76ers coach and current commentator with CBS, Billy Cunningham, where they were picking.  Billy held up one finger and Guokas was excited before coming back to center and saying that this current game was his focus.  The 76ers had won the lottery, but (as mentioned earlier) would trade that top pick to Cleveland for Roy Hinson.

Cummings hit a turnaround from the baseline for his 19th point to start the 2nd half.  Then Terry got a steal and Moncrief a breakaway for his 14th point.  Milwaukee maintained a 72-65 lead before Barkley finally got his first field goal.  He did so with a quick spin move against Breuer in the post for a slam and a foul.  Philly eventually cut it to 74-73 after Barkley outletted to Bobby Jones (playing in his final NBA game) for a three-point play.

Moncrief hit two more field goals in the quarter to keep Milwaukee ahead and inspire more “I don’t know how he’s doing it” gushes from the CBS team of Brent Musburger and Cunningham.  The Bucks eventually took an 88-81 lead after back-to-back field goals from Cummings and Pressey.  Philly was able to cut it to 90-86 heading into the 4th quarter.

The Bucks increased their lead to 100-92 mid-way through the 4th after Pierce and Hodges got back-to-back steals for breakaway layups.  Cheeks scored the 76ers’ next 5 points and Threatt scored on a drive to cut the lead to 102-99.  Two free throws from Cheeks eventually tied it at 104.  Then a Cheeks steal led to a Barkley breakaway slam and a Philly lead.

Moncrief scored his biggest bucket after a timeout.  Pressey fed him for a layup and a foul for a 107-106 Bucks lead.  A Threatt pull-up for his 28th point put Philly back ahead but Hodges came back with two free throws.  Each team exchanged misses as the game went down to under 2:00 left.  Finally, Threatt found Barkley for a layup in transition and the 76ers led 110-109 with 1:11 left.

But Erving committed a foul on Moncrief at 53 seconds and Sidney made both free throws.  After a Philly timeout, Barkley scored on a drive in the lane with 40 seconds left for a 76ers lead.  Barkley may not have scored a field goal until the 3rd quarter but he was fully engaged now.  In fact, perhaps too engaged.  Barkley goaltended a Hodges layup with 29 seconds left and Milwaukee regained the lead at 113-112.

Philly ran it down without a timeout but didn’t get a shot off as Moncrief deflected the ball out of bounds under the basket with 7 seconds left.  Now the 76ers called a timeout.  They inbounded to Threatt at the wing.  Sedale penetrated before finding Julius Erving wide open at the left elbow.  Erving missed a jumper off the right side of the rim and the buzzer went off as both teams were scrambling.

The Bucks jinx may have been broken as they had finally beat the 76ers, but now they were on to face Boston.  The Celtics swept them.  The Bucks would be a better challenge to the Celtics in 1987 with a healthy Sidney Moncrief.  They played Boston in the Semis after beating Philly in 5 games in the 1st round and ending the career of Doctor J.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Bobby Jones (3) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (18) – Power Forward

Clemon Johnson (17) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (22) – Point Guard

Julius Erving (17) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Sedale Threatt (28)

Bob McAdoo (7)

Philadelphia Coach: Matt Guokas

Milwaukee starters (points scored)

Paul Pressey (11) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (27) – Power Forward

Randy Breuer (2) – Center

Craig Hodges (24) – Point Guard

Sidney Moncrief (23) – Shooting Guard

Milwaukee bench (points scored)

Ricky Pierce (16)

Alton Lister (8)

Charles Davis (0)

Kenny Fields (0)

Paul Mokeski (2)

Milwaukee Coach: Don Nelson


Sidney Moncrief scored 23 points in Game 7 against Philly despite a torn heel tissue *photo courtesy of

May 16, 1986 – Western Finals, Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers 109 @Houston Rockets 117

Magic Johnson’s Lakers had not experienced a 2-2 series against a Western Conference foe until Dallas challenged them in the Semifinals.  Furthermore, the only time Magic’s Lakers had trailed a series against a Western Conference opponent was when the Houston Rockets beat them in 1981 (they trailed 1-0 in the series and lost 2-1).

Now for 1986, they would play the Rockets again and would come back to Houston for Game 3 in a 1-1 tie.  The Rockets only had two players left from the 1981 team that had shocked the Lakers and advanced to the NBA Finals.  Reserve guard Allen Leavell along with swingman Robert Reid.  Reid had moved to point guard when John Lucas was suspended for the season in March for drugs and then after Leavell got hurt near the end of the season.

Reid was a 6’8″ point guard, the only ‘point guard’ in the league that could match Magic in height.  But Reid wouldn’t cover Magic.  That assignment went to 6’6″ shooting guard Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins off the bench.  The Rockets front court consisted of Rodney McCray and, of course, the twin towers.  Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon.  The Rockets had Jim Petersen come off the bench as a physical presence.

The Rockets big advantage in a Game 2 win was out-rebounding the Lakers 51-38 and getting 6 players into double figures.  The Lakers needed to help Kareem on the boards and had seemed to acquire help when they obtained Maurice Lucas from Phoenix before the season.  Lucas seemed like the ideal person to put at power forward alongside Kareem, but as the series went on, it became clear that the Lakers had no answer for the twin towers.

The Lakers did run off to an 8-0 lead in Game 3 as Magic got three assists and Kareem hit two sky hooks.  But then Sampson put together 6 points as the Rockets cut it to 10-8.  Then Sampson tied it with a wing jumper and McCray gave Houston the lead with a three-point play.  Then after another Kareem sky hook, a big x-factor came to life for the Rockets.  Lewis Lloyd hit a pull-up jumper in the lane, got a steal, and hit another pull-up jumper in the lane.  Houston eventually grabbed a 23-16 lead after Sampson hit his 10th point on an elbow jumper.

The 1st quarter was as back-and-forth as you could get.  Each team pushed the ball at each other (after misses and makes, alike) and the score was rung up.  Sampson got another two points on a forceful slam over Kareem for 12 in the quarter.  But Abdul-Jabbar matched him with 14 points and a couple of assists.  The Lakers took a 38-37 lead with 6 seconds left in the quarter when Magic drove and scored.  That lead held into the break.

The Lakers continued to get fast break buckets but Houston stayed with them as Petersen and Reid got three-point plays.  The Rockets took a 47-46 lead when Reid found Sampson for a big, swooping slam in transition.  Kareem gave L.A. the lead with a three-point play and later drew Sampson’s 3rd foul.

But even with that, Olajuwon’s turnaround in the post cut L.A.’s lead to 57-56.  Then Lloyd hit two more jumpers, one after getting a steal from Magic when Magic tried to penetrate and find someone.  Two free throws from Johnson cut Houston’s lead to 60-59 at halftime.

The game continued back-and-forth until Sampson committed his 4th foul with the Rockets up 68-65.  Worthy and Scott got fast break buckets as the Lakers seemed to be turning around the momentum.  But Reid and Lloyd hit key outside shots and Olajuwon’s stick back slam put Houston back up 76-75.  The game continued as a classic back-and-forth affair as the Lakers 8-0 start was the biggest lead for either team.

Another Laker fast break bucket in which Magic outletted to Michael Cooper who found Worthy for a slam gave L.A. an 87-84 lead.  Magic then got a defensive rebound.  But Olajuwon stole it from him in the back court, scored, and was fouled.  The great play by Akeem tied the game.  Magic came right back and found Worthy for a slam and Olajuwon’s 4th foul with 58 seconds left.

But as Worthy went down from the contact, his head banged into Jim Petersen’s hip.  Worthy would sustain a strained neck from the play.  He played brilliantly to that point with 27 points.  He continued to play but would score 2 points the rest of the way.  L.A. held a 91-90 lead going into the 4th quarter.

Lloyd hit two more jumpers and an Olajuwon reverse slam on a McCray feed gave the Rockets a 97-93 lead.  Magic lobbed to Kareem for a slam and Lucas tipped in a Kareem miss to tie the game.  The back-and-forth struggle continued.  Kareem committed his 4th foul and Akeem gave Houston a four-point lead after a dream shake and a baseline fall-away.

But the Lakers came back to take a 103-101 lead, the last two of which came when Magic found Kareem with a no-look pass for a slam.  Kareem hit two more free throws after Sampson’s 5th foul to give him 33 points and give L.A. a 105-103 lead.  But the big advantage for Houston began to surface, the offensive rebound.  Olajuwon put back a McCray miss to tie the game.  Then Sampson put back an Olajuwon miss for a 107-105 Houston lead with 4:15 left.

Kareem and Akeem committed their 5th fouls and Magic penetrated and found Lucas for a baseline jumper to cut the lead to 108-107.  It was at this stretch of the game where the Laker experience and talent would win out in basically every big game they played against a Western Conference foe in the 1980’s.  They had won out against Dallas down the stretch in the big Game 5 earlier.

But it was not to be.  Mitchell Wiggins got a breakaway after a Robert Reid steal and Houston took a 110-107 lead with 2:51 left.  The Rockets aggressively doubled Kareem and shut down Magic’s penetration down the stretch.  And the Lakers’ “others” weren’t up to the task of picking up the slack.  Lucas missed a jumper in the lane after a Kareem kick out.  Then Magic fouled Reid on a tough shot at the end of the shot clock.  Reid hit two free throws with 2:04 left for a 112-107 Rockets lead.

Byron Scott airballed a long three at the end of the shot clock after he had to chase a ball down at half court.  Akeem then came back with a underhand scoop against Kareem in the post.  This forced an L.A. timeout as Houston was now up 114-107.

The Lakers cut it to 115-109 and had the ball.  But Scott missed a three and Cooper missed two threes.  Mitchell Wiggins got a breakaway slam to seal it and put the Lakers down in a Western series.  The same thing happened in Game 4 as Houston outlasted the Lakers down the stretch and won going away.  Olajuwon followed up his 40 point Game 3 with 35 in Game 4.

The Lakers now trailed 3-1 going back home and the Rockets had a chance for the surprise knockout.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (29) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (0) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (33) – Center

Magic Johnson (17) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (10) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Maurice Lucas (8)

Michael Cooper (12)

Petur Gudmundsson (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Houston starters (points scored)

Rodney McCray (6) – Small Forward

Ralph Sampson (18) – Power Forward

Akeem Olajuwon (40) – Center

Robert Reid (17) – Point Guard

Lewis Lloyd (26) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Allen Leavell (0)

Mitchell Wiggins (5)

Jim Petersen (5)

Houston Coach: Bill Fitch

March 21, 1986 – Western Finals, Game 5: Houston Rockets 114 @Los Angeles Lakers 112

To show how big of a surprise it was for Houston to be up 3-1 on the defending champion Lakers, it was frequently mentioned how many times a team had come back from a 3-1 deficit.  As if to say, “the Lakers will right the ship and play Boston in the Finals like they’re supposed to.”

But Houston’s twin towers were dominating the boards and the Rockets guards were hitting the outside shots.  Furthermore, the Rockets had outlasted the Lakers down the stretch of the last two games.

The Lakers came out with more fire than usual (as expected) as they controlled the tip and Magic found Kareem for a slam.  Later, Kareem showed his determination when he hustled after an offensive rebound, scored and was fouled.  The three-point play gave L.A. a 10-6 lead and then a James Worthy lead to Kareem on a 4-on-2 break forced a Houston timeout.

The Lakers kept running their break as Worthy got easy buckets and Magic accumulated 9 assists in the 1st quarter.  They raced to a 26-12 lead but, as had been the story throughout the series, the Rockets came alive and would not be blown out by the Lakers.  Houston went on an 11-2 run to cut the lead to 28-23.  Then in the final minute of the 1st quarter, the Lakers found their second wind.

Magic found Michael Cooper for a layup on a pick and roll.  Then Magic got a steal, went coast-to-coast, scored and drew the foul.  That three-point play gave the Lakers a 33-23 lead.  Then after another steal, Magic hit a running hook shot for a 12-point lead.  Then after another steal, Magic missed a tough reverse with 4 seconds left.  The Lakers got another steal on the rebound and Cooper made a three.  But the three came after the buzzer, so the Lakers had to settle for a 35-23 lead at the end of the quarter.  But it was quite a flurry that would have destroyed most teams.

But Houston in this series wasn’t most teams.  They crept back to within 48-46 when reserve Mitchell Wiggins tip-dunked a Sampson miss.  A lot of these points came after Magic committed his 3rd foul and sat down for the half.  The Lakers spurted and took a 59-50 lead on a Cooper three-pointer after Kareem kicked out to Kurt Rambis, who swung the ball.  But Houston, helped by Robert Reid, cut the Lakers lead to 61-54 at the halftime break.

The 3rd quarter started back-and-forth but L.A. took a 70-58 lead when Magic, on back-to-back fast breaks, found Kurt Rambis for layups.  Then Magic committed his 4th foul on what looked like a clean block of Akeem Olajuwon.  Olajuwon missed the two free throws and the Lakers took a 72-58 lead on a Kareem slam after a Worthy steal, but Olajuwon came alive like he had the previous two games.

He scored back-to-back times in the post and then a third time against Kareem with a fall-away in the lane that cut the lead to 74-64.  But Akeem then got called for a technical for pointing at the ref on a play that he thought he was fouled.  The tech helped the Lakers regain a 13-point lead but an Olajuwon three-point play cut it back to 79-69.  The game stayed at 10 until Olajuwon ignited a 10-2 run to finish the quarter.  Akeem scored 17 points in the 3rd quarter as Houston cut it to 87-85 going into the 4th.

The Rockets briefly cut the lead to one but L.A. regained a 99-90 lead as Magic came back in, scored 4 points and had 2 assists.  But Houston had been getting it done in the 4th quarter and nothing changed.  Rodney McCray put back a Wiggins airball.  Then Wiggins got a breakaway on a Reid steal.  Then Sampson rebounded a Wiggins miss and slammed one home while being neck-tied by Maurice Lucas.  Sampson was upset on the play and almost threw a punch at Lucas but Olajuwon was able to hold him back.  Olajuwon being the cooler head would become ironic in a few minutes.

The three-point play by Sampson cut it to 99-97 but the Lakers regained a 103-99 lead.  Then with 5:14 left, Olajuwon was battling Mitch Kupchak down low.  Kupchak was a physical veteran who was actually playing in his last game.  I guess you could say he went out on top.

He and Olajuwon were battling when Olajuwon threw an elbow.  Kupchak came back and pushed him and Olajuwon came up swinging.  Fortunately for Mitch, none of the punches connected as referee Jess Kersey tackled him aside (with help from another Maurice Lucas neck-tie, this time while on the bench).  This set off a melee that forced police to escort the Rockets back to the bench when it broke up a little bit.  Kupchak and Olajuwon were ejected (a grossly unfair trade-off) and at least one fan tried to throw something onto Olajuwon while he was being escorted through the tunnel.

When the action resumed, the crowd at the Forum was riled up more than usual.  But unfortunately for the Lakers, it seemed to rile up Houston too.  This was especially true for Sampson, who seemed more aggressive overall whenever Olajuwon wasn’t on the floor.  A Magic three-point play put L.A. up 106-101 but Sampson took over from there.

He scored the next 5 points and tied the game at 106 with a hook shot over Kareem in the post.  Kareem came back with a sky-hook and the Lakers eventually regained a 112-109 lead with 37 seconds left on a Magic jumper.  Houston called a timeout and set up for the three.  Robert Reid missed his first attempt but Houston got the rebound and eventually swung it around to Reid, who nailed a three from the corner to tie the game with 15 seconds left.

After a Lakers timeout, they went to Kareem.  He was predictably double-teamed and kicked out to Magic.  They swung it to Cooper and then to Byron Scott who back-rimmed a wing jumper.  Houston got the rebound and called timeout with 1 second left.

This set up one of the most unbelievable plays in NBA history.  Sampson set up in the mid-post area against Kareem.  McCray lobbed the inbounds pass to him.  And Sampson, in one motion, caught the ball and threw up a shot while his body was sideways to the basket (and Ralph probably couldn’t see the basket).  The bounced high on the front rim before ricocheting around and eventually settling in the basket at the buzzer.

The Lakers were stunned, highlighted by Cooper falling onto the floor.  The Rockets had pulled a pretty big upset and now were moving on to play Boston in the NBA Finals.

As time goes on, many have wondered just how big an upset it was.  The Rockets looked like the team of the future while the Lakers looked like they were declining.  But after Houston fell apart with a combination of Sampson declining (helped by a scary injury in the Boston Garden during the ’86 regular season) and drug bans for Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins (as well as the suspension of John Lucas), the Lakers took the next two championships and it became a bigger “upset.”

But in fact, the Lakers may not have won the next two championships had the Rockets stayed together (in fact, it was thought that the league helped break up the Rockets), note this quote from Robert Reid on the Grantland article, The Greatest Team That Never Was

“They broke us up intentionally because they wanted Bird and Magic. They knew L.A. would never get past us.”

Houston starters (points scored)

Rodney McCray (11) – Small Forward

Ralph Sampson (29) – Power Forward

Akeem Olajuwon (30) – Center

Robert Reid (15) – Point Guard

Lewis Lloyd (15) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Allen Leavell (4)

Mitchell Wiggins (6)

Jim Petersen (4)

Houston Coach: Bill Fitch

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (19) – Small Forward

Kurt Rambis (6) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (26) – Center

Magic Johnson (24) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (11) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Maurice Lucas (4)

Michael Cooper (15)

Mike McGee (0)

Petur Gudmundsson (1)

Mitch Kupchak (6)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

sampson vs kareem sampson game-winner

Ralph Sampson hit the game-winner against Kareem from an awkward angle to eliminate the Lakers in 1986 *photos courtesy of ARHE Network and Youtube

June 1, 1986 – NBA Finals, Game 3: Boston Celtics 104 @Houston Rockets 106

After defeating the Lakers to advance to their 2nd NBA Finals of the decade, the Rockets met a rude awakening at Boston Garden.  The Celtics demolished them in the first two games as Larry Bird exhibited his all-around skill and Ralph Sampson went 1-for-13 in Game 1.

But Houston was still bold as Akeem Olajuwon predicted that the Rockets would win Game 3 and also stated that the Celtics won’t win 2 games in Houston (why not just go for it all and say the Rockets will sweep the three games at home?  I guess he smartly held back).

Bird got started by hitting his first three shots but Sampson got going quickly after struggling mightily in Boston.  Ralph got two early dunks, including an alley-oop finish on a Rodney McCray lob to give the Rockets a 19-15 lead.  Then Robert Parish committed his 3rd foul and sat for the half.

Bird, Kevin McHale, and Dennis Johnson kept the Celtics in it but the Rockets held the lead as Sampson continued to show the way, especially after Olajuwon committed his 3rd foul.  McCray’s fall-away from the top of the key at the buzzer gave Houston a 33-29 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

McCray and Robert Reid kept the attack going for Houston as they continued to hold the lead.  Their biggest was at 48-39 after Reid hit a three and Mitchell Wiggins hit a wing jumper.  But the Celtics went on a 7-0 run, helped by a technical from Houston coach Bill Fitch, and eventually tied the game at 52 despite Parish’s backups, Bill Walton and Greg Kite, getting into more foul trouble.  Kite, in fact, committed 5 fouls and received a technical in the 2nd quarter.

A big three-point play from Sampson gave the Rockets a lead.  They held onto a 62-59 advantage at the break.  Sampson had scored 14 points and grabbed 12 boards in the 1st half.

The 2nd half started out as a disaster for Houston.  In the first two games, the Celtics had blown it open in the 3rd quarter and now were threatening to do it again.  McHale got a three-point play after a Danny Ainge steal.  Bird got a breakaway after a D.J. steal.  McHale got a layup after a long Bird pass.  Then D.J. hit two more jumpers, one after a Bird steal at mid-court.  All the while, the Rockets couldn’t score and called two timeouts.  Boston led 70-62.

Lewis Lloyd finally broke the Rockets drought but Boston increased its lead to 74-65 despite both Parish and Walton committing their 4th fouls.  Then the Celtics passing, which defined their 1986 season came alive on one possession where Bird penetrated and got Olajuwon in the air.  He dished off the Walton who got Sampson in the air.  He dished off to a wide open McHale for a slam and Boston led 76-65.

But just like that, Houston woke up again as Allen Leavell came into the game and settled them down at the point.  The Rockets cut it to 6 three times before a Reid wing jumper on a Sampson kickout made the score 82-78.  Then Sampson rebounded a Reid miss and slammed one home for a two-point lead.  A McHale up-and-under put Boston up 84-80 going into the 4th quarter.

Houston cut the lead back to two but could never get over the hump.  Parish and McHale staved them off with baskets.  Then Olajuwon committed his 5th foul and Parish made two free throws for a 96-89 Celtics lead.  The teams traded baskets and a McHale tip-in with just over 3:00 left gave Boston a 102-94 lead.

But Olajuwon got a big three-point play.  And then after Parish missed a jumper, Sampson hit a hook shot in the lane to cut the Celtics lead to 102-99 with 2:04 left.  Then D.J. missed a jumper at the end of the shot clock and Houston got out on the break.  Leavell found Mitchell Wiggins for a layup and a foul with 1:32 left.  Wiggins couldn’t tie the game by hitting the free throw but Bird fouled Olajuwon after Akeem rebounded his miss.  Olajuwon hit two free throws for a 103-102 Rockets lead.

Bird then found Ainge for a baseline jumper with 45 seconds left and Boston regained the lead.  But after a Houston timeout, Wiggins tipped in an Olajuwon miss to give Houston the lead again with 31 seconds left.  And, yes, just in case you were wondering Mitchell Wiggins is the father of Andrew Wiggins.

The Celtics ran down the shot clock and Parish missed a jumper in the lane at the end of the clock.  The ball hit the rim but the whistle still blew, as it turned out inadvertently, while the teams were scrambling for the rebound (in fact, it looked like Bird would have had it with a seemingly easy putback, but the whistle blew as he was going after it and it bounced off his head).

Because there was no possession when the whistle blew, there was a jump ball at center court with 7 seconds left.  The 7’4″ Sampson easily controlled it to Olajuwon who was fouled at 5 seconds.  Akeem made 1-of-2 and Boston called their last timeout down 106-104.  D.J. couldn’t get it in quickly and couldn’t call a timeout, so he had to play it in to an on-rushing Parish near mid-court on the sideline (the ball may have actually been intended for Bird).  Parish then couldn’t stop himself and stepped on the sideline before getting a return pass to D.J.

Houston ended up running out the clock and Olajuwon’s first prediction came true.  The Rockets now trailed 2-1 as Sampson finished with 24 points and 22 rebounds.  Game 4 would be another classic battle.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (25) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (28) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (8) – Center

Dennis Johnson (20) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (13) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Bill Walton (10)

Jerry Sichting (0)

David Thirdkill (0)

Greg Kite (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

Houston starters (points scored)

Rodney McCray (12) – Small Forward

Ralph Sampson (24) – Power Forward

Akeem Olajuwon (23) – Center

Robert Reid (20) – Point Guard

Lewis Lloyd (14) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Allen Leavell (5)

Mitchell Wiggins (8)

Jim Petersen (0)

Hank McDowell (0)

Houston Coach: Bill Fitch


Mitchell Wiggins, father of Andrew Wiggins, tipped in a miss with 31 seconds to go to give Houston the lead for good in Game 3 *photo courtesy of

June 3, 1986 – NBA Finals, Game 4: Boston Celtics 106 @Houston Rockets 103

After the classic in Game 3, Game 4 went pretty much the same way.  The teams went back and forth and nobody ever had a double-digit lead.

Robert Reid started out by hitting his first 3 shots for Houston.  Larry Bird, after going 10-for-26 in Game 3, hit his first few shots.  Ralph Sampson got going again with 9 first quarter points and Robert Parish, who also struggled with a 3-for-15 performance in Game 3, got involved early as well.

Kevin McHale got the most involved with 13 first quarter points.  Bird hit his 8th point on a pull-up from the elbow to tie the game at 30.  Naturally that was the score at the end of the 1st quarter.  And it continued as Boston led 45-44 midway through the 2nd quarter.

Then Ralph Sampson got involved and showed his full potential.  He scored a hook shot from the post as he was fouled.  Then on the next possession, he pivoted baseline and finished with a slam while he was fouled.  The two three-point plays gave Houston a 50-45 lead.  Later, Sampson hit a baseline jumper against a double team.  But Boston stayed in it as Bird scored and found teammates while Parish continued to pour it on.  The Chief made his first 5 shots of the game.

After McHale committed his 3rd foul, Sampson hit a hook from the post to give Houston a 60-57 lead.  It was Sampson’s 21st point and 12th of the 2nd quarter.  But a great 1st half would be overshadowed by an equally unproductive 2nd half.

A turnaround jumper from the baseline by Parish with 1 second left in the half cut Houston’s lead to 64-63 going into the locker room.  Houston had had trouble in the 3rd quarter of the first 3 games.  And it looked like it would start out the same way.

Mitchell Wiggins took Lewis Lloyd’s playing time in the 2nd half because of his defense.  But as it turned out, he hit the only field goal for Houston in the first few minutes of the quarter.  Meanwhile, Bird hit a turn-around jumper for his 16th point.  Danny Ainge got two field goals.  And Parish scored on a stick-back that was goaltended by Sampson while Olajuwon committed his 3rd foul.  Parish’s three-point play gave Boston a 72-66 lead.

But then Houston managed to get it together, mostly on the defensive end, and stay with the Celtics for the rest of the quarter.  Parish had 20 points after three quarters and Ainge and Olajuwon committed their 4th fouls.  But Houston cut it to 86-85 going into the 4th after Reid found Rodney McCray for a reverse with 2 seconds left.

The Rockets defense and hustle was keeping them alive in Game 4.  Reserve big man Jim Petersen personified this by going onto the floor for a loose ball offensive rebound in the first possession of the 4th quarter.  He managed to retrieve the ball and find McCray for a driving layup and an 87-86 Houston lead.

Bird came back with a drive down the middle as each team continued to throw strong jabs.  After another offensive rebound, Petersen hit an elbow jumper for a Rockets lead.  Then Bill Walton hit a hook shot in the lane.  Reid came back with a wing jumper after initially fumbling the kickout from Sampson.  Then Dennis Johnson hit a corner three at the end of the shot clock after Bird retrieved a loose ball beyond mid-court.

Sampson hit a banker from the post to tie the game again at 93.  This was Sampson’s 25th and final point, only 4 came in the 2nd half.  Boston eventually regained a 97-95 lead on a D.J. fall-away.  They had a chance to increase it but could not.  Wiggins hit two free throws to tie it and then Olajuwon hit a fall-away from the post for a 99-97 lead.  Kevin McHale came back with a hook after faking several Rockets several times.  But Olajuwon made his best move to respond, a spin from the post to split a double-team and slam one down for a 101-99 Rockets lead with 4:21 left.

Houston twice had chances to gain a four-point lead but Olajuwon and Reid missed shots.  With 3:07 left, D.J. tied it with two free throws.  Wiggins then missed a wing jumper and Walton, who had just come into the game for a tired Parish, grabbed the rebound.  Boston called timeout with 2:39 left and was able to get a good shot off their ball and player movement.

Walton had the ball in the post and kicked out to Bird at the top of the key beyond the three-point line.  Larry nailed the trey for a 104-101 lead with 2:27 left.  Reid tried to answer with a trey but missed.  However, McCray tipped in his miss to cut the lead to 104-103.  Boston had the ball again and their shot clock was running out.  D.J. drove the lane and missed.  But Walton grabbed his miss and put back in a reverse layup with 1:39 left.

Believe it or not, this was the last scoring of the game.  Akeem missed a shot.  Wiggins got a steal but Ainge got a re-steal.  Then Bird missed a three trying to throw the dagger with 29 seconds left.  Houston got the rebound and a timeout with a chance to tie it.

Nowadays, it’s pretty standard with 25 seconds left to go for the quick two and then foul.  But the three-point shot was still a child in the NBA in 1986 and strategy when down three was that you had to go for it.  The Rockets wasted time moving it around the perimeter trying to find an open three.  Finally, Sampson turned it over trying too hard to find a shooter with 15 seconds left.  Boston got the steal and their ball movement killed the clock as Houston couldn’t foul (also something you’d never see today).

Boston had a 3-1 lead and had a chance to close it out in Houston in Game 5.  They didn’t but in a way, it gave them a chance for one more grand finale in Game 6 at the Boston Garden for 1986.  They were already 49-1 at home that season.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (21) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (19) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (22) – Center

Dennis Johnson (22) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (8) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Bill Walton (10)

Jerry Sichting (4)

Greg Kite (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

Houston starters (points scored)

Rodney McCray (17) – Small Forward

Ralph Sampson (25) – Power Forward

Akeem Olajuwon (20) – Center

Robert Reid (19) – Point Guard

Lewis Lloyd (6) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Allen Leavell (2)

Mitchell Wiggins (8)

Jim Petersen (6)

Houston Coach: Bill Fitch


Bill Walton made some key plays down the stretch in Game 4 to give Boston a 3-1 lead *photo courtesy of

June 8, 1986 – NBA Finals, Game 6: Houston Rockets 97 @Boston Celtics 114

Other than the Michael Jordan 63 point game, the Celtics had won all of their playoff games at the Boston Garden by double figures.  They would have a chance to go 50-1 at home in 1986 after Houston won Game 5 to cut the Celtics’ series lead to 3-2.

In the 2nd quarter, a series of frustration boiled over as Ralph Sampson got into a punching match with 6’1″ Jerry Sichting.  Both were ejected.  Houston came alive after Sampson’s ejection as Jim Petersen sparked them with 6 points and 12 rebounds.  Akeem Olajuwon also blocked 8 shots, to go along with scoring 32 points and grabbing 14 boards.  Houston won 111-96 after out-scoring Boston 60-37 in the 2nd and 3rd quarters.

But now Houston was returning to the place where they lost their composure in the first two games.  It started before Game 6 as Ralph Sampson was soundly booed by the Garden crowd when he came out onto the floor and whenever he touched the ball when the game started.  Perhaps as a result, Sampson was tentative and did not help the Rockets.  Kevin McHale scored the first two baskets and had many more in the 1st half against Ralph.  Ralph, at the other end, finished the game 4-for-12 from the field and with no free throw attempts.

The Celtics aggressiveness conversely showed as Bird out-fought two Rockets for an offensive rebound and put it back in for a 10-4 Boston lead.  Boston also forced several turnovers and got out on the break.  After Bird found McHale for a slam, Boston led 22-10 and had played near-flawless basketball.

But then Lewis Lloyd hit back-to-back baskets.  Later, Olajuwon got two steals from Bill Walton and scored on two breakaway slams.  Akeem then got a third steal and found Rodney McCray on a 3-on-1 break for a layup to cut the lead to 22-21.  After a Walton slam over Olajuwon, McCray drove and scored plus the foul.  With a chance to tie the game, McCray missed the free throw.  Houston got the offensive rebound but Akeem missed a jumper.  It would be Houston’s last chance to tie or lead.

The Celtics scored the final five points of the 1st quarter to lead 29-23 going into the 2nd quarter.  Still leading only 31-28, Boston broke it open.  Bird inbounded to McHale for a layup.  Bird hit two free throws and then got a layup on a Dennis Johnson feed on a 3-on-1 break.  Houston called timeout.  Bird throughout the game had that look in his eye.

The run continued after the timeout as Bird found McHale with a no-look pass for a layup.  Later, McHale tipped in a Bird miss.  The run was also helped by a Bill Fitch technical as he tried to get his team going.  But it helped his former team instead.  A Bird pull-up in transition gave Boston its biggest lead at 15.  Then two Bird free throws gave the Celtics a 55-38 lead at the half.  McHale had 21 1st half points and Bird finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists.  Not too bad.

Danny Ainge got the Celtics scoring going in the 2nd half.  After Robert Parish got a block, Bird outletted to him and Danny finished against Sampson, to the crowd’s delight.  Later, Olajuwon committed his 4th foul but had to stay in with the deficit.  The lead increased to 20 on a Bird three-pointer and then 23 after Sampson goaltended a Walton shot.  Boston led 82-61 after three quarters.

If there was any doubt, it was put to rest in the first few minutes of the 4th quarter.  Bird found Walton for a hook shot.  Then Bird, with the shot clock running down, dribbled from under the basket to beyond the three-point line in the left corner and nailed a three at the buzzer.  There was never a louder cheer from the Boston Garden crowd after that dagger went through the net.

A timeout was called by Houston after prototypical Celtic ball movement found Walton for a bank shot from the wing.  Boston led 89-61 and cruised from there.

There were many mentions about how Houston would be a team of the future.  But that would be derailed in the following year with Sampson’s injuries and struggles as well as the banishment of Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins for league drug violations.

Meanwhile for the current, the Celtics got a chance to put one more sterling performance together at the Boston Garden.  And there was thought of this being the greatest team ever.  There is no doubt that the 1986 NBA Champion Celtics are one of the greatest teams of all-time.  But it would also be the peak for the Celtics of the 1980’s.

Houston starters (points scored)

Rodney McCray (16) – Small Forward

Ralph Sampson (8) – Power Forward

Akeem Olajuwon (19) – Center

Robert Reid (12) – Point Guard

Lewis Lloyd (12) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Allen Leavell (7)

Mitchell Wiggins (4)

Jim Petersen (3)

Steve Harris (6)

Hank McDowell (4)

Craig Ehlo (6)

Granville Waiters (0)

Houston Coach: Bill Fitch

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (29) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (29) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (11) – Center

Dennis Johnson (10) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (19) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Scott Wedman (0)

Bill Walton (10)

Jerry Sichting (0)

David Thirdkill (0)

Sam Vincent (0)

Rick Carlisle (4)

Greg Kite (2)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

Boston-Celtics-1986-Champio celtics parade 1986

The Celtics won their 16th NBA Championship in 1986 *photos courtesy of Basketball photo and 



From → NBA

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