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1987 NBA Season – Memorable Team’s Redemption

July 5, 2014

Ralph Sampson stunned the once proud Lakers with this game-winner.  Many didn’t think L.A. would rebound in 1987 

The Lakers did lose on opening night to the Rockets but then rebounded to win 9 in a row.  Like any other year, the Lakers and Celtics got off to a good start.  Meanwhile, the new team on the block, Houston, struggled.  They, at one point, were 10-17 and didn’t have Sampson for much of the early season.  Then they lost Lewis Lloyd and Mitchell Wiggins as they got a lifetime ban from the NBA for failing a drug test.  Each got reinstated in 1989.  Houston did rebound but never got over 6 games above .500 and finished 42-40, good for 6th seed in the West.  However, they nearly got a chance to duplicate their 1986 success without Lloyd and Wiggins and with a injured Sampson.

Getting off to a 5-3 start were the Chicago Bulls with a healthy Michael Jordan back and scoring a lot of points.  The Bulls would get an early season home date to try and improve that record against the 3-8 New York Knicks.  It gave Michael Jordan a chance to show that he could not only score a lot of points but do something else heroic to wow the crowd.

November 21, 1986 – New York Knicks 99 @Chicago Bulls 101

The 5-3 Bulls had had a week off since losing to Boston at home.  Their broadcaster Johnny “Red” Kerr seemed to think that was the reason for the slow start in this game.

The Bulls had made a few moves in the off-season.  Steve Colter was acquired from Portland on draft day.  Earl Cureton was acquired in a trade with Detroit for Sidney Green.  Curetan teamed with Charles Oakley at the forward spot for some muscle.  Point guard Kyle Macy was traded to Indiana for two future 2nd round picks.

Orlando Woolridge signed as a free agent with the Nets, the Bulls got future picks as compensation.  Granville Waiters was acquired from the Houston bench for a future 2nd round pick.  Jawann Oldham was traded to the Knicks for a 1987 1st round pick (seriously, the Bulls got a 1st round pick in the upcoming draft for the immortal Jawann Oldham.. so, instead of the Knicks getting two 1st round picks, the Bulls got two picks and acquired Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant, very important, although New York did get Mark Jackson).

So if you could follow that, the newbies on the Bulls are Steve Colter, Earl Curetan, and Granville Waiters (along with new coach Doug Collins).  They would each start this game along with Jordan and Oakley.  The Bulls also retained John Paxson and Dave Corzine from the 1986 team (they were always looking for that center to replace Corzine in the starting lineup, couldn’t find one until 1988-89), drafted Brad Sellers in the 1st round of the ’86 draft and signed defensive guard Elston Turner.

The Knicks were still trying to find themselves as Patrick Ewing and Bill Cartwright were finally healthy at the same time.  Kentucky’s Kenny Walker was drafted with the 5th overall selection.  Veteran Rory Sparrow and 2nd year man Gerald Wilkins were in the back court.  Veterans Pat Cummings and Louis Orr came off the bench.  Trent Tucker was normally a reserve too but he was out for this game.  The Knicks acquired Gerald Henderson from Seattle for a 1987 1st round pick (so the Knicks supply the Bulls and Sonics with the picks so that they could do the Olden Polynice/Scottie Pippen exchange).

The Knicks got off to a better start in this one thanks to the Bulls layoff.  Walker and Sparrow hit jumpers for a 10-4 lead.  Then Ewing put back a miss and Wilkins threw down a breakaway.  Jordan led Chicago back to within four, this included a driving double-pump layup in transition after an outstanding hesitation move.  But New York held a 26-20 lead after 1 quarter.  MJ had half of their points.

Each team got a lift from a reserve.  Pat Cummings and John Paxson sparked their respective teams in the 2nd quarter.  Paxson hit three jumpers in a row before Cummings drove baseline for a reverse.  New York kept the lead despite Ewing struggling.  For Patrick, this was his first visit to Chicago Stadium as he had been injured in their meetings with the Bulls in Chicago in 1986.  Red Kerr even went as far as to call him a stiff based on what he had seen.  The physical presence of Cureton kept Ewing from getting inside and Patrick wasn’t hitting his turnaround jumper.  He finished 3-of-11 from the field.

But contributions from Walker, Sparrow and Wilkins (along with Cummings) kept New York ahead as they led 53-46 at the break despite 10 points in the quarter from Paxson.

After an illegal defense on the Knicks to start the 2nd half, MJ went to the line and missed.  He was now 0-for-3 from the stripe but went on to make his next 12 to finish the game.  The first two of those came after Ewing committed his 3rd foul.  The Bulls cut it to 53-52 after back-to-back jumpers from Oakley.  But Cartwright responded with a hook from the post and New York never lost the lead despite numerous advances from the Bulls.

Walker and Wilkins continued to lead the Knicks as they took a 77-73 lead into the 4th quarter.  John Paxson continued to hit jumpers and took all the playing time away from Steve Colter.  New York took a 6-point lead after Sparrow hit a jumper.  But the Bulls came back to tie it at 85 after two Jordan free throws.  Walker’s pull-up from the baseline gave New York a lead again but Jordan tied it with a wing jumper at the end of the shot clock.

Then Jordan blocked Wilkins’ shot and drew a foul at the other end.  His two free throws gave the Bulls their first lead at 89-87.  Four more free throws from Jordan gave the Bulls a 4-point lead but Wilkins stole a defensive rebound from him and slammed one down.  New York took a 95-94 lead with 1:56 left on two Cartwright free throws.

But Jordan drove baseline, banked in a double-pump jumper, and drew a foul.  The three-point play gave the Bulls a 97-95 lead.  They had a chance to increase it twice but Jordan missed twice in the next minute.  Finally, two free throws from Wilkins tied it with 32 seconds left.  Then Jordan came through with a double-pump banker from the left side and New York got a timeout with 13 seconds left.

Hubie Brown set the play for Wilkins and Gerald drove into the lane for a hook shot with 8 seconds left.  The Bulls didn’t call timeout and gave it to Jordan on the left side.  Jordan dribbled past Wilkins and pulled up from the left baseline to nail a jumper over Walker with 1 second left as Kerr went crazy on the air.  Jordan had scored the Bulls last 18 points of the game (a familiar theme that season).

Wilkins’ three to win it hit nothing but backboard and the Bulls were off to a nice 6-3 start.  They would win their next game to go 7-3 but hovered around .500 for the rest of the season.  Meanwhile, the Knicks fired Hubie Brown after a 4-12 start but were still in freefall when they faced the Bulls again on Christmas Day, this time in New York.

New York starters (points scored)

Kenny Walker (20) – Small Forward

Bill Cartwright (14) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (6) – Center

Rory Sparrow (22) – Point Guard

Gerald Wilkins (21) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Gerald Henderson (2)

Pat Cummings (14)

Louis Orr (0)

New York Coach: Hubie Brown

Chicago starters (points scored)

Earl Cureton (7) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (8) – Power Forward

Granville Waiters (2) – Center

Steve Colter (0) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (40) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

John Paxson (20)

Brad Sellers (12)

Dave Corzine (12)

Elston Turner (0)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

December 13, 1986 – Philadelphia 76ers 120 @Cleveland Cavaliers 123

This was Roy Hinson’s first visit to Cleveland since going to Philadelphia in one of the two trades that ultimately hurt the 76ers.  And one could tell how much Cleveland missed Roy with their non-reaction to him.  Hard to think that they acquired Brad Daugherty for him.

Daugherty was one of 5 rookies on the Cleveland roster.  Only Johnny Newman didn’t stay beyond the season.  The other three rookies were Ron Harper, John “Hot Rod” Williams, and Mark Price.  Daugherty, Harper and Williams were in the starting lineup.  The Cavaliers also had a new GM and coach.  Former players Wayne Embry and Lenny Wilkens filled the spots (Lenny as the coach).

And they were committed to the youth movement.  World B. Free was not retained after the 1986 season.  He ended up getting his next contract from Philadelphia on December 30.  Veterans Phil Hubbard and John Bagley rounded out the starters.  Off the bench, the Cavs had Mark West, Keith Lee, and Melvin Turpin (along with rookies Price and Newman).  None of those three guys would see Cleveland’s next playoff game, which was in 1988.

For Philadelphia, this would be Julius Erving’s last season (and he got the retirement treatment, which we’ll cover later).  Erving and newcomer Cliff Robinson were out for this game.  Robinson had come along with Jeff Ruland from Washington in exchange for Terry Catledge and, more importantly, Moses Malone.  Ruland was also out for this game and only played 5 that season.

The Malone trade came on the same day as the Hinson trade.  So without Moses or Daugherty in the middle, Philadelphia had Tim McCormick.  They acquired McCormick along with Danny Vranes from Seattle in exchange for Clemon Johnson.  McCormick and Hinson joined Maurice Cheeks and Charles Barkley in the starting lineup for this game along with Sedale Threatt who was in for the injured Erving.

Philadelphia had a slowed Andrew Toney back and coming off the bench.  Toney never fully recovered from his stress fractures in his feet and retired after the 1988 season.  The 76ers also had Kenny Green, who they acquired from Washington in January, 1986, as well as 2nd round draft pick David Wingate.

Despite missing a breakaway slam early in the game, Charles Barkley had a major impact in the 1st quarter with 17 points.  On one impressive sequence, Barkey grabbed an offensive rebound and banked one in, then blocked a Harper shot, and finished the sequence by driving by Hubbard at the baseline and finishing with a reverse slam.  Even with Barkley’s exploits, Cleveland tied the game at 17 on back-to-back Harper baskets.

Then Keith Lee helped the 76ers on back-to-back possessions despite playing for Cleveland.  First, he goaltended a Barkley attempt.  Then he accidentally set a screen on John Bagley as Cheeks drove to the basket and scored.  Cheeks then found Barkley for a slam on a 3-on-1 break and Barkley found a cutting Cheeks for a layup.  Later, Barkley’s left-handed banker in transition plus the foul gave Philly a 30-19 lead.

The 76ers took their biggest lead at 35-21 after a Green breakaway three-point play.  But then Mark Price came into the game and showed why he would be Cleveland’s point guard of the future.  He ended the 1st quarter by nailing a three at the buzzer to cut Philly’s lead to 35-24.  He then played the entire 2nd quarter while Bagley stayed on the bench.

Barkley scored his 21st point when Threatt found him for a slammer on the break.  This gave the 76ers a 43-32 lead.  But Cleveland’s bench, led by Price, got the Cavs back into the game.  Mel Turpin hit a jumper from the top of the key (Turpin was effective enough in the 2nd quarter to keep Daugherty on the bench).  Price later nailed another three to cut the lead to 45-37.  Price then found Newman on the break for a layup and Philly called timeout.

The Cavs cut the lead to 47-44 on Price’s 3rd three and later, Harper gave them the lead after Turpin blocked a shot and the 8th pick in the 1986 draft took it coast-to-coast for a three-point play.  The first half finished with Price hitting a wing jumper after Harper’s penetration to give the Cavs a 61-59 lead.

The 3rd quarter went back and forth for awhile before Cleveland opened it up in a big way.  It started innocently as a 4-0 run gave the Cavs a 73-67 lead.  The teams traded points for a few possessions before Daugherty’s baseline drop step gave Cleveland a 79-71 lead, then Harper found Hot Rod Williams for a layup and a foul and the lead was double digits.

Then it happened quickly as Cleveland played flawlessly in the final two minutes of the quarter.  Harper hit a three from the wing to give Cleveland an 85-73 lead.  Later, his tip-dunk gave Cleveland a 93-77 lead.  Then he found Price on a 3-on-2 break for a layup and finished the quarter by nailing a baseline three at the buzzer.  Harper had led Cleveland to an incredible 98-77 lead after three quarters.

But the run didn’t stop there.  Daugherty got a steal and Hot Rod hit a jumper in the lane.  Then Daugherty’s hook from the post gave the Cavs their biggest lead at 102-77.  Philly didn’t give in and cut the lead to 106-86, but then Price got a layup and Harper a steal and breakaway slam.  This was developing into a pretty nice back court combo wasn’t it?

The 76ers put on the pressure and Barkley kept scoring despite committing his 4th foul.  Cleveland’s young energy had given them the big lead but their youth also aided Philly’s comeback.  They couldn’t handle the pressure and, at times, took ill-advised shots.  An 8-0 run cut the lead to 110-94, then Cheeks hit a jumper from the top to continue the surge.  At the other end, Hinson blocked a shot and Wingate found Barkley on the break for a reverse slam.  Cleveland called a timeout, up only 110-98 now.

They responded well initially as Price found Harper for a baseline jumper.  Then Harper got a steal and Price a breakaway.  But Barkley banked in a three from the wing for his 36th point.  Barkley followed it up by getting a block at the other end and Cheeks finished a breakaway layup.  After Turpin hit a free throw, Cheeks nailed a three and then followed up a Wingate miss on the break.  The lead was down to 115-108 but Hot Rod nailed a baseline jumper and Philly called timeout with 1:54 left.

It looked like they may run out of time but Cleveland continued to aide the 76ers comeback.  Hinson put back a Cheeks missed three.  Wingate got a steal from Price and slammed one down.  Then Cleveland committed a 5-second inbounding violation.  Disaster almost struck Cleveland even when they did something good too.  Harper stole the ball and had a breakaway.  He tried a reverse slam, lost his body balance, but still managed to finish a reverse layup as it crawled over the front rim.  Philly called a timeout with 1:18 left, down 119-112.

Over the next 46 seconds, Barkley got a field goal and Hinson follow-slammed a Barkley miss.  But Mark Price broke the press and hit a short banker for a 121-116 Cavs lead.  Then with under 10 seconds left, Barkley hit a corner three for his 41st point (a career high at that moment) and the lead was down to 2.  But Harper hit two free throws with 7 seconds left and the Cavaliers led 123-119.

Wingate was fouled on a three-point attempt with 3 seconds left.  But as discussed in Michael Jordan’s 63 point game against Boston in 1986, the rule at the time was that the shooter still only got two shots.  Wingate made the first to cut the lead to 123-120.  Barkley told him to miss the second intentionally but forgot to tell him he had to hit the rim on the miss.  Wingate banged one off the backboard and Philly had to give up the ball.

Cleveland had won but escaped.  They finished 31-51 for 1987 but were right back in the playoff chase in 1988 with Brad Daugherty, Ron Harper, Mark Price, Hot Rod Williams and Phil Hubbard leading the way, with a little help of course.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Roy Hinson (11) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (41) – Power Forward

Tim McCormick (9) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (25) – Point Guard

Sedale Threatt (15) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Andrew Toney (0)

David Wingate (12)

Kenny Green (7)

Philadelphia Coach: Matt Guokas

Cleveland starters (points scored)

Phil Hubbard (13) – Small Forward

Hot Rod Williams (16) – Power Forward

Brad Daugherty (10) – Center

John Bagley (6) – Point Guard

Ron Harper (34) – Shooting Guard

Cleveland bench (points scored)

Mark Price (27)

Mark West (6)

Keith Lee (0)

Melvin Turpin (9)

Johnny Newman (2)

Cleveland Coach: Lenny Wilkens

Charles Barkley 1987

Charles Barkley (talking with new teammate and former Cav World B. Free) had his career high (to that point) against Cleveland *photo courtesy of CNN Sports Illustrated

December 25, 1986 – Chicago Bulls 85 @New York Knicks 86

Chicago’s record had leveled out since starting 7-3, thanks to two 3-game losing streaks.  They entered this Christmas Day nationally televised game at 13-12.  Steve Colter had continued to struggle and was 6 days away from being traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Sedale Threatt.  But for now, John Paxson was taking his spot in the starting lineup.  The rest of the lineup remained the same from when the Bulls played the Knicks last in Chicago (1st game of this post) except that Gene Banks returned in early December from a broken foot.

More changes happened with the Knicks.  Hubie Brown was fired at the end of November and was replaced by Bob Hill.  Hill incorporated a different style ( a running game) that the Knicks were still adjusting to.  Rory Sparrow and Kenny Walker, who were factors in the first game, were nonexistent in the lineup (and Sparrow was replaced by Gerald Henderson in the starting lineup).  Trent Tucker was back in the lineup to provide some shooting and defense.

The Knicks were a low scoring team that came in at a less-than-expected record of 6-21.  But they plodded out to an 8-0 lead early in this one.  Patrick Ewing, Gerald Henderson and Bill Cartwright hit field goals and Gerald Wilkins hit two free throws.  But finally Jordan got going with two reverse layups that few other than Michael Jordan can execute.

But MJ’s outside shot was inconsistent in this game and the Knicks played him much better than they had all season (he scored 50 in an opening night victory at Madison Square Garden).  Since the Bulls didn’t have much scoring other than MJ (big shocker there), the Knicks continued to hold the lead despite scoring at their ususla low-scoring pace.

They built a 21-8 lead before Gene Banks and Paxson provided some spark for the Bulls as they managed to cut it to 22-16.  But then with 8 seconds left in the opening quarter, Pat Cummings hit a wing jumper for an 8-point New York lead.  Then Jordan turned the ball over and Ewing put back his own miss at the buzzer.  New York led 26-16 at the quarter break.

New York built a 15-point lead early in the 2nd quarter before Jordan went on one of his surges.  He got credit for a basket on a Ewing goaltending, then stole the ball from Wilkins and drove in for a layup and Wilkins’ 3rd foul.  Then Paxson got a steal and Jordan finished with a breakaway double-pump slam.  After the 7-0 MJ run, the lead was down to 35-29.

New York built the lead back to ten despite Jordan managing to score 18 points.  Ewing led the Knicks with 14 points but it was his block on Granville Waiters that set off a Trent Tucker driving layup at the buzzer the give New York a 45-37 halftime lead.

New York continued to hold the lead as Henderson and Tucker were doing the job.  But a Waiters handoff to Paxson (and a screening of Pax’s defender) at the top of the key allowed John to nail an open shot to cut the lead to 55-48.  Then Jordan penetrated and found Waiters for a runner before MJ went on another personal scoring run.

First, he got a breakaway layup over Ewing and then hit two free throws.  Then on a 4-on-2 break, Jordan took it himself and slammed over 6’7″ athletic Chris McNealy.  This gave Chicago a 56-55 lead, their first lead of the game.  McNealy came back with a drive down the lane before Jordan gave the Bulls the lead again with a baseline turnaround jumper.

Then Dave Corzine found Banks for a layup, blocked a shot at the other end which triggered a Paxson breakaway.  The Bulls now led 62-57 and were on a 16-2 run.  But a driving hook in the lane by Ewing got New York back into it and they cut the Bulls lead to 63-61 heading into the 4th quarter.

At the start of the quarter, New York went on a quick 6-0 run.  Ewing hit a baseline runner after a spin move.  Henderson hit a left-handed driving layup.  Ewing hit a turnaround banker from the post for his 21st point.  The Bulls got back into it and took a 73-72 lead on two Jordan free throws.  Believe it or not, that was Jordan’s last points of the day.

Henderson’s entry to Ewing in the post for a layup gave the Knicks the lead again.  Later, Tucker tipped in a Ewing miss to give New York a 77-75 lead.  Dave Corzine tied it with a jumper from the top of the key.  With 1:20 left, Ewing’s jumper gave New York an 80-78 lead.  It was then and only then in this game that a scoring barrage happened from both teams.

Corzine tied it with another jumper from the top at 1:07.  Henderson found Louis Orr in the lane for a hook.  Jordan, from the post, found a cutting Banks for a layup with 40 seconds left.  Then Ewing mimicked Jordan and found a cutting Henderson with 26 seconds left for an 84-82 Knicks lead.

After a Bulls timeout, it took them awhile to get Jordan the ball.  But when they did, he forced up a tough shot.  It bounced off the back rim but Dave Corzine got the rebound and put it back in plus the foul with 6 seconds left.  The three-point play gave Chicago an 85-84 lead and forced a Knicks timeout.

In the last meeting between the teams, Jordan was the game-winning star.  Now it was the other stars turn.  Ewing set a screen to get Tucker an open shot that missed badly.  Jordan and Charles Oakley fought for the rebound and lost it to Ewing who put it up just before the buzzer sounded.  It hit the front rim and bounced in as New York walked off with a victory.

The victory was the 2nd of what would be a 4-game winning streak by the Knicks (tied for their longest of the year).  But they would languish to a 24-58 record after going 23-59 in 1986.  Bob Hill would not be retained in 1988 and his next coaching job was for the Indiana Pacers 25 games into the 1991 season.

Chicago starters (points scored)

Earl Cureton (3) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (5) – Power Forward

Granville Waiters (6) – Center

John Paxson (10) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (30) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Gene Banks (12)

Brad Sellers (2)

Dave Corzine (14)

Steve Colter (0)

Elston Turner (3)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins

New York starters (points scored)

Kenny Walker (2) – Small Forward

Bill Cartwright (14) – Power Forward

Patrick Ewing (28) – Center

Gerald Henderson (19) – Power Forward

Gerald Wilkins (6) – Shooting Guard

New York bench (points scored)

Trent Tucker (6)

Pat Cummings (3)

Rory Sparrow (2)

Louis Orr (2)

Chris McNealy (4)

Jawann Oldham (0)

Bob Thornton (0)

New York Coach: Bob Hill


Patrick Ewing’s game-winning putback on Christmas Day gave New York probably it best moment of the lost season *photo courtesy of NLSC

February 3, 1987 – Boston Celtics 123 @Atlanta Hawks 126 (OT)

In the Eastern Conference standings coming into this day (with two days left before the All-Star break), the Celtics were atop but two surprise up-and-coming teams were battling for 2nd and 1st in the Central Division.  The Atlanta Hawks were 28-16 and 1 game behind the Detroit Pistons.  The Celtics were 33-11 and 5 games ahead of the Hawks.

The Celtics had the same starting five coming back from their fabulous 1986 season (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge), but their bench was changing.  Bill Walton would be out until March after foot surgery.  Scott Wedman was done for the season (and his career) after playing in 6 games in late November/early December.  Before the season, they traded a 3rd round pick to Utah for Fred Roberts.  The Celtics signed Darren Daye in December after Wedman was out.  Jerry Sichting, Greg Kite, and Sam Vincent were the only players back from their 1986 bench (although Rick Carlisle was back, he didn’t play in this game and didn’t play in any game after March 18).  But even so, the starters were playing a lot of minutes.  This would become a factor later in the season.

For Atlanta, there were some key injuries in this game.  Randy Wittman and Spud Webb were out.  This allowed 2nd year man John Battle to start and veteran Gus Williams (in his last NBA season) was the backup point guard to Doc Rivers.  Rivers and Battle started along with the usual frontcourt trio of Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Willis and Tree Rollins.  The bench was the same from 1986 too as Cliff Levingston, Antoine Carr and Jon Koncak provided front court muscle and athleticism (in the case of 2 out of the 3).

Battle and Wilkins got the Hawks off to a strong start.  They combined for 16 of the Hawks’ first 18 points as Atlanta took a 18-14 lead.  The Hawks were pushing the tempo led by Rivers and Wilkins was getting some exciting slams in transition and in the half court set.  This included a double-pump slam on a baseline drive.  But then McHale hit a reverse after stepping through two defenders.  Parish followed with a breakaway slam on a Bird lead.  Then Ainge found D.J. on a 3-on-2 break for a layup and McHale got a basket on a Rollins goaltend.  Boston now led 22-18.

Boston eventually took a 26-20 lead before Wilkins scored on a right-handed driving shot from the post and then Battle found Willis in transition for a dunk.  But Boston was able to keep its lead and had a 30-27 advantage going into the 2nd quarter.

The first extended look at the Celtics bench was a good one (which wasn’t a sign of things to come).  Vincent, Roberts and Sichting hit field goals to put Boston up 36-29.  And Boston was able to keep its lead for awhile longer despite Atlanta’s growing offensive board strength and advantage.

McHale led the way for Boston with 19 1st half points.  But Atlanta stayed in the game with the aforementioned offensive rebound advantage.  A Willis put back of a Rivers miss with 2 seconds left in the half cut Boston’s halftime lead to 58-51.

Wilkins then started the 2nd half with two quick field goals (he hadn’t scored from the field since the 1st quarter).  But Boston continued to hold its lead as Ainge made back-to-back jumpers (including a three).  Later after a Rivers jumper cut it to 66-63, McHale scored a three-point play after a Bird feed.  The teams went back-and-forth at each other until late in the quarter when Bird hit a three from the top of the key to give Boston its biggest lead at 86-75.

But before the quarter was out, Wilkins hit a wing jumper, Battle went coast-to-coast for a layup and Dominique hit a runner with 2 seconds left in the quarter.  Boston was still up 86-81 but the run continued in the 4th.  Battle hit a runner in the lane and was fouled.  Then Battle hit a pull-up after a Wilkins push to tie the game at 86.  The teams then traded points until Rivers found Levingston for a slam to give the Hawks their first lead since the 1st quarter at 92-90.

But D.J. kept the Celtics around by hitting three straight wing jumpers and Boston led 96-94.  Wilkins then scored 6 straight points, including a driving reverse from the lane and then a breakaway slam after a Rivers steal.  Later after Boston cut the lead back to 101-99, Wilkins hit a pull-up in the lane after a spin move and then took it himself for a layup on a 4-on-2 break.

Ainge hit a three and two free throws to cut the lead back to 105-104 but Wilkins responded by hitting a pull-up from the wing for his 41st point.  But Boston came back as Bird fed Parish for a cutting layup.  Then D.J. found Ainge on a 3-on-1 break for a layup and a foul.  Then Bird hit a driving left-handed hook in the lane to give Boston a 111-107 lead with 1:09 left.

But Wilkins hit two free throws with 58 seconds left.  Then after an Ainge missed three and a timeout, Wilkins tied it with a high-arcing jumper over McHale from the right baseline.  Boston got a timeout with 18 seconds left but couldn’t get a good shot after McHale kicked the ball out of a double-team and Boston swung it.  Ainge was short on a fall-away and the game was headed to overtime.

Wilkins started the overtime with a finger roll on the break.  Battle then drove coast-to-coast.  Then Wilkins got a steal from Bird and Doc found him on a 2-on-1 break for a layup.  Boston was able to stay alive thanks to two McHale three-point plays and were down 121-120 in the final 30 seconds.  But Wilkins went 1-on-1 versus McHale at the wing.  He backed him into the post and hit a hook over McHale while Kevin fouled him.  The three-point play gave Atlanta a 124-120 lead with 17 seconds left.

But Boston wouldn’t go quietly as Bird nailed a three.  Then after Wilkins hit two free throws for 54 points, Bird’s long three to tie it was just off the back of the rim.  This was Atlanta’s final game before the All-Star break, while Boston beat Cleveland the next day.  Atlanta would end up with a 57-25 record finishing three games ahead of Detroit for the Central Division crown and were two games behind Boston for the best record in the East.  But these teams would not match up in the 1987 playoffs as both teams wouldn’t be hearing the last from Detroit.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (26) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (36) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (13) – Center

Dennis Johnson (15) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (19) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Jerry Sichting (8)

Fred Roberts (2)

Darren Daye (0)

Sam Vincent (2)

Greg Kite (2)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (54) – Small Forward

Kevin Willis (18) – Power Forward

Tree Rollins (11) – Center

Doc Rivers (9) – Point Guard

John Battle (19) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

Cliff Levingston (6)

Jon Koncak (7)

Antoine Carr (0)

Gus Williams (2)

Atlanta Coach: Mike Fratello

February 8, 1987 – NBA All-Star Game @ Seattle: West 154, East 149 (OT)

Until 2014’s travesty, this was the highest scoring All-Star Game in NBA history.  And to show how much different it was, Larry Bird even said that the All-Star Game was more physical than a regular season game.  Drives to the rim were challenged, rebounds were contested, low post position wasn’t easily grabbed.  It was a much different game than the All-Star Game is now.

And for Seattle fans of the host Sonics, not only did they have an improved team in 1987 but they had an All-Star starter.  With Ralph Sampson’s injury, Tom Chambers got the starting nod at power forward.  For a good portion of the game, the only big audible cheers from the crowd came whenever Chambers scored.

The most cheered player on the East squad was the guy appearing in his last All-Star Game, Julius Erving.  Erving got the starting nod along with Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Larry Bird and former teammate Moses Malone.  This meant that the East didn’t have a true point guard in the starting lineup to match Magic Johnson and it also meant that Isiah Thomas was coming off the bench and probably feeling disrespected.

But even with that, the East got off to the early lead as Moses scored the first two field goals and Erving hit his first shot from the mid-post area.  The Doctor then went coast-to-coast after the West tied it at 10 for a layup and a foul.  Magic found Chambers for his first field goal to respond.  Chambers hit two more jumpers (including a three) in the first quarter on kickouts from post guys.

The East took a 29-27 lead when Isiah found his Detroit teammate Bill Laimbeer with a wrap-around pass on the break for a layup.  Laimbeer hit another jumper to give the East a 33-29 lead at the end of the 1st quarter.

The West got back into it in the 2nd quarter as Eric ‘Sleepy’ Floyd (the Golden State Warrior in his 1st All-Star Game) hit a three and then went coast-to-coast on a 4-on-2 break.  He later hit a few more driving layups but the big West sark came from Rolando Blackman.  He scored 15 points in the 2nd quarter and led the West to a 70-65 halftime lead.

The East made a quick run to get back into it as Jordan hit back-to-back baskets to give the East a 73-72 lead.  Erving later got going with a vintage finger roll and later a three-point shot to give the East an 86-80 lead.  The East held that lead at 107-100 going into the 4th quarter.

Isiah scored five quick points and a Moses Malone tip-in put the East up 114-104.  Blackman and Chambers kept the West within striking distance.  But the East kept holding them off and took a 126-116 lead when Bird hit a left-handed hook from the post.  Then Isiah found Jeff Malone on a 3-on-2 break for a layup and the East’s biggest lead with under 5:00 left.

But the West’s run started with Tom Chambers hitting a three for his 23rd point after an Akeem Olajuwon kickout.  Blackman then hit two free throws and a driving layup in transition.  Isiah pushed the ball right back and found Moses for a slam.  But then Magic pushed it the other way and found Chambers for a layup.  The crowd started to get into it with the pace picking up and the West getting back into it.

Chambers scored 5 more points before hitting James Worthy with a long outlet for a breakaway slam to cut the East’s lead to 136-135 with 1:38 left.  The teams traded misses and blocked shots for the next minute for Olajuwon hit two free throws to give the West the lead.  But then Erving hit a pull-up from the wing with 38 seconds left to give the East the advantage again.  In his last All-Star Game, it would have been fitting for him to get the game-winner.  But like MJ in 2003, it wasn’t meant to be.

Blackman split a pair of free throws to tie the game at 138 before the East set up the last shot.  Isiah drove the lane with 8 seconds left but his shot was blocked by Akeem.  Kevin McHale grabbed the loose ball in the corner and threw up a fadeaway that was short.  But Moses out-fought Akeem and tipped in the miss with 3 seconds left.  If the 140-138 East lead had held up, Moses may have secured his first All-Star MVP but…

The West called a timeout and then got it to Blackman.  Rolando drove and was fouled by Isiah as he went up for a layup.  The clock ran out just after the foul so Blackman headed to the line with nobody standing along the lane and 0:00 on the clock.  He needed to make both.  The first shot hit the front rim and bounced in but the second one was hit cleanly.  Blackman was obviously pumped after the free throws and so was the West team as they were headed to overtime.

Right after the West won the tip, Worthy found Blackman for a layup.  Then Magic found Worthy on the break for a slam.  Chambers later followed up a Magic miss and then Magic found Blackman for a wing jumper.  The East was able to stay in it with Bird hitting four free throws.  Then Moses tipped in a Jordan miss to cut the lead to 148-146.

But Magic found Chambers on a pick-and-roll for a layup and on a possession later, Kareem got the ball in the post against Erving on a switch.  He pivoted baseline and slammed one down to give the West a 152-146 lead with 2:00 left.  Moses kicked out to Erving for a wing jumper but the West killed a lot of the clock by getting three shots before Worthy scored.  The East couldn’t get anything going and the West held on.

Tom Chambers got the MVP in front of his home crowd with 34 points.  Not only had he replaced Sampson in the starting lineup but he had replaced Sampson on the All-Star roster.  That was OK with the Seattle fans as one had a sign saying Chambers was better than Sampson.  He would end up getting a bigger chance to prove it in the playoffs.

East starters (teams) and point totals

Dominique Wilkins (Atlanta Hawks) 10 – Small Forward

Larry Bird (Boston Celtics) 18 – Power Forward

Moses Malone (Washington Bullets) 27 – Center

Michael Jordan (Chicago Bulls) 11 – Point Guard

Julius Erving (Philadelpha 76ers) 22 – Shooting Guard

East bench (teams) and point totals

Isiah Thomas (Detroit Pistons) 16

Kevin McHale (Boston Celtics) 16

Bill Laimbeer (Detroit Pistons) 8

Jeff Malone (Washington Bullets) 6

Charles Barkley (Philadelphia 76ers) 7

Maurice Cheeks (Philadelphia 76ers) 4

Robert Parish (Boston Celtics) 4

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

West starters (teams) and point totals

James Worthy (Los Angeles Lakers) 22 – Small Forward

Tom Chambers (Seattle Sonics) 34 – Power Forward

Akeem Olajuwon (Houston Rockets) 10 – Center

Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers) 9 – Point Guard

Alvin Robertson (San Antonio Spurs) 6 – Shooting Guard

West bench (teams) and point totals

Mark Aguirre (Dallas Mavericks) 9

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Los Angeles Lakers) 10

Walter Davis (Phoenix Suns) 7

Sleepy Floyd (Golden State Warriors) 14

Joe Barry Carroll (Golden State Warriors) 4

Rolando Blackman (Dallas Mavericks) 29

Alex English (Denver Nuggets) 0

West Coach: Pat Riley (Los Angeles Lakers)


1987 All-Star MVP Tom Chambers hits a hook over Larry Bird in front of his home fans in Seattle *photo courtesy of

February 22, 1987 – Los Angeles Lakers 112 @Philadelphia 76ers 110 (OT)

Two weeks after the All-Star game, the Philadelphia 76ers hosted the Los Angeles Lakers on national TV.  But the 76ers didn’t have Julius Erving as he fractured his middle finger 6 days earlier against the Knicks.  And of course, the 76ers still didn’t have Cliff Robinson or Jeff Ruland available (the trade started looking worse when Moses Malone’s Washington team beat Philadelphia in their first 3 meetings to that point).

Philadelphia had only 9 players available for this game and only one of them (Tim McCormick) was a center.  In fact, McCormick, Charles Barkley, Roy Hinson and Danny Vranes were the only front court players available.  But for the back court, Andrew Toney was starting to look like his old self after recovering from stress fractures in his feet.  He had scored 27 and 32 points in his last two games since taking the starting two-guard spot from Erving.  Unfortunately, Toney wasn’t done with the injury bug and had to retire after the 1988 season.

For the Lakers, their biggest roster change from 1986 came 9 days before this game.  The Lakers traded Frank Brickowski and Petur Gudmundsson to the San Antonio Spurs for Mychal Thompson.  Thompson solidified their inside game and was a move that would have helped the Lakers take on the Twin Towers in Houston (had that matchup played out).  The Lakers only other changes from 1986 involved the power forward position as Mitch Kupchak retired and Maurice Lucas was waived and claimed by Seattle.  Also, A.C. Green took the spot in the starting lineup from Kurt Rambis to introduce more speed.

Perhaps the Lakers biggest change was strategy.  Since 1975, their first option on offense was always to get Kareem Abdul-Jabbar down low for his sky hook.  But now with Kareen approaching the age of 40, Pat Riley decided that Magic Johnson needed to be more aggressive offensively.  Magic averaged 23.9 points per game in 1987, which was more than 5 ppg above his career average at that point.  But Magic also kept his assist numbers up, averaging 12.2 a game in 1987.  As a result of those assists, James Worthy and Byron Scott averaged above 17 points per game too.

The Lakers were 40-13 coming into the game which was a half game ahead of Boston for the best record in the league.  L.A. got off to an early 15-10 lead in Philly after Scott scored 7 points and Kareem 6.  But then Maurice Cheeks got a steal and went coast-to-coast.  Toney followed that up with his 6th point on a reverse on a Roy Hinson feed.  Hinson then found Cheeks for a wing jumper with his foot on the line.

The run was halted for a second when Worthy kicked out to A.C. Green for a jumper.  But it resumed when Hinson hit a jumper and then Philly got out in transition as Toney finished a 2-on-1 break and then found Hinson on a later break for a three-point play.  The 76ers now led 23-17 but L.A.’s bench kept them in it as Michael Cooper and Thompson each hit two jumpers.  The Lakers stayed within 29-26 at the end of the 1st quarter despite Toney leading the 76ers with 12 points.

The 2nd quarter produced more of the same as Philly continued to hold a small lead.  Barkley and Worthy got going after each didn’t do much in the 1st quarter.  Two free throws from Toney with 5 seconds left gave Philadelphia a 52-46 halftime lead.

The 2nd half started with Green putting back a Worthy miss.  But then Toney found Tim McCormick (who was having an effective game despite not having a backup) for a bank shot from inside.  Toney then found Hinson for a layup.  Green put back another Worthy miss to cut the lead to 56-50.  But then Barkley showed off his talent on the next few possessions.

First, he drove baseline against Green and seemed to be cut off from getting an angle for a shot as Green had forced him behind the backboard.  But Barkley was able to maneuver himself for a shot as well as a foul on Green.  After the three-point play, Barkley blocked a Kareem layup at the other end.  This started a fast break in which Cheeks found Sir Charles for a layup and Philly had their biggest lead at 61-50.

But just as if the lightbulb went off above their heads, the Lakers turned it on.  Kareem hit a lefty layup after a spin in the post.  Magic found Worthy in transition for a layup.  Worthy hit a turnaround from the baseline.  Kareem found a cutting A.C. Green for a layup.  And finally Green put back his own miss and the Lakers ran off 10 straight points just like that.

An illegal defense on L.A. allowed Toney to break the run with a free throw.  But Kareem outletted to Scott for a breakaway slam to tie the game at 62.  The teams traded baskets and leads for the next few minutes before a 6-0 L.A. run put them up 74-69.  The Lakers held on to an 80-77 lead going into the 4th quarter.

After scoring only 4 points in the first 3 quarters, Magic started the 4th with three field goals to keep L.A. ahead.  But Philadelphia was able to stay in it thanks to their ball movement, as well as offensive boardwork.  Danny Vranes put back a Cheeks miss and later scored after Barkley tipped out a rebound to him.  But the 76ers weren’t able to grab the lead until Cheeks got a steal and fed Barkley for a slam.  This gave Philly a 95-94 advantage.

But Magic responded by lobbing a ball to Worthy for a layup and then kicking out to Mychal Thompson for a jumper from the foul line.  L.A. led 98-95 and Magic had 17 assists.  McCormick tipped in a Barkley miss.  Worthy hit two free throws.  And Cheeks hit from the top of the key.

Philadelphia grabbed a lead again with 1:34 left when Toney made two free throws.  The score was 101-100.  The Lakers got three shots in the next 20 seconds before Kareem scored and the Lakers led.  Barkley hit two more free throws with 1:01 to go.

Then Kareem elbowed McCormick away from the ball and was called for an offensive foul.  But Philly couldn’t score as Cheeks threw up an airball at the end of the shot clock.  After an L.A. timeout with 29 seconds left, Magic went into the post against Toney and scored on a little double-pump shot from his chest.  The 76ers called timeout with 15 seconds left, down 104-103.

Barkley got the ball, drove, missed, rebounded his miss, and was fouled at the 9 second mark.  Charles missed the first free throw but made the second to tie the game (and he was mad at himself for missing the first, giving himself the choke sign).  After an L.A. timeout, Magic missed on a drive and the game went into overtime.

The scoring did not come easily for either team in the overtime.  Worthy hit a pull-up from the elbow at the 2:30 mark to tie the game at 108.  The teams traded misses for the next minute and change before Magic scored on a drive and Philly used a timeout with 1:17 left.

But Matt Guokas’ strategy didn’t pan out as Kareem stole the ball from Toney on a baseline drive.  However, Abdul-Jabbar missed a sky hook and Philly got another chance to tie it after calling a timeout at 14 seconds.  Toney drove again and was cut off.  But he able to find McCormick for a reverse layup with 6 seconds left.  L.A. called timeout.

They inbounded to Worthy, who was isolated against Barkley out at the wing.  Worthy drove and hit a runner in the lane with 3 seconds left.  After a 76ers timeout, Barkley tried to do the same but dribbled the ball off of his foot.  The Lakers had another win and the 76ers had given a great effort.  But when they traveled to Chicago a month later (the next game on this post), they were now without Cheeks and still without Erving, as well as of course Cliff Robinson and Jeff Ruland.

The Lakers finished at 65-17 which was far and away the best record in the league.  Magic Johnson received an MVP for his stalwart season and the Lakers didn’t figure to get many challenges from the West.

LA Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (24) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (15) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (18) – Center

Magic Johnson (16) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (15) – Shooting Guard

LA Lakers bench (points scored)

Michael Cooper (10)

Mychal Thompson (10)

Kurt Rambis (4)

LA Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Roy Hinson (15) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (29) – Power Forward

Tim McCormick (20) – Center

Maurice Cheeks (14) – Point Guard

Andrew Toney (26) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

David Wingate (0)

World B. Free (2)

Danny Vranes (4)

Philadelphia Coach: Matt Guokas

March 24, 1987 – Philadelphia 76ers 91 @Chicago Bulls 93

Throughout the 1987 season for the 76ers, the pre-game may have been a struggle.  Julius Erving was in his last season, and as an appreciation from the NBA, whenever Erving was appearing in a building for the last time, he was honored and given gifts before the game.  Such was the case on this day in Chicago, as Bulls broadcaster Johnny ‘Red’ Kerr, Chicago mayor Harold Washington, and Bulls head coach Doug Collins (a former teammate of Erving) presented him with gifts and made speeches.

Dr. J then gave his usual eloquent speech and at the end thanked his teammates (probably not for the first time) for handling the ceremonies professionally.  This was the last game that Erving would miss because of his broken finger, and I guess to signify that he was coming back soon, he was the celebrity free throw shooter during a timeout and made 8-of-10 from the line in a suit (although without the jacket).

Philadelphia was 2.5 games ahead of Washington for the 5th seed in the East while the Bulls were trying to catch Washington and hold off Indiana for the 8th spot.  On December 31, the Bulls had traded their struggling point guard Steve Colter to Philly for Sedale Threatt.  With Maurice Cheeks out, Colter was now the starting point guard for the 76ers on his return to Chicago.  The Bulls had also traded Earl Curetan to the Clippers for a future 2nd round pick.  They then traded that 2nd round pick to Cleveland 4 days later for Ben Poquette.  The 76ers only minor moves in the last month was signing backup center Mark McNamara and waiving World B. Free.

Charles Oakley got the first three points for Chicago (his only points of the game) before Colter showed Chicago what they missed by hitting two field goals early.  Even Johnny Kerr was like ‘where was he earlier this season?’ when Colter was playing well and hitting shots in this game.  But then the main man showed up in his best scoring season.  Michael Jordan averaged 37.1 points per game in 1987, the 2nd leading scorer averaged 14.5.

To highlight that number, Jordan kept scoring and scoring in this game while getting no help from teammates.  “There’s no “I” in team, but there’s an “I” in win.”  Jordan hit two jumpers and then found Gene Banks (in his 6th and final NBA season) with a hook pass for a slam.  Jordan eventually had 10 points and that assist and Chicago led 17-8.

Andrew Toney, who was back coming off the bench after missing a few games, sparked the 76ers and helped cut into the Bulls lead.  Toney had 4 points and 2 assists and Philly cut the Bulls lead to 29-25 at the end of the 1st quarter.  This was despite Jordan scoring 16 points on 6-for-7 shooting.

MJ kept Chicago ahead with some highlight plays too.  He drove baseline for his prototypical up-and-under double-pump reverse layup on one play.  On another, he crossed over his defender at the top and the drove down the lane for a flying slam.  The Bulls had a 41-35 lead before Philly went on an 8-0 run that was helped by a John Paxson technical.

Toney scored 7 more points in the 2nd quarter but MJ got the last laugh.  With the game tied at 47 and time running out, Jordan drove baseline and his shot hit the side of the backboard as MJ was trying to avoid a defender.  But Jordan picked up the rebound and laid it back in for a 2-point Bulls lead at the half.  Jordan had 26 points.

The start of the 3rd quarter went back and forth as Jordan, and seemingly only Jordan, was matching the 76ers basket for basket.  Gene Banks did get two tip-ins before picking up his 4th foul.  With the game tied at 65, Philly center Tim McCormick and Bulls backup center Mike Brown got into a shoving match that almost produced a donnybrook and a matchup that one could only view on pay-per-view now, Charles Barkley vs. Charles Oakley.  Instead, Oakley was led away by Doug Collins (who probably saw his life flashing before his eyes).

Once that was settled, Threatt found Jordan for a wing jumper with 1 second left on the 3rd quarter clock to give the Bulls a 69-67 lead going into the 4th.  Jordan now had 40 points.

Philly briefly took a lead when Toney and David Wingate his jumpers.  But then Jordan hit from the wing and then got a steal and breakaway slam.  MJ then drove and found Banks for a basket while Gene drew Barkley’s 4th foul.  MJ scored the next 5 points after that for 49 and an 81-71 Chicago lead.

Later, Jordan drove baseline for a two-handed slam to give the Bulls an 87-75 lead with 3:44 to go.  Philly cut it to 87-78 on a Colter jumper.  Barkley then got his 5th foul reaching in on Ben Poquette in the back court.  Poquette, for whatever reason, was taking Dave Corzine’s minutes in the middle in the final quarter.  Ben split a pair of free throws.

Barkley then hit two free throws at the other end.  Wingate got a steal from Jordan, scored, and was fouled.  The score was suddenly 88-83 with 2:42 left.  But the Bulls seemed to right themselves by getting the ball in the hands of Jordan (who knew?).  MJ hit a pull-up from the foul line and then Barkley fouled out on a charge driving to the hoop.  With 1:08 to go, Jordan gave Chicago a 91-83 lead with a free throw.

Philly had cut it to 91-85 with 34 seconds to go when Danny Vranes took a hard foul on Oakley with Charles under the basket.  Oak lost his composure a bit and pushed Vranes into the basket support, drawing a technical.  Colter hit the free throw to cut the lead to five.  Then Oakley missed two free throws, rebounded his second miss, was fouled, and missed two more free throws.

Philly however couldn’t score and Paxson finally made two shots with 16 seconds to go.  But then Colter hit a three from the top, stole a lazy pass (ironically thrown by Threatt) and then laid in it.  Suddenly, the score was 93-91 with 9 seconds to go.  Threatt was then fouled and, despite being an 80% foul shooter, he bricked them both.  Philly got a timeout with 8 seconds left.

But with Erving and Cheeks out and Barkley fouled out, the go to options for Matt Guokas were basically down to Toney and, I guess, Steve Colter.  Colter airballed a runner at the buzzer and the Bulls held on.  As was prototypical of the 1987 Chicago Bulls, Jordan had 56 of their 93 points.  Even play-by-play man Jim Durham during the game was like “I’m sorry folks, ain’t nobody else is putting the ball in [the hoop], he[Jordan]’s gotta have it every time down.”  The Bulls would start to get those helpful pieces in the upcoming draft with the likes of Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant.

But meanwhile, Chicago was passed by Indiana and ended up finishing 8th in the East at 40-42.  This meant a matchup with the Celtics for the 2nd straight year.  And for the 2nd straight year, the Bulls were swept (and Jordan didn’t have a memorable 63-point performance this time).

Philly would hold the 5th spot at 45-37 but lose to Milwaukee 3-2 in the 1st round.  Julius Erving’s final NBA moments came on May 3, 1987 in Game 5 in Milwaukee.  Erving was the first of many stars in many sports to have a traveling retirement party during their last season in which they were given pre-game gifts in their final appearance in opposing arenas.

The 76ers would also miss the playoffs in 1988 as the two trades they made before the 1986 draft looked worse and worse.  Cliff Robinson came back to play 62 games while Jeff Ruland retired because of injuries.  Meanwhile, Moses Malone kept his All-Star form in Washington.  Roy Hinson played in only 29 games in 1988 before being traded to New Jersey.  Meanwhile, the top pick of the ’86 draft, Brad Daugherty, was an All-Star as well in 1988 for Cleveland.

Philadelphia starters (points scored)

Roy Hinson (6) – Small Forward

Charles Barkley (17) – Power Forward

Tim McCormick (13) – Center

Steve Colter (21) – Point Guard

David Wingate (13) – Shooting Guard

Philadelphia bench (points scored)

Andrew Toney (14)

Mark McNamara (0)

Danny Vranes (7)

Philadelphia Coach: Matt Guokas

Chicago starters (points scored)

Gene Banks (13) – Small Forward

Charles Oakley (3) – Power Forward

Dave Corzine (0) – Center

John Paxson (8) – Point Guard

Michael Jordan (56) – Shooting Guard

Chicago bench (points scored)

Brad Sellers (8)

Sedale Threatt (4)

Mike Brown (0)

Elston Turner (0)

Ben Poquette (1)

Chicago Coach: Doug Collins


The torch being passed.  Michael Jordan in 1987 with Julius Erving in the background *photo courtesy of CNN

May 1, 1987 – East Quarterfinals, Game 4: Atlanta Hawks 101 @Indiana Pacers 97

For their 9 year run in the ABA, there was no question that the Indiana Pacers were the most successful franchise.  They made the playoffs all 9 years.  They made the ABA Finals 5 times and they won 3 ABA Championships.  They had stars like Mel Daniels, George McGinnis, Roger Brown, Freddie Lewis, Billy Keller, Billy Knight, etc… and were coached by Slick Leonard.

They were one of 4 teams from the ABA to move onto the NBA when the leagues merged in 1976, but troubles arose.  The Pacers didn’t have the same magic and made the playoffs once (losing to Philadelphia 2-0 in 1981) in their first 10 NBA seasons.  But starting in 1981, they consistently made 1st round picks and they were starting to come together.

In 1981, they picked center Herb Williams.  In 1982, they got forward Clark Kellogg.  In 1983, they drafted forward Steve Stipanovich.  In 1984, it was point guard Vern Fleming.  In 1985, it was big forward Wayman Tisdale.  In 1986, Chuck Person.  Five of those six players (along with former Pistons guard John Long) were the top 6 in the rotation for Indiana in 1987.  The Pacers biggest step though was hiring Donnie Walsh as GM in 1986, who built the successful teams of the ’90’s and beyond.  Walsh’s first move was hiring Dr. Jack Ramsay over from Portland as coach.  They made the playoffs despite Clark Kellogg playing in only 4 games and being forced to retire with chronic knee problems.

They faced the 57-25 Atlanta Hawks, who were coming off their most wins in a season in franchise history.  The Hawks back court of Doc Rivers and Randy Wittman were battling ankle injuries, but Dominique Wilkins was coming off an all-NBA 2nd team performance during the season.  Wilkins, Kevin Willis, Tree Rollins, Antoine Carr, Cliff Levingston, and Jon Koncak were factors in the Hawks front court.  While Spud Webb and John Battle helped out in the back court when the starters sat out with injuries.

The Hawks won the first two games, but Game 2 was a one-point win for Atlanta after John Long missed a go-ahead shot in the lane in the last few seconds.  The Hawks had played that game without Doc Rivers and Spud Webb was a factor.  Rivers was back for Game 3 but struggled as Indiana got their first NBA playoff win on their home court to send the series to Game 4.

In Games 2 & 3, neither team reached 100 points, which (believe it or not) was rare at the time.  It looked like the same in Game 4 as both teams shot blanks in the 1st quarter, for the most part.  Person, coming off a rookie of the year campaign, eventually got back-to-back baskets to give Indiana a 15-10 lead.  Chuck had 10 of the Pacers’ 20 points but the home team led 20-16 after one quarter.

6 straight points from Atlanta gave them a 26-25 lead midway through the 2nd quarter as Antoine Carr was giving the Hawks a spark off the bench.  Carr’s three-point play later gave Atlanta a 30-25 lead and gave him 9 points.  After Person found Herb Williams for a layup, Rivers found Wittman at the top for a jumper and then Wilkins drove baseline for a slam.

The Hawks maintained their 7-point lead but could only increase it as big as 43-35 when Wittman hit his 4th jumper of the period.  But the momentum was reversed when Atlanta got called for a breakaway foul (now called a clear-path foul) and Indiana got two free throws and the ball.  Vern Fleming made both free throws and then hit a jumper the cut Atlanta’s lead to 43-41.  That would be the score at halftime.

The Hawks and Pacers battled for the first few minutes of the 3rd quarter.  It climaxed when Person found Williams for a layup and a foul.  The three-point play cut Atlanta’s lead to 51-50.  But then Doc found Wittman for another baseline jumper.  Wittman and Rivers followed with field goals to put the Hawks up 57-51.

But five straight points from Vern Fleming cut the lead to 61-59 and forced a Hawks timeout.  Indiana’s momentum continued though as Tisdale, on back-to-back possessions, found Person cutting to the basket for layups.  This forced another timeout from Hawks coach Mike Fratello.

This stoppage worked as Carr came back in and drew Tisdale’s 4th foul.  The Hawks hit 6 consecutive free throws (4 by Carr) to take a lead.  But Indiana came right back led by Person.  Chuck’s three-point play on a baseline drive past Wilkins put the Pacers up 73-71 late in the quarter.  A free throw by Doc Rivers with 3 seconds to go cut the Pacers lead to 73-72 going into the final quarter.

Wilkins started the 4th period strong with five quick points, including a three-point play in which he drew Tisdale’s 5th foul.  But Steve Stipanovich’s 4 free throws tied the game at 77.  The score went back and forth for a few minutes while Stipanovich (who had to retire a year later with mysterious knee problems) picked up his 5th foul.  Atlanta finally took an 86-82 lead when Carr hit two straight turnaround jumpers from the post.

But a Person jumper gave Indiana an 88-87 lead.  Wilkins responded with a baseline jumper and then Rivers fed Koncak for a slam after Fleming missed two free throws.  The Hawks led 91-88 and had chances to put it away but never could.  Tisdale fouled out with 3:16 to go and the Hawks leading 93-89 but Person’s banker on the break cut it to two.  Then after a stop, Indiana tied it with 2:00 left when John Long hit a baseline jumper after the Pacers swung the ball.

Rivers got fouled at the other end but missed both free throws.  Dominique rebounded Doc’s second miss and, later in the possession, hit a banker from the wing after a Rivers swing.  Wilkins then stole the ball from Person and was fouled by Chuck.  Dominique’s two free throws put Atlanta up 97-93 with 1:15 to go.  Dominique was coming through in the clutch in a big way.

Indiana got a timeout but Rivers stole a Person pass and then found Wittman for a baseline jumper with 44 seconds to go.  It looked over and Hawk’s announcer John Sterling called it over (yes, the same John Sterling who does radio for the Yankees), but Indiana didn’t give up.  Two field goals combined with Wittman splitting a pair of free throws made the score 100-97 Hawks with 7 seconds left.

Atlanta, for some reason, inbounded to Cliff Levingston who was fouled.  Levingston was a career 68% foul shooter and missed the first.  Indiana had their three-point shooters in and were prepared to go with no timeout off a rebound.  But Levingston hit the second to make it a four-point margin.  The Hawks survived the series and moved on to play Detroit in the next round.

For Indiana, the team that had been built through the draft would make their best pick in 1987 as they selected Reggie Miller.  But they regressed the next two seasons with 38 and 28 wins.  Ramsay retired as coach following an 0-7 start in 1989.  Kellogg and Stipanovich had been forced to retire.  Wayman Tisdale was traded to Sacramento for LaSalle Thompson and 1987 Hawk Randy Wittman.  A day later, Herb Williams was unloaded to Dallas for Detlef Schrempf and a draft pick which became Antonio Davis.  They also waived John Long, which cleared room for Reggie Miller to get time.

By the time the Pacers made the playoffs again in 1990, only Person and Fleming remained from prominent roles on the 1987 team.  But Person, Fleming, Miller, Thompson, Schrempf, Davis and 1988 draftee Rik Smits started to form the nucleus that would end up qualifying for 16 playoffs in 17 years in Indiana under Donnie Walsh’s eye.

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (30) – Small Forward

Kevin Willis (10) – Power Forward

Tree Rollins (0) – Center

Doc Rivers (9) – Point Guard

Randy Wittman (21) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

Antoine Carr (20)

Jon Koncak (4)

Cliff Levingston (1)

Spud Webb (2)

Scott Hastings (2)

Mike McGee (2)

John Battle (0)

Atlanta Coach: Mike Fratello

Indiana starters (points scored)

Chuck Person (40) – Small Forward

Steve Stipanovich (13) – Power Forward

Herb Williams (12) – Center

Vern Fleming (17) – Point Guard

John Long (7) – Shooting Guard

Indiana bench (points scored)

Wayman Tisdale (6)

Clint Richardson (2)

Kyle Macy (0)

Ron Anderson (0)

Indiana Coach: Jack Ramsay

May 10, 1987 – East Semifinals, Game 4: Atlanta Hawks 88 @Detroit Pistons 89

It was starting in this series where one was seeing the Detroit Pistons, the team that became the bad boys, coming around.  They had been steadily improving over the last few seasons, acquiring Rick Mahorn and drafting Joe Dumars in 1985.  But the big move that got them over the top was trading Kelly Tripucka and Kent Benson to Utah for Adrian Dantley.  Dantley provided a low post scorer that commanded a double-team, which allowed the guards and Bill Laimbeer to space the floor outside.  Detroit also drafted athletic John Salley and Dennis Rodman.  The Pistons were becoming a complete team and it was time to see whether they could overtake the Hawks as the big challenger to Boston in the East.

And leading the way was Isiah Thomas.  It was Isiah’s free throws in the final seconds that helped Detroit win Game 1 at Atlanta.  Then in Game 3 back at the Pontiac Silverdome, the Pistons broke through in a pivotal game to take a 2-1 lead.  Isiah led the way with 25 points in the third quarter and 35 overall.  He also started getting the swagger and trash-talking to the Hawks while he buried them.

Isiah would be the factor again for Detroit in Game 4 against a beat-up Atlanta team.  Dominique Wilkins was playing through a calf injury that probably would have sidelined him if this was the regular season.  Rivers was still struggling with his ankle and his confidence.  In fact, the only player who was stepping up for the Hawks was Kevin Willis with 22, 19,& 26 points in the first three games.

Game 4 was a defensive slugfest.. or it was a terrible shooting performance on both sides, depending on your perspective.  If paint was taken away from the brass rim on each brick, the rim would have been silver by the middle of the 2nd quarter.

Doc Rivers tried to regain his confidence by driving to the hoop when he got a chance.  This helped him score 5 early points and give the Hawks a 9-6 lead.  Wilkins was also playing a bit freer than he was in Game 3.  Dominique slammed one down after rebounding his own miss and hit two other pull-up jumpers.  Those were basically the highlights of the 1st quarter as Atlanta took a 19-17 lead on a Dominique pull-up from the wing with 21 seconds to go.

Bill Laimbeer hit three wing jumpers to give Detroit leads in the 2nd quarter (all three jumpers were on Vinnie Johnson assists).  But Atlanta got another spark from Antoine Carr off the bench when Tree Rollins went out with 3 fouls.  Carr hit three straight buckets to tie the game at 34.  Isiah, at this point, was 1-for-8 from the field.  He drove baseline and pulled up for a high arcing shot that dropped in.  The bucket didn’t count though as the officials ruled that the ball went over the backboard.  However, seeing that ball go in got Thomas in rhythm.

Isiah (who’s mother had gone to his graduation at Indiana University that day and accepted his degree… Vince Carter apparently wasn’t taking notes) hit a pull-up banker and then from the top of the key.  But 2nd year guard John Battle tied the game at 40 with 2 seconds left when he spun by Isiah on the drive and hit a pull-up in the lane.

Isiah started the 2nd half like he started it in Game 3.  He hit a runner off the glass and two step-back jumpers from the wing.  Dantley and Wittman each got their first field goals in the 3rd quarter as the rock fight continued.  Dantley though got three straight baskets (two on Atlanta goaltendings) to take a lead.  Isiah then scored 8 of Detroit’s 12 points during a stretch but Atlanta cut it to 66-63 with 5 seconds to go in the 3rd quarter when Battle hit another pull-up in the lane after a spin.

The Pistons then got the ball to Isiah, who pulled up two steps beyond half court with 2 seconds left and swished a shot-putted attempt.  This, quite obviously, gave Detroit momentum and a 69-63 lead going into the 4th quarter.  Isiah had 17 points in the 3rd quarter.  Not quite the 25 from Game 3 but he had still taken over.

Detroit took a 75-66 lead on a Vinnie Johnson jumper but then the Pistons went cold.  Atlanta slowly climbed their way back as Battle was taking over the point guard role after Rivers re-injured his ankle and didn’t return.  Battle scored 5 straight points (including a three) to cut the lead to 75-74.  Later, a Wittman three-point play tied the game at 79.

The teams went back-and-forth until Atlanta finally took an 86-85 lead with 2:00 to go on two free throws from Wilkins.  Dumars then missed a driving layup and Atlanta got the ball to Battle.  John went coast-to-coast as he got by Isiah with a cross-over and scored a layup in traffic to give the Hawks an 88-85 lead with 1:27 to go.  After a Detroit timeout, Dantley went to the line after Wilkins committed a foul trying to deny him the ball.  Adrian made both free throws to cut the lead to one.

Mahorn then stripped Battle on a drive but Detroit couldn’t capitalize as Dumars missed a runner (Dumars took two key shots as Isiah didn’t touch the ball).  Atlanta then ran down the shot clock (which had about a 7-second differential with the game clock at this point).  Instead of going to Wilkins, Battle went 1-on-1 and missed a driving banker.  Detroit got a rebound and called timeout with 5 seconds left.

If you think the last 5 seconds took anywhere near 5 seconds, you’re foolish.  After Detroit’s timeout, Atlanta called a timeout.  Finally, Dantley inbounded to Isiah.  Thomas drove against Battle, who seemed to be playing great defense in keeping Isiah in front of him and guiding him towards help.  But Isiah rose into the air and split two Hawks around him.  He then hit a double-pump runner from the baseline with 1 second left.  Really, it was an incredible shot.

Atlanta got the first timeout as Detroit was celebrating.  Detroit then called a timeout after seeing the Hawks’ alignment.  Then Atlanta called a third timeout when they couldn’t get it in initially.  Finally, Scott Hastings threw a lob toward Dominique Wilkins at the basket.  But John Salley got in better position and was able to deflect the ball to run out the time.

Detroit took a 3-1 lead but its major message to the Hawks of “you’re not better than us” came not only by winning Game 5 in Atlanta by a score of 104-96 to clinch the series.  But Detroit incredibly outscored Atlanta 39-19 in the 4th quarter to get to that final margin, probably making the defeat that much more bitter.

While the Hawks would have a better chance of getting to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1988 but, to this day, they have never been able to top their 57 wins in 1987.

Atlanta starters (points scored)

Dominique Wilkins (19) – Small Forward

Kevin Willis (15) – Power Forward

Tree Rollins (1) – Center

Doc Rivers (9) – Point Guard

Randy Wittman (7) – Shooting Guard

Atlanta bench (points scored)

Antoine Carr (15)

John Battle (19)

Mike McGee (3)

Cliff Levingston (0)

Jon Koncak (0)

Spud Webb (0)

Scott Hastings (0)

Atlanta Coach: Mike Fratello

Detroit starters (points scored)

Adrian Dantley (19) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (12) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (10) – Center

Isiah Thomas (31) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (5) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (4)

John Salley (2)

Dennis Rodman (6)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

isiah SI

The SI cover a week after Isiah’s game-winner *photo courtesy of CNN Sports Illustrated

May 10, 1987 – East Semifinals, Game 4: Boston Celtics 138 @Milwaukee Bucks 137 (2OT)

After the Bucks had polished off the Philadelphia 76ers and brought Dr. J’s career to an end, they lost the first two games in Boston.  Larry Bird scored 40 points in Game 1 and Danny Ainge hit four three-pointers in Game 2.  The Bucks had now lost 10 of 11 playoff games against Boston since sweeping them in 1983.

But in Game 3, a man who was getting a third chance to play in the NBA came through for Milwaukee.  John Lucas had been suspended twice for positive drug tests.  The latest of which came late in the 1986 season with Houston.  The Rockets released him and Milwaukee gave him another chance after he got cleaned up.  He rewarded the Bucks with a career-high 17.5 ppg and in Game 3, Lucas hit 4 threes and scored 30 points as the Bucks won in overtime.

Despite Game 3 being the first loss for Boston in the playoffs, they were struggling with injuries and K.C. Jones didn’t trust his bench.  Bill Walton was out (he would return sparingly throughout the playoffs but didn’t contribute).  Scott Wedman for out for the year.  And, most importantly, Kevin McHale was trying to play through a broken foot.  McHale missed Game 3 against Chicago and Game 1 against Milwaukee and came off the bench for Games 2 & 3.

These injuries put guys like Fred Roberts, Greg Kite and Darren Daye into the game, along with Jerry Sichting and Sam Vincent.  As a result, no Celtics starter averaged less than 35 minutes per game during the 1987 playoffs.  And each, save for Bird, would collect injuries as the playoffs went on.

For Game 4, the minutes would feel like more as the game went into double overtime in a hot Mecca in Milwaukee.  It was a great game as in no team could grab a distinct advantage.  The game was back-and-forth throughout.

The Boston frontcourt got the Celtics started as Robert Parish had 6 of their first 12 points, while Bird and McHale had the other half.  Paul Pressey, who was shooting 18% in the first 3 games of the series for the Bucks, got a couple of shots to get the Bucks off along with Terry Cummings and Sidney Moncrief.  Lucas hit 5 straight points, including a three, to put Milwaukee up 18-16.

Lucas scored Milwaukee’s next 4 points after Bird led the Celtics back into the lead.  Bird finished the 1st quarter with 14 points as Boston grabbed a 32-31 lead going into the 2nd quarter on a McHale hook shot.

This game was going on at the same time as Game 4 between Detroit and Atlanta (the previous game on this post) and the comparative scores were quite contrasting.  Atlanta led 19-17 after one quarter.  Neither the Bucks or Celtics seemed to be able to stop each other, although I’ll give more credit to good offense as opposed to bad defense.

The back-and-forth action continued in the 2nd quarter as the benches got involved (more so for Milwaukee).  Sichting hit a jumper for Boston’s only two points off the bench in the 1st half, while Craig Hodges and 6th man of the year Ricky Pierce kept it going for Milwaukee.  McHale got steadily more involved with 17 2nd quarter points.  The last two of which came on some controversy.

Lucas hit two free throws to put Milwaukee up 64-63 with 1 second to go in the half.  Bird threw a full-length pass to McHale, who was ruled to be fouled by Lucas before the buzzer went off.  McHale hit his two shots to make the score 65-64 Boston at the half.

Milwaukee took an early lead in the 3rd, led by Cummings and Moncrief.  But Danny Ainge now got going for Boston to keep them in it.  Ainge scored 11 points while Bird continued to steadily pile on his points.  But an 11-2 run by Milwaukee gave them a 93-89 lead late in the 3rd (Bird had committed his 4th foul during the run).  The Bucks held a 95-93 advantage heading into the fourth.

And back-and-forth they continued.  Consecutive baskets by Cummings gave Milwaukee a 101-97 lead.  But the Celtics ran a play in which Bird inbounded to McHale from the sideline.  McHale touch-passed it back to Bird for a three to cut it to one.  The Bucks regained a 109-105 lead before Bird drove baseline, scored and drew Jack Sikma’s 5th foul (Sikma had been acquired in the off-season by Milwaukee in exchange for Alton Lister).

But Milwaukee grabbed another 4-point lead at 2:27 when Pressey drove down the lane for a slam.  However, Sikma fouled Parish and fouled out.  The Chief hit two free throws.  Then McHale blocked a Moncrief shot and Bird hit a pull-up from the top to tie the game at 115 with 1:45 left.  After a Pressey turnover, Dennis Johnson drove down the lane for a 117-115 Boston lead.  The Celtics starters had looked tired but had put on a burst to take a lead in the final minute.

Moncrief missed a jumper in the lane and the Celtics had a chance to seal it.  But Ainge missed a three at the end of the shot clock.  Boston got another chance to ice it when Pierce was called for traveling at 29 seconds.  They ran the shot clock down before D.J. missed from the wing.  On the rebound, McHale was called for a foul on Paul Mokeski, who had come in for Sikma, with 4 seconds left.

Mokeski was a career 69% foul shooter, but he made both and got a jubilant hug from Lucas after Boston called timeout.  The Celtics, again, couldn’t put the Bucks away as Ainge lost the ball on a drive down the lane and the game was headed to overtime.  The real Boston error on the play was that Larry Bird was open at the left wing.  But Ainge didn’t get him the ball and Larry let him know.

The teams played to a 121-all tie in the 1st overtime before Parish fouled out and K.C. Jones had to bring Fred Roberts in.  Bird hit a three from the top to make the score 124-121 Boston with 2:15 left.  But Pressey and Moncrief got field goals in the next 45 seconds to give Milwaukee the lead.  Then Boston turned it over as a double-teamed Bird tried to find Roberts under the basket.  But the ball went off of Roberts’ hands (in his defense, D.J. may have gotten a piece of the pass).

However, Cummings missed and Boston got a timeout at 51 seconds.  Bird went back to assassin status (I suppose he never left it) when he nailed another three from the top to give the Celtics a 127-125 lead.  Brent Musberger gushed that “we had run out of adjectives for Bird 5 years ago” after that shot.  However, after a Milwaukee timeout, Pressey was able to find Cummings inside for a layup to tie the game.

Boston didn’t call a timeout and gave it to Bird.  Bird dribbled the clock down with his back to the basket.  But before he could go up with his fall-away, Milwaukee came over and double-teamed.  So Bird was forced to give it up to Roberts and Fred was forced to take a shot at the buzzer.  It barely hit the rim.  Double overtime.

A Cummings three-point play put Milwaukee up 130-129.  But Ainge answered with a three and McHale tipped in a miss.  Boston now led 134-130 but Milwaukee tied it as Moncrief and Pressey hit field goals.  Midway through the 2nd overtime, K.C. Jones decided to take out the struggling Roberts and put in Darren Daye.

Daye gave Boston a 136-134 lead when Bird found him for a turnaround fall-away from the baseline.  But Lucas answered with just under 2:00 left when he nailed a three off a Pierce screen.  The Bucks now led 137-136.  Boston couldn’t regain the lead as a fatigued D.J. missed two free throws.  But Cummings lost the ball and the Celts had another chance.

Ainge missed a pull-up from the baseline.  But Daye rebounded and was fouled with exactly 1:00 to go.  Daye’s first free throws rolled in and his second was clean.  Boston led.  McHale then blocked a Pierce layup and the Celtics had a chance to increase their lead.

They didn’t as D.J. missed at the end of the shot clock.  Pierce rebounded and Milwaukee pushed without calling a timeout.  Lucas went coast-to-coast and tried to dish off to Cummings.  Bird deflected the pass back to Lucas, who was forced to shoot a high-arcing turnaround over McHale.  It was short and Boston had survived to take a 3-1 lead.

In a style similar to how Kellen Winslow was helped off the field after a playoff game in Miami, McHale was helped off by two teammates after probably landing wrong on his foot lunging after Lucas’ shot.  Although playing 56 minutes probably also contributed.

While the Celtics won the game, the fact that they didn’t win in regulation probably hurt them.  They lost the next two games (including the first playoff loss at Boston Garden since the Lakers 1985 championship clincher), and had to struggle to survive Game 7.  Parish severely sprained his ankle in Game 5 and missed Game 6.  Danny Ainge strained ligaments in his knee midway through Game 7.  Boston trailed 108-100 with under 6:00 left before coming back to win 119-113.  They held Milwaukee scoreless for the final 3 minutes.  But it would only get tougher from here.

This was the 11th and final season for Bucks coach Don Nelson.  It would also be the final time for awhile that one could say the Bucks were in contention for a championship.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (42) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (34) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (17) – Center

Dennis Johnson (19) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (18) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Jerry Sichting (2)

Darren Daye (6)

Fred Roberts (0)

Greg Kite (0)

Sam Vincent (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

Milwaukee starters (points scored)

Paul Pressey (20) – Small Forward

Terry Cummings (31) – Power Forward

Jack Sikma (18) – Center

John Lucas (18) – Point Guard

Sidney Moncrief (22) – Shooting Guard

Milwaukee bench (points scored)

Ricky Pierce (9)

Craig Hodges (13)

Paul Mokeski (6)

Randy Breuer (0)

Dudley Bradley (0)

Milwaukee Coach: Don Nelson


Larry Bird and the Celtics survived a tough challenge from the Bucks in the 1987 playoffs *photo courtesy of CNN Sports Illustrated

May 10, 1987 – West Semifinals, Game 4: Los Angeles Lakers 121 @Golden State Warriors 129

For 10 years now, the NBA playoffs had gone without one team.  Since losing to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1977 playoffs, the Golden State Warriors had not made an appearance.  The big remains of the 1975 Championship team, Jamaal Wilkes and Rick Barry, left as free agents in ’77 and ’78.  Then others like Robert Parish left via trade.  They acquired players like World B. Free, John Lucas, and Bernard King and missed the playoffs by one game in ’81 and ’82.

But for the most part, they were drafting high and trying to keep those players around to build a team.  Some got away, like Lewis Lloyd, but most didn’t.  The only player in the Warriors starting five in this game that didn’t get drafted by Golden State was Eric “Sleepy” Floyd.  But Floyd was acquired in the middle of his rookie season of 1983 from New Jersey for Michael Ray Richardson, another star who didn’t pan out in Golden State.

The player who had been drafted by the Warriors the longest ago, in 1978, was injured for much of the season after eight stellar years.  But he was back for the playoffs and back in the starting lineup.  That player was rainbow shooter Purvis Short, perhaps the best player you’ve never heard of (even if you were an NBA fan in the ’80’s).  At center was the player acquired in the Robert Parish deal in 1980.  That was top draft pick Joe Barry Carroll.  Also drafted in 1980 was the hardhat and lunch-pale blue collar guy, Larry Smith.  The final player in the starting lineup turned out to be the best of them all, although he wasn’t there yet in 1987.  That was Chris Mullin, their top pick in ’85.

Carroll and Floyd were All-Stars for the first time in ’87 and they helped carry the Warriors to a 42-40 record with George Karl at the helm.  42-40 was nothing to write home about but it was good enough for the 5th slot in the Western Conference.  They lost the first two games at Utah (there was a scuffle at the end of Game 2 between players, coaches and even fans in Salt Lake City.. those mormons are passionate!) before coming back and winning the next three, including Game 5 back in Salt Lake.

But they met a monster in the Lakers and were blown out in the first three games.  L.A. had, in fact, not been challenged in any playoff game so far after going 65-17 during the season.  Even as the game was going on, the Lakers were being compared to the greatest teams of all time (before they had even won the championship).

The Lakers were out to prove it again in Game 4 but Golden State got off to a great start in front of their fans.  After L.A. took a 4-1 lead, Floyd found Carroll for a hook and Mullin for a jumper.  Then after Magic Johnson committed his 2nd foul and sat down, Short scored 6 points in a row to give the Warriors an 11-4 lead.

But then the Laker run, that they had come to be known for, happened.  Kareem hit two sky hooks and Byron Scott took it coast-to-coast for a banker to tie the game at 11.  Later, Scott got a steal and slammed one down on Short while Purvis fouled him.  That three-point play gave the Lakers a 16-11 lead.  Carroll finally broke the run with a free throw.

But from then on, the Lakers held the advantage and it looked like they were well on their way to sweeping the Warriors, although Golden State stayed relatively close.  Joe Barry Carroll and Sleepy Floyd were having good games but Kareem and Scott led the way for the Lakers.  L.A. led 34-27 after 1 quarter and 65-57 at the half.  The big blow seemed to come in the last minute of the third.

L.A. led 93-83 when Michael Cooper hit a three on a Kareem kickout.  Then Scott found Cooper on the break for a layup and a 15-point lead, the biggest of the game.  Floyd got a driving three-point play but Mychal Thompson answered with his own old-fashioned triple on a putback and a foul.  The Laker swagger showed itself the most when Scott was fouled trying to put back a miss with 2 seconds left.  After he went to the ground, the other 4 Lakers hustled to help him up and showed exuberance, led by Magic Johnson, that drew a boo from the crowd.  L.A. led 102-88 after three quarters.

Not much had worked for Golden State at either end of the floor.  But the Lakers came out a little sloppy in the 4th and Sleepy Floyd had one drive for an underhanded layup.  Then he spun by his next defender, got fouled, and got credit for a field goal on a goaltend.  Then Greg Ballard, the former Washington Bullet, got a steal and Floyd got a breakaway.  Suddenly, the Warriors were hustling and moving on defense and Floyd was getting something going.

For most of the rest of the quarter, the Warriors offense was Floyd going 1-on-1 against Michael Cooper (who was only the defensive player of the year in 1987).  Back-to-back baskets by Floyd cut the lead to 104-101 and forced Pat Riley to use his 2nd timeout of the quarter.  Floyd already had 11 points in the 4th quarter at the stage.

Scott hit two free throws to put the lead back at five.  But Floyd then drove past Cooper for another layup and then got another breakaway after a steal.  He then out-raced Magic to a loose ball and drew Johnson’s 4th foul.  Sleepy’s two free throws gave the Warriors a 107-106 lead.  Then Floyd got past Scott, on the next possession, with a cross-over and and banked in a runner.  At that point, Floyd had 19 of his team’s 21 fourth quarter points.

After Magic hit two free throws, Floyd drove down the lane with a left-handed finish.  Then to signify how much everything was going the Warriors way, backup center and non-scorer Jerome Whitehead hit a turnaround fall-away from the foul line at the end of the shot clock.  This gave Golden State a 113-108 lead.  Magic twice cut the Warriors lead to three, but each time he was answered by Floyd.  First, he went coast-to-coast after a steal and, later, hit a pull-up from the elbow after going 1-on-1 against Cooper.

The Lakers cut it to 119-117 when Magic found Scott with an over-the-shoulder pass for a banker.  But Floyd ended his one-man show by hitting another pull-up from the elbow and then hitting two free throws with 1:58 to go to give Golden State a 123-117 lead.  Floyd had 29 points in the 4th quarter, still a playoff record.  Sleepy still had two assists in him though to put the Lakers away.  He found Carroll for a baseline jumper and then Terry Teagle in transition for a layup.

The Floyd and Warriors show was finally put away for good in Game 5 when the Lakers won 118-106 to take the series.  But the memory of Game 4 would be a nice reminiscing moment for Warrior fans, especially in 1988.  In two seperate deals, Golden State traded players to the Houston Rockets.  First, it was Purvis Short for Dave Fietl and a 1989 1st round pick.  Then in a motherlode trade, they sent Joe Barry Carroll and Sleepy Floyd to Houston on December 12 for Steve Harris and, most importantly, Ralph Sampson.  Sampson was struggling more and more with injuries and was not much of a factor.

The Warriors finished 20-62 and George Karl was fired after 64 games.  But Don Nelson was hired and the team began to turn it around.  Chris Mullin broke through in 1989 in Nelson’s system and top draftee from 1988, Mitch Richmond, became an immediate star.  They made the playoffs with a 43-39 record and swept Utah in the 1st round before losing to Phoenix.  Then with the 14th pick in the ’89 draft, the Warriors selected Tim Hardaway.  Run TMC was underway.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (11) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (13) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (27) – Center

Magic Johnson (16) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (28) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Michael Cooper (17)

Mychal Thompson (5)

Kurt Rambis (4)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Golden State starters (points scored)

Chris Mullin (6) – Small Forward

Larry Smith (4) – Power Forward

Joe Barry Carroll (23) – Center

Sleepy Floyd (51) – Point Guard

Purvis Short (14) – Shooting Guard

Golden State bench (points scored)

Terry Teagle (9)

Rod Higgins (2)

Greg Ballard (11)

Jerome Whitehead (6)

Perry Moss (3)

Golden State Coach: George Karl

floyd versus cooper

Sleepy Floyd scored 29 4th quarter points against 1987 defensive player of the year Michael Cooper *photo courtesy of

May 14, 1987 – West Semifinals, Game 6: Houston Rockets 125 @Seattle Sonics 128 (2OT)

Since their last playoff appearance in 1984, the Seattle Supersonics had posted back-to-back 31-51 seasons.  Lenny Wilkens was out as coach in 1985 and replaced by Bernie Bickerstaff.  This was Bickerstaff’s first NBA head coaching opportunity after years of being an assistant.  But going into his 2nd season in 1987, Bickerstaff only had three players remaining from 1986; Xavier McDaniel, Tom Chambers, and Danny Young.

They drafted Nate McMillan and Curtis Kitchen (Kitchen was a 6th round pick that made the team).  In July, they traded Jack Sikma and two 2nd round picks to Milwaukee for Alton Lister and two 1st round picks.  They also signed Kevin Williams and traded Al Wood to Dallas for Dale Ellis.  Ellis, Lister, and McMillan joined McDaniel and Chambers in what would become the starting lineup for Seattle.  But now they had to fill out the bench alongside Young, Kitchen and Williams.

At the end of September, they traded Tim McCormick and Danny Vranes to Philadelphia for Clemon Johnson and a future 1st round pick that became Shawn Kemp.  They also acquired John Long from Detroit for two future 2nd round picks.  But Long was traded 2 days later to Indiana for Russ Scheone and Terence Stansbury.  In their final move of the off-season, Seattle claimed Maurice Lucas on waivers from the Lakers.

So, all in all, the roster shaked out to be Xavier McDaniel, Tom Chambers, Alton Lister, Nate McMillan, and Dale Ellis in the starting lineup.  And Danny Young, Curtis Kitchen, Kevin Williams, Clemon Johnson, Russ Scheone, Terence Stansbury and Maurice Lucas off the bench.  Early in the season, they unloaded Gerald Henderson onto the Knicks and swapped 1st round draft picks with New York (earning the #5 pick in ’87 as a result).  Then late in the year, they signed veteran guard Eddie Johnson.  Johnson filled out the playoff roster.

The starting combination worked as Ellis, Chambers and McDaniel all averaged over 23 points per game.  But Seattle gave up nearly as many points as they scored, and finished 39-43 as a result.  But that ended up being good enough for a 7th seed in the West and a matchup with the Midwest Division-winning Dallas Mavericks.  Dallas scored 151 points in winning the 1st game but Seattle won the next three to shock the world and take the series.  Ellis averaged 29.5 ppg against his former team while Al Wood was not on Dallas’ playoff roster.

Seattle’s magic continued against Houston in round 2.  They won the first two games in Houston and took a 3-1 lead.  But the Rockets won Game 5 behind Rodney McCray’s triple-double.  McCray was back in the Rockets front court along with a healthy twin tower combination of Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon.  But even with this healthy combination, the Sonics were even with Houston on the boards, something the Lakers couldn’t claim in their 1986 matchup.

Houston had lost a lot of its back court firepower in drug suspensions.  But it also didn’t help that the few who remained, Robert Reid and Allen Leavell, were shooting under 34% in the series.  It also didn’t help that their backups were inexperienced Steve Harris and Dirk Minniefield.  Minniefield would make a critical mistake in Game 6.  The backups in the Rockets front court weren’t bad though as veterans Jim Petersen and Cedric Maxwell supplanted the starters.

Reid did hit the first outside shot of Game 6, but Chambers and especially Ellis got the Sonics to the early lead.  Ellis finished the 1st quarter with 17 points as Seattle grabbed a 36-28 lead going into the 2nd quarter.  But Houston out-scored the Sonics 30-18 in the 2nd quarter as Olajuwon and, to a lesser degree, Sampson led the way.  The Rockets maintained their lead throughout the 3rd quarter and built it to as much as 11.  But Seattle cut it to 84-78 going into the 4th.

A 7-0 run then cut the Houston lead to 86-85.  Young hit a three-pointer and got a steal and breakaway during the run.  Akeem came back with a hook shot in the lane plus the foul.  The three-point play gave him 26 points at that moment.  Leavell fouled out on a dubious blocking foul call (looked like a charge).  While Leavell continued to struggle shooting, his ball-handling would be missed.

The story for the quarter would be Seattle tying the game and Houston responding, led by Olajuwon.  The Sonics tied it at 92 when Lucas got an offensive rebound and McDaniel hit a jumper.  But, first, McCray put back a Steve Harris airball and then Olajuwon hit a turnaround from the baseline.  McCray then hit two free throws for a 98-92 Houston lead.  With Leavell out, McCray was running the offense as a point forward, or whatever it was called at the time.

Seattle came back as Ellis got a breakaway, McDaniel recovered a deflected ball and scored, and Chambers slammed one down on the break on an Ellis feed.  With 1:41 to go, two free throws from Chambers tied the game at 102.  But Olajuwon connected on a fall-away after pivoting against a double-team.  He was fouled on that shot as well and made the free throw for a 105-102 Houston lead.

Houston then got out on the break to try and increase their lead.  McCray found Olajuwon on a 2-on-1.  Akeem drew a foul and went up for a shot.  The ball hit the backboard before a trailing Lucas knocked it away.  But no goaltending was called.  Olajuwon hit the two free throws for a 107-102 lead with 55 seconds to go, but Houston felt cheated of a point.

There are probably people out there who believe the NBA didn’t want Houston to match up with the Lakers in 1987 after dominating them in 1986.  So I’m sure they feel that the officials were out to have Seattle win Game 6 so that there wouldn’t be a Game 7 in Houston.  The two shadiest calls that may lead one to believe this was possible was Leavell’s 6th foul and the goaltending non-call late.  However, as bad as those calls were, Houston had chances to win this game and perhaps should have won this game.  For example, they had a 107-102 lead with 55 seconds to go, then…

McDaniel drove to the lane and scored with 42 seconds left.  Houston gave the ball to Dirk Minniefield to go against the pressure defense of Nate McMillan.  Minniefield got it across half-court but never found (or even looked for) an open man.  McMillan eventually knocked it away from him and Ellis got a breakaway layup and drew a foul on Reid.  That would be the final moment for Minniefield as a Rocket.  He sat for the rest of the game and McCray became the primary ball-handler.

Ellis’ three-point play tied the game at 107 with 25 seconds left.  Houston called a timeout but could not find a good shot.  Olajuwon was forced to take a deep fall-away from the baseline against a double-team.  He airballed it and Chambers rebounded and called timeout with 1 second left.  However, Lucas fumbled Ellis’ inbounds pass and the game went into overtime.

A Chambers free throw gave Seattle its first lead since the 2nd quarter.  But Olajuwon responded with another three-point play after a baseline spin and drive from the post.  McMillan found Chambers to tie the game at 110.  Sampson then missed two free throws but Houston eventually grabbed the lead again when McCray found Olajuwon for a layup.  The Sonics tied it again with just over 2:00 left when McMillan found Ellis on a cut.  McMillan didn’t score in this game but handed out 16 assists.

There was no scoring until 20 seconds remained when Reid drove down the lane for a layup.  This put Houston ahead 114-112 but Seattle came right back and McMillan, from halfcourt, found Chambers for a driving slam and a blocking foul on Reid.  The three-point play gave Seattle a 115-114 lead with 15 seconds left.  The Rockets found Reid at the top, but he missed.  Sampson grabbed the rebound and was fouled with 5 seconds left.

Sampson made the first free throw but back-rimmed the second.  Olajuwon rebounded that miss and couldn’t hit a fall-away at the buzzer.  We were now going into a 2nd overtime tied at 115.  The free throw from Sampson would be his only point of the 4th quarter and both overtimes.

Houston went up again 120-117 when Olajuwon put back his own miss and was fouled.  Lucas then got a basket on a dumb Sampson goaltending.  But then Ralph fed Olajuwon, who drove, scored and was fouled again.  The foul was on Lucas, his 6th.  Lister had fouled out earlier so the Sonics had to go to Clemon Johnson against Akeem.  Olajuwon missed the free throw though and McMillan found Ellis for a wing jumper and his 32nd point.  Houston led 122-121.

Maxwell hit a free throw and McMillan found McDaniel for an elbow jumper to tie the game at 123.  Olajuwon got his final points on a baseline fall-away with 2:02 to go.  Olajuwon finished with 49 points and 25 rebounds.  But McMillan fed Ellis for another wing jumper to tie the game again.

Reid missed a jumper at the end of the shot clock and Seattle rebounded and called timeout with 1:15 to go.  The Sonics got three chances before Ellis finally scored on a layup to give Seattle a 127-125 lead with 52 seconds to go.  Reid and Sampson then missed jumpers as Olajuwon couldn’t find a shot.  Seattle rebounded Sampson’s miss (a jumper from the foul line that barely hit the front rim) and ran down the clock until Reid was finally able to foul Clem Johnson with 5 seconds to go.

Clem made the first but missed the second, giving Houston a chance to tie.  However, the Rockets losing several guards left them without many three-point shooters.  Houston was 3-for-21 on threes in the series (one of them was by Sampson).  Reid had not hit any of them and Leavell (who had hit one) fouled out.  This left a little-used reserve forward Richard Anderson in a big spot.  Anderson had hit one of those threes in the series but did not play in Game 6 until the final 5 seconds.

Anderson had played for the Clippers and Nuggets before playing in Italy in 1985 and 1986.  Houston signed him before the season but he had only connected on 4-for-16 from three.  But he was brought into the game to try and keep Houston’s season alive, no pressure or anything.  Anderson barely got off a three at the buzzer.  It wasn’t blocked or anything (although there was sufficient defensive pressure), he just came up wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyy short.

The 39-43 Sonics, the 7th seed, was now moving on to the Western Finals against the mighty Lakers.  Although the Sonics kept three games close (including the next game on this list), they were ultimately swept.  This makes one wonder what Houston would have done against L.A.  But it wasn’t to be.

Houston starters (points scored)

Rodney McCray (14) – Small Forward

Ralph Sampson (19) – Power Forward

Akeem Olajuwon (49) – Center

Allen Leavell (6) – Point Guard

Robert Reid (18) – Shooting Guard

Houston bench (points scored)

Jim Petersen (4)

Steve Harris (8)

Dirk Minniefield (0)

Cedric Maxwell (7)

Dave Feitl (0)

Richard Anderson (0)

Houston Coach: Bill Fitch

Seattle starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (24) – Small Forward

Tom Chambers (37) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (11) – Center

Nate McMillan (0) – Point Guard

Dale Ellis (36) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Maurice Lucas (4)

Kevin Williams (6)

Danny Young (5)

Clemon Johnson (1)

Eddie Johnson (4)

Russ Schoene (0)

Seattle Coach: Bernie Bickerstaff


From left to right: Xavier McDaniel, Dale Ellis, and Tom Chambers.  The big three of Seattle who apparently didn’t like to pass the ball.  In Game 6 against Houston, the Sonics had Nate McMillan to dish it *photo courtesy of Lonely Tailgator

May 23, 1987 – Western Finals, Game 3: Los Angeles Lakers 122 @Seattle Sonics 121

In the first two games in Los Angeles, the Lakers had won relatively close games by holding down Dale Ellis and, in Game 2, Tom Chambers.  In fact, neither of the big three had averaged over 20 points per game.  That, combined with great play from the Lakers big three of Magic, Worthy and Kareem, gave the Lakers a 2-0 advantage coming back to Seattle, where the crowd was more than into the game (it is really sad seeing games like this in Seattle and realizing that, at this moment, they don’t have a team).

Ellis got two quick jumpers to get going as Seattle’s passing, led by Nate McMillan, was crisp and led to easy baskets.  But L.A. stayed in it as Worthy got 8 of the Lakers first 14 points.  Seattle got an initial lift from their bench as veteran Eddie Johnson and Maurice Lucas hit field goals.  But L.A.’s 6th man Michael Cooper got 7 quick points to give his team a 30-24 lead.

The Lakers lead grew to as big as eight in the 1st quarter before Seattle cut it to 36-32 when the period was complete.

The 2nd quarter stayed at around that margin as each team’s guards got into foul trouble.  McMillan for Seattle, as well as Byron Scott and Magic Johnson for L.A., got three fouls.  This forced Pat Riley to use Wes Matthews in the quarter.  He rewarded Riley by nailing a jumper.

The other story was that Tom Chambers, who was held to 8 points on 4-for-12 shooting in Game 2, was struggling again.  He did not get his first field goal until late in the 2nd quarter and was 2-for-9 for the 1st half.  But Seattle only trailed 64-58 at the break as Xavier McDaniel picked up his scoring production.

Seattle had a chance to take the lead early in the 3rd when McDaniel put back his own miss and was fouled.  His putback tied the game at 66 but his free throw for the lead missed.  L.A. then went on a 12-4 run concluded when Magic found Worthy twice for slams.

Kareem was also helping the Lakers cause immensely, as per usual, by helping Worthy with the scoring load.  The 40-year-old’s two free throws gave the Lakers their biggest lead at 86-74.  The lead did not get bigger but Worthy helped keep the margin at 97-86 going into the 4th quarter.  Worthy had 31 points after three.

Chambers missed a pair of free throws early in the 4th.  But he made up for it with two three-point plays (one drew a 5th foul from Magic, the other drew a 5th foul from Cooper) that cut the Lakers lead to 99-94.  McDaniel hit a baseline jumper to cut it to three.  Then X-man matched two baskets with Kareem (one of those baskets was a banker over Kareem inside) before he nailed a baseline jumper on the break for his 8th consecutive Seattle point.  The score was 103-102 Lakers and the crowd was sensing the kill.

The kill would come but not from the team Seattle fans were hoping for.  Cooper nailed a baseline jumper after a pump fake.  Then Magic twice found Worthy for layups and the Sonics had to call timeout with 4:38 to go after L.A.’s 6-0 run.  McDaniel kept Seattle hopes alive with back-to-back jumpers to cut the lead to 114-110.  But with 2:17 to go, Kareem hit two free throws.  Then A.C. Green got a steal and drew Chambers’ 5th foul.  His two free throws increased the lead to 118-110.

But back came Seattle as McDaniel, a possession after missing a wide-open baseline jumper, hit a runner on the break against Kareem and drew a foul.  The three-point play cut the lead to 118-115.  Then Seattle got a timeout with 42 seconds to go after Kareem missed a rare sky-hook in this game.

The Sonics ran a play for Ellis to come off a Maurice Lucas screen and shoot a three.  The play almost worked except for the fact that Michael Cooper made a seemingly impossible athletic play.  He lunged at Ellis while Lucas was setting a screen on him two feet away from Dale and somehow got a piece of the shot.  Magic recovered the ball and was fouled by McDaniel.  Two free throws from Magic and, later, Cooper finished off the game as Seattle cut their losing margin to one when McDaniel hit a three at the buzzer.

McDaniel had a career game with 42 points.  But, in the 4th quarter, Chambers only had a field goal after his consecutive three-point plays and Ellis was scoreless.  Seattle bowed out 133-102 in Game 4 as L.A. moved onto the Finals with a sweep.  Their only loss in the playoffs so far was when Sleepy Floyd went crazy against them in Golden State.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (39) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (8) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (28) – Center

Magic Johnson (19) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (6) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Michael Cooper (12)

Mychal Thompson (6)

Wes Matthews (4)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Seattle starters (points scored)

Xavier McDaniel (42) – Small Forward

Tom Chambers (17) – Power Forward

Alton Lister (7) – Center

Nate McMillan (10) – Point Guard

Dale Ellis (19) – Shooting Guard

Seattle bench (points scored)

Maurice Lucas (3)

Kevin Williams (5)

Danny Young (0)

Clemon Johnson (3)

Eddie Johnson (11)

Russ Schoene (4)

Seattle Coach: Bernie Bickerstaff


The two key players of Game 3, the Lakers’ James Worthy and the Sonics’ Xavier McDaniel, squaring off here in a game that obviously wasn’t Game 3 in Seattle *photo courtesy of Total Pro Sports

May 26, 1987 – Eastern Finals, Game 5: Detroit Pistons 107 @Boston Celtics 108

It had decisively been the story of the home court so far.  In the first two games in Boston, the Celtics looked like the champions and the Pistons looked like the struggling challenger.  Things were going according to script.  But then in Detroit, suddenly the Celtics were old and injured while Detroit were the young guns ready to take them down.  As a result, the series was 2-2 and the Celtics were being questioned.

Certainly, Boston was injured.  McHale and Parish (even though he scored 31 points in Game 1) were still battling foot problems.  McHale had the broken navicular bone while Parish had the severely sprained ankle.  Danny Ainge, after injuring his knee in Game 7 against Milwaukee, missed the first three games and came off the bench in Game 4.

But it wasn’t like Detroit was far off either.  The Pistons lost the first two games by scores of 104-91 and 110-101.  But the games were close going into the 4th quarter.  Then in Detroit, the Pistons won by scores of 122-104 and 145-119 and had double digit leads heading into the 4th quarter.  But was Detroit getting away with thuggish-ness?

In Game 3, Bill Laimbeer clocked Larry Bird on a drive and while they were being separated, Bird threw the ball at him.  Both were ejected but this set up the classic villain case when Laimbeer and the Pistons came back to Boston for Game 5.  Laimbeer had been known as a dirty player for awhile but now it was out for the whole public to see.

Ainge was back in the starting lineup and the Celtics got off to an 11-4 start as McHale scored 5 points and Dennis Johnson 4.  But the Pistons didn’t let the lead grow much larger as the offense for both teams was spot on in the first quarter.  There was a span of about 7 consecutive possessions in which each team scored and there was no stoppage of play.  At the end of the quarter, Boston led 38-29.

The Celtics kept that lead for awhile as Darren Daye and Sam Vincent hit field goals off the bench.  But Detroit’s “microwave” off the bench gave the Pistons a spark.  Vinnie Johnson hit jumper after jumper.  John Salley and Dennis Rodman also provided sparks as Detroit clawed back to make the score 55-53 Celtics.

The game was still a three-point game with under 30 seconds left in the half.  Laimbeer had been having a pretty effective game on the boards and hitting jumpers despite getting booed soundly by the Boston crowd (a much better performance then Ralph Sampson had in 1986 when he was booed soundly at Boston Garden).  But as Laimbeer was going for a defensive rebound at 25 seconds, Parish climbed his back and then whacked him twice in the face.  Laimbeer went down to the floor as the Boston crowd cheered.  Incredibly, no foul was called on Parish (despite some blood inside Laimbeer’s mouth).  It was mentioned on the broadcast that the chatter around the NBA was that one of these days, Laimbeer would get a shot like that because of his dirty play.  Parish did get suspended for Game 6 of this series but had no consequences in Game 5.  Boston led 58-56 at the half.

The Celtics started off the 3rd quarter strong as they took a 69-58 lead and Detroit was forced to use two timeouts.  But McHale picked up his 5th foul and Detroit came back to tie it at 71 on an Isiah Thomas pull-up.  Larry Bird then went to work with two three-point plays and Boston regained a 79-73 lead.

But Vinnie Johnson led a Detroit 8-0 run to give the Pistons an 85-83 lead late in the quarter.  Free throws by Boston (including a phantom 4th foul on Adrian Dantley with 1 second left in the quarter) gave Boston an 86-85 lead heading into the 4th.

The Celtics missed their first 7 shots of the 4th quarter.  But Detroit was only able to gain an 87-86 lead in the first 4 minutes.  Bird finally broke the ice with a fall-away but Detroit’s ice was broken too.  They went on a 6-0 run which concluded when Salley found Rodman for a slam on a 2-on-1 break.  Detroit led 93-88.  But McHale rebounded an Ainge missed three and fed Bird for a layup and a soft Rodman foul, his 5th.

Rodman came back with a runner on a Parish goaltend.  But Bird hit a field goal and two free throws (after Isiah missed a technical free throw on an illegal defense) to tie the game at 95.  Then with 4 1/2 minutes to go, Parish went up for an offensive rebound and landed on somebody’s foot, re-injuring his ankle.  This was the second time Parish had to be helped off the floor in the 4th quarter.  He would not return until Game 7.

Boston clawed their way to a 102-101 advantage with 1:26 to go.  D.J. found Bird for a baseline jumper and his 36th point to give Boston a three-point lead.  Isiah came back with two free throws.  Bird then drove and found Ainge for a jumper at the top of the key.  Isiah pushed it right back down and found Laimbeer for a jumper at the top.  The Celtics went back to Bird, in the post against Rick Mahorn.  Mahorn forced a miss and got the rebound with 27 seconds to go.  Detroit could take the lead with a field goal.

Isiah went 1-on-1 against Jerry Sichting and was able to shake free at the foul line for a second after a spin move.  Isiah pulled up and nailed the jumper with 17 seconds to go and Detroit led 107-106.

Boston went to Bird against Mahorn at the perimeter this time.  Bird drove baseline but his shot was blocked by Rodman.  It went to the sideline where Mahorn and Sichting battled for it.  The ball went out of bounds and was ruled to be off of Boston with 5 seconds left.

There was confusion for a second as Boston thought it was off Detroit.  Most of the Celtics went back on defense and left Laimbeer open near Detroit’s basket (a sucker play perhaps?).  Even Bird was guarding somebody at the middle of the floor.  The official, before handing the ball to Isiah Thomas who was inbounding the ball, also seemed to hold it for a second as Sichting came back into play to defend Thomas (Sichting had dove into the stands going after the ball).  Then… it happened.

Bird realized that Laimbeer was open for a seemingly easy inbounds pass.  Thomas, seeing Bill unguarded, threw a lofting pass instead of a hard one and also threw it quickly before surveying the floor.  Bird got to the pass first and stole it.  When this happened, D.J. cut to the hoop and received a pass for a layup with 1 second left.  The last three paragraphs actually happened in 25 seconds, it was that quick, watch it here.

The Pistons didn’t get a shot off in the last second as the inbounds pass to Laimbeer was off the mark.  Boston had won and took a 3-2 lead in the series.  Detroit had used their last timeout before that last play but not before Isiah inbounded it and Bird stole it (despite Chuck Daly calling for it).

In 1987, Detroit was right there with the Celtics.  But the difference was highlighted in the last 5 seconds of Game 5.  When the action and situation got chaotic, Detroit’s leader, Isiah Thomas, rushed an inbounds pass and threw a loping one.  While Boston’s leader, Larry Bird, saw everything in front of him seemingly in slow motion during this chaotic time and anticipated the pass to Laimbeer.  Dennis Johnson also had the presence of mind to cut to the hoop after Larry’s steal.

The Pistons would get a chance to put all of that behind them in Game 7 in Boston 4 days later.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Adrian Dantley (25) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (4) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (16) – Center

Isiah Thomas (17) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (4) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (20)

Dennis Rodman (14)

John Salley (7)

Sidney Green (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (36) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (20) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (11) – Center

Dennis Johnson (18) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (12) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Jerry Sichting (0)

Fred Roberts (0)

Darren Daye (7)

Sam Vincent (4)

Greg Kite (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

May 30, 1987 – Eastern Finals, Game 7: Detroit Pistons 114 @Boston Celtics 117

The Pistons had last won a game in Boston on December 19, 1982.  The only current players on the roster were Isiah Thomas, Bill Laimbeer, and Vinnie Johnson.  Chuck Daly wasn’t even the coach yet.  Detroit had won all of their home games in the series, including pulling away in the 4th quarter of Game 6 against a Robert Parish-less Celtics team.  But they needed that win in Boston.

The pressure of Game 7 was apparent early as it took a minute and 24 seconds for somebody to score (it was Joe Dumars hitting a free throw).  But then Larry Bird found Parish on a pick-and-roll for a slam and Kevin McHale hit a turnaround in the post over Laimbeer.  Boston went out to a 10-3 lead but Detroit eventually tied it at 17 when Laimbeer got a steal and Isiah a breakaway.

Larry Bird was off to his typical good start but he was being matched by the 2nd year guard Dumars.  It was Joe’s banker against Bird on the drive that gave Detroit a 21-19 lead.  Later, an Isiah pull-up from the top put the Pistons ahead 25-21.  Then after Dennis Johnson missed two free throws, Dumars found Vinnie Johnson for a jumper from the top for a six-point lead.

Bird halted the run briefly with a three-point play for his 9th point.  But John Salley rebounded an Adrian Dantley miss and slammed one through.  Then Dantley got a strip from Bird and finished at the other end when Vinnie found him.  Detroit led 31-24 and their running game was going by the tired and older Celtics in Game 7.

But Bird led Boston back as he scored and fed teammates for easy buckets.  The big man combination of McHale and Parish, despite his still severely sprained ankle, helped as well.  But the Celtics didn’t take the lead until McHale drove the lane to give the home team a 45-44 advantage.  Dumars then drove into Parish and finished with the left hand while Robert fouled him.  He missed the free throw but Detroit rebounded and Dumars connected on a three from the corner.

Dumars would finish the half with 21 points, including back-to-back field goals to put Detroit up 56-51.  But then Danny Ainge fed D.J. for a layup and a foul and Bird hit a technical free throw after Detroit’s 2nd delay of game penalty.  This cut the Pistons lead to 56-55 at the half.

Boston’s starters had played 109 of the 120 possible combined minutes in the first half but they came out strong in the 2nd.  McHale put back a Bird miss.  Larry hit two free throws to bring his point total to 21.  Then Ainge found D.J. for a pull-up on the break.  McHale hustling down the floor despite his foot and ankle problems made that transition basket possible.

Dantley brought Detroit back but Isiah picked up his 4th foul.  However, Thomas stayed in and delivered back-to-back buckets and then found Dumars for a breakaway layup to give Detroit a 67-65 lead.  Although Boston was looking more tired by the minute, they summoned a run led by Bird.  Larry hit three straight field goals and Parish found Ainge for a cutting layup to put the Celtics up 77-72.

Darren Daye tipped in one of several misses to increase that lead to seven.  But Parish was hobbling badly on his ankle and needed a rest, so the Celtics brought in Bill Walton who was only playing his 2nd minute since re-injuring his foot in Game 2 against Milwaukee.  Walton looked rusty, missed two free throws and didn’t help the Celtics (despite a huge ovation from the crowd) as Detroit came back and took an 80-79 lead late in the 3rd quarter.

But as the Pistons were looking to increase that lead, Vinnie Johnson drove the lane and had the ball knocked away.  Vinnie dived after it along with Adrian Dantley and they knocked heads.  Meanwhile, John Salley picked up the loose ball and was fouled with 8 seconds left.  But Johnson and Dantley were still woozy on the floor.  Vinnie eventually got up and Dantley did not.  He had to be carried off the floor on a stretcher and was out for the game with a concussion.

Salley missed two free throws and Sam Vincent took it coast-to-coast and was fouled with 2 seconds left.  Sam hit both to give Boston an 81-80 lead after three.  But if the Pistons were shaken by Dantley going out, they didn’t show it at the beginning of the 4th.  Vinnie hit Laimbeer with a behind-the-back pass for a jumper from the top.  Then Rodman got a steal and led a 3-on-1 break in which Isiah fed him for a slam over Bird and a foul on Larry.  Rodman hit the free throw for an 85-81 Pistons lead.

Vinnie’s baseline jumper gave Detroit an 87-82 advantage but D.J. fed Parish in the post for a slam.  Parish also drew the 5th foul on an out-of-position Rick Mahorn and completed the three-point play.  But then McHale committed his 5th foul and Salley, this time, hit two free throws for an 89-85 lead.  Detroit had a chance to increase it after a Rodman block but they couldn’t connect on a fast break layup and a follow-up.

Bird then hit two free throws and a jumper from the top to tie the game at 89.  D.J. then drove to the lane to put Boston up by two.  The next few minutes were Boston taking two-point leads and Detroit tying it, like two punchers going back and forth.

Isiah hit two free throws.  Parish hit two more after Laimbeer’s 5th foul.  Isiah hit a pull-up from the baseline.  Parish hit a turnaround in the lane.  Isiah drove and hit a scooping left-handed layup with 4 guys around him.  D.J. swung it to Bird for a jumper from the top.  Isiah found Mahorn for a jumper in the lane.  Bird hit a lefty banker from the left side.  Dumars rebounded his own miss and hit a high-arcing shot over Parish from the baseline.  When all of this was said and done, the game was tied at 99.

Ainge missed a three.  The Celtics rebounded and Bird was short on a three.  Boston rebounded again and the tired Bird was short on another three.  There was another Boston rebound and McHale missed.  Then Parish missed.  But the Celtics got a 6th chance and finally Bird hit Ainge for a baseline three with 3:08 to go.  A big dagger had been thrown.  The Celtics never relinquished that 102-99 lead.

Isiah came back with a jumper but Bird responded with a pull-up over Laimbeer for his 37th point.  Mahorn and Isiah each split a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 104-103 before Bird penetrated and hit D.J. for a baseline jumper.  Dumars drove and scored with 40 seconds left but D.J. swung it to Ainge for a jumper at the 25-second mark.  The Pistons called their last timeout trailing 108-105.

Isiah took a three from the top immediately and was long.  McHale rebounded and Dumars fouled him.  McHale hit two free throws but the last 20 seconds were anything but textbook.  Isiah hit a runner off the glass and then fouled D.J. upon the inbounds pass.  Johnson made two more free throws but then inexplicably fouled Dumars when he received the inbounds pass with 10 seconds left.  Dumars made the first but missed the second.  Salley rebounded the miss and slammed it back in and it was 112-110 Boston with 7 seconds left.  The Celtics called timeout.

They then inbounded to Ainge who was fouled by Rodman.  Ainge started imitating Rodman’s celebration antics before D.J. joined in.  Ainge hit two more free throws before D.J. inexplicably fouled Isiah upon the inbounds pass with 4 seconds to go.  Isiah made the first and intentionally missed the second but the ball hit the side of the rim and went out of bounds.  Rodman then committed a foul before the inbounds pass, which meant Boston got a free throw and then inbounded the ball again.  D.J. hit the free throw and Ainge hit two more for a 117-111 lead with 3 seconds left.

D.J. finally didn’t commit a dumb foul and Dumars hit a three at the buzzer to give him 35 points and cut the Pistons margin of defeat to three.  It didn’t matter.  Detroit had missed a golden opportunity to get past an aging, injured Celtics team that was getting all the walking wounded superlatives.  Boston was now moving on to face a well-rested Los Angeles Lakers team.

And when the series was in L.A., this did not prove adventitious for Boston.

Detroit starters (points scored)

Adrian Dantley (18) – Small Forward

Rick Mahorn (7) – Power Forward

Bill Laimbeer (9) – Center

Isiah Thomas (25) – Point Guard

Joe Dumars (35) – Shooting Guard

Detroit bench (points scored)

Vinnie Johnson (10)

Dennis Rodman (3)

John Salley (7)

Sidney Green (0)

Tony Campbell (0)

Detroit Coach: Chuck Daly

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (37) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (22) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (16) – Center

Dennis Johnson (18) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (18) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Jerry Sichting (0)

Darren Daye (4)

Sam Vincent (2)

Bill Walton (0)

Greg Kite (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones


Larry Bird led the Celtics to an improbable victory, but Detroit wasn’t helped when Adrian Dantley went out of Game 7 with a concussion *photo courtesy of

June 9, 1987 – NBA Finals, Game 4: Los Angeles Lakers 107 @Boston Celtics 106

In the first two games at the Finals at the Forum, the Lakers annihilated the Celtics.  In Game 1, Magic Johnson had 29 points and 13 assists while James Worthy finished with 33 points and was a rebound away from a triple-double as L.A. won 126-113.  In Game 2, five Lakers finished with over 20 points, including Michael Cooper, who hit a then-Finals record of 6 three-pointers.  Magic finished with 20 more assists as L.A. won again, 141-122.

The Celtics had now lost six straight road games, but had a chance to turn around the momentum with three games in Boston.  In Game 3, Magic scored 32 and was an assist away from a triple-double and Kareem got 27.  But Worthy struggled after the 1st quarter and, for Boston, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson stepped up to help Larry Bird as Boston won 109-103.

The jitters were palpable at the start of Game 4 as Boston started out shooting 2-for-9 from the field while L.A. was 2-for-12.  But Danny Ainge got his shooting eye going to put the Celtics ahead.  Magic and Kareem kept the Lakers in it but Boston was cutting off their running game.  Plus Worthy continued to struggle with 0 points in the 1st quarter.  Boston led 29-22 after the period.

Larry Bird also struggled with just two free throws in the 1st half.  But he did pull down 8 rebounds and dish out 3 assists.  As for scoring, his teammates helped as McHale and Robert Parish were starting to look healthier and healthier from their injuries.  Parish hit four field goals in the 2nd quarter to keep Boston ahead.  Magic kept the Lakers alive by scoring but he wasn’t able to run the break and dish out assists.  Magic finished with 19 first half points, no other Laker was in double figures.

But finally, late in the half, Worthy got going with a three-point play and then a quick driving layup past McHale.  Magic then tried to get an assist by dishing to Worthy on the break but Dennis Johnson and backup center Greg Kite (who ironically turned Game 3 around for Boston after a slow start) leveled Worthy on the layup attempt.  Worthy then got up and went after Kite.  There were some shoves and half-hearted punches but nothing to warrant more then double technicals (although I’m sure Boston was hoping there would be ejections.. nothing against Kite, but both him and Worthy being thrown out in an obvious advantage to Boston).  I also must emphasize that no flagrant foul was called on the play.  Today, that foul would have been a flagrant three.

Worthy hit the two free throws when all was calmed down to cut Boston’s lead to 53-47 with 15 seconds to go.  McHale hit a baseline jumper to make the margin eight at the half.  The Celtics had the lead, but as was a theme, four starters played over 20 minutes in the 1st half.

Boston started off hot in the 2nd half as each starter, except for Ainge, hit a field goal.  And, yes, this included Larry Bird hitting his first shot from the field in the game.  L.A. kept it within 65-55 before Bird hit a crushing three at the end of the shot clock.  A three that got the crowd going after the Lakers had played 22 seconds of great defense.  The Lakers had to call a timeout after Bird hit another wing jumper to make the score 70-55.

A technical by Michael Cooper eventually pushed the lead to 16.  Magic tried to take over as he hit a pull-up from the wing.  But Bird then took the ball out of bounds and hit Ainge with a full-length pass for a layup and it was 79-63 Boston.  But the Celtics offense began to slow down a little bit as the Lakers started to put on the trap defense.  The Lakers gradually got their offense going as well.

Worthy got some hoops after one-on-one moves (including a flying slam on a baseline drive) and Cooper hit a three on a transition break.  Worthy then found Mychal Thompson for a slam on the break to cut the lead to 83-74.  Then after Byron Scott was fouled on a break, McHale and A.C. Green got into a shoving match in which Scott joined in.  Just double technicals were called but Earl Strom, perhaps the best official in league history, warned both benches before the start of the 4th quarter to cut that crap out or there would be some ejections.  Boston held an 85-78 lead after three.

Boston was able to hold that lead early in the quarter as McHale got two buckets and Ainge hit a wing jumper to make the score 93-86.  But the Celtics starters were gassed and started to miss the outside shots they were making and also started going 1-on-1 instead of moving the ball and getting it inside.  The foul disparity also was going against Boston as the Lakers went on a 7-0 run with 7 free throws to tie the game at 93.

Ainge then finally hit a jumper.  Kareem came back with a sky-hook.  But the Celtics became re-energized after D.J. found Bird for a corner jumper.  Bird rebounded a Cooper miss and hit D.J. for a breakaway layup.  Then Ainge grabbed a Kareem airball and went coast-to-coast for a 101-95 lead and an L.A. timeout.  Bird hit one more fall-away from the foul line after a spin to put the Celtics up by eight.

But, despite Boston going cold again, L.A. could only cut it to 103-97 with 1:59 left.  But then Kareem tied up Parish and stole the ball from him.  In transition, Magic found Cooper for a three and it was 103-100.  The Celtics then threw it away as Bird tried to hit McHale in the post.  Worthy hit a pull-up in the lane with 1:00 to go to cut the lead to one.

Bird then missed a baseline jumper over Kareem and L.A. came back.  Magic dribbled the ball with his back semi-to the basket for a while as Cooper set a pick on Kareem’s man, Parish.  Kareem then went to the basket and threw down an alley-oop pass from Magic to give the Lakers the lead.  Boston called timeout with 29 seconds left.  The Celtics worked the ball around as all four starters, minus Bird (who’s jersey was being held by Worthy), touched it.  Finally, Ainge was able to swing it to Bird in the left corner after Worthy had to rotate to Ainge.

Larry rose up and drained a three over a lunging Mychal Thompson to put Boston up 106-104 with 12 seconds left.  The Lakers called timeout and gave the ball to a 40-year-old who could produce the surest two-points in NBA history, or he could draw what might amount to a phantom foul call.  McHale was called for the foul as he came to help Parish with 8 seconds left.

Kareem made the first but missed the second.  McHale and Parish went for the rebound but McHale ended up knocking the ball out of bounds after, perhaps, a little shove from Mychal Thompson.  Celtics legend Red Auerbach chased Earl Strom down after the conclusion of this game going ballistic about the Lakers free throw edge in the 4th quarter and the non-calls that L.A. got away with.  Either way, it was Laker ball with 7 seconds to go.

After a timeout, Cooper inbounded to Magic at the left perimeter.  McHale came out to guard him and Magic went into the lane where McHale, Parish and Bird converged.  Magic then let loose with a running, “junior” sky-hook.  It swished in with 2 seconds left.  Boston called timeout as L.A. celebrated and the Garden was quiet.

The Celtics ran a great inbounds play in which Bird broke to the ball with Worthy fronting him and then to the corner for a open shot.  D.J. delivered the pass and Bird’s shot hit the back of the rim.  The Lakers celebrated behind Bird and ran off the court.  They had taken a 3-1 lead and had put a stake in Boston’s title hopes for 1987.

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (21) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (7) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (16) – Center

Magic Johnson (29) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (8) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Michael Cooper (10)

Mychal Thompson (16)

Kurt Rambis (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (21) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (25) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (18) – Center

Dennis Johnson (15) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (23) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Jerry Sichting (2)

Darren Daye (2)

Greg Kite (0)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

magic skyhook

Magic Johnson’s winning sky hook over McHale and Parish in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals *photo courtesy of Hoops Vibe

June 14, 1987 – NBA Finals, Game 6: Boston Celtics 93 @Los Angeles Lakers 106

Trailing 3-1 entering Game 5 in Boston, the Celtics mustered everything they could from the home court advantage.  Each starter scored over 20 points, matching the Lakers production of Game 2.  Danny Ainge hit 5 three-pointers, almost matching Cooper’s production from Game 2.  And Greg Kite had given Boston another spark and played 21 minutes, almost matching the high-minute total of any Celtic reserve in the series (Kite played 22 minutes in Game 3).  Boston won 123-108 and the Lakers were happy to get out of Beantown and head back west.

The Lakers fast break had shown some glimpses in the Boston Garden but never really got going.  Back in L.A. it started off well in Game 6.  Off the tip, Magic found Kareem for a slam.  Then Kareem got a block on Dennis Johnson, and Magic led Worthy for a breakaway slam.  Worthy scored two more field goals to give the Lakers an 8-2 lead.  Big Game James had been a combined 21-for-55 from the field in the three games at Boston Garden.

But Kevin McHale started a Celtics run with five quick points.  Despite Parish picking up his 2nd foul, the Celtics gained a 13-10 advantage.  It grew to 19-12 after D.J. got back-to-back baskets and Parish hit a left-handed hook in the lane.  But Parish soon left the floor and was replaced not by Greg Kite, but by Bill Walton.

Walton was said to be about as healthy as he had been all year, which wasn’t saying much.  Walton did play for longer but did not have his speed or timing and the Celtics had to take a timeout to get Walton out after he was laboring on one play.  This would turn out to be Walton’s last game in the NBA.  It was, quite frankly, a turbulent career with some awesome, shining moments.

Walton picked up 2 early fouls as well but Kareem started the Lakers’ 1st half struggles from the foul line by starting 1-of-4.  McHale and D.J. continued to keep the Celtics ahead while Kareem kept the Lakers in it.  Abdul-Jabbar had 11 first quarter points.  D.J. had 12 and McHale 10.  Boston led 32-25 after the 1st period.

The Celtics took their biggest lead of nine after Kite continued to spark them with a tip-in of an Ainge miss.  But the Lakers got back into it as Worthy came around again.  A 6-0 Worthy run cut Boston’s lead to 40-38.  But Parish and McHale kept Boston ahead.  Parish ran out and got two breakaways while McHale was putting on a clinic down low.

Both Parish and Kareem picked up their 3rd fouls late in the quarter as Boston held to a 56-51 halftime lead.  For the better part of three games and a half, Boston had cut down on the L.A. fast break.

Kareem picked up his 4th foul early in the 3rd and things looked ominous for the Lakers.  But Kareem going out turned out to be the worst thing for the Celtics despite his 19 points.  Mychal Thompson came in and, being a former college teammate of Kevin McHale, shut down the Celtics down low.  Thompson, when he was acquired in mid-season, was seen as the Lakers final piece to a championship puzzle.  He was a more-than-solid backup center and power forward and knew better than anyone in the league on how to defend McHale.

With Thompson leading the way, the Lakers defense and fast break returned.  They started out the 2nd half on a 6-0 run, which concluded when Worthy deflected a pass and saved it from going out of bounds in finding Magic Johnson for a breakaway.  Magic then found Worthy on a 4-on-3 advantage.  Magic hit a wing jumper off a Thompson screen.  Worthy got a slam when Boston fumbled a rebound.  And Byron Scott hit a pull-up in transition.  The Lakers led 65-58 halfway through the quarter and Boston called timeout.

The run continued after Parish missed two free throws.  Thompson fed A.C. Green, who tipped in his own miss.  Then Magic fed Thompson, who put back his own miss.  The score was now 69-58 and for all intents and purposes, it was over.  Parish picked up his 5th foul and the Lakers defense held Boston to 12 third quarter points in taking an 81-68 lead going into the 4th.

Although the margin was already in hand, the final Laker push was led by the captain.  40-year-old Kareem Abdul-Jabbar scored 13 points in the 4th quarter after resting with 4 fouls in the 3rd.  Kareem fouled out Parish with a left-handed driving hook in the lane.  His final basket came on a long sky-hook from the baseline and a foul (that sky-hook had to come from about 15 feet away).

Through all of this, the Celtics kept playing and kept within reasonable range, led by Dennis Johnson.  But all in all, the conclusion was written.  A year after Boston had put on a memorable season, the Lakers had finished at 65-17 and 15-3 in the playoffs.  They were far and away the best team in 1987, even after coming into the season seen as over-the-hill.

It was also the 4th championship for the Magic & Kareem era of the 1980’s.  And by denying Boston a championship, it had now been 18 years since an NBA team had repeated as champion.  Pat Riley would now set his sights on making the Lakers the first team to do so since the 1969 Celtics.

Boston starters (points scored)

Larry Bird (16) – Small Forward

Kevin McHale (20) – Power Forward

Robert Parish (12) – Center

Dennis Johnson (33) – Point Guard

Danny Ainge (2) – Shooting Guard

Boston bench (points scored)

Jerry Sichting (0)

Fred Roberts (0)

Darren Daye (6)

Sam Vincent (0)

Bill Walton (2)

Conner Henry (0)

Greg Kite (2)

Boston Coach: K.C. Jones

L.A. Lakers starters (points scored)

James Worthy (22) – Small Forward

A.C. Green (6) – Power Forward

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (32) – Center

Magic Johnson (16) – Point Guard

Byron Scott (8) – Shooting Guard

L.A. Lakers bench (points scored)

Michael Cooper (6)

Mychal Thompson (15)

Kurt Rambis (1)

Adrian Branch (0)

Wes Matthews (0)

Mike Smrek (0)

L.A. Lakers Coach: Pat Riley

Abdul-Jabbar hook shot magic champaign

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the way in Game 6 against Boston as Magic and company won their 4th title of the 1980’s *photos courtesy of Real GM and LA Times






From → NBA

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