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This day in 1986: how the Boston Celtics won their sixteenth title

On June 8, 1986, the Celtics ran away with a Game 6 victory over the Houston Rockets to hang banner number 16.

Larry Bird

On this date June 8: Celtics crushed Rockets in Game 6 of the 1986 NBA Finals to win their sixteenth title.

Boston beat Houston in six-game Finals in 1981/86 - but also grounded the Rockets twice before when the teams were both in the East

On June 8, 1986 the Boston Celtics destroyed the Twin Tower Houston Rockets 114-97 in game six of the 1986 Finals, a lopsided contest that was not nearly as close as the final score might indicate.

Larry Bird later said it was the most pumped-up he had ever been for an NBA game, a zenith he never reached again. He authored a 29-point, 12-assist, 11-rebound triple-double and for good measure, added three steals.

Upon hearing how loud the ravenous Boston Garden crowd was before the game, Bird went into the team locker room and informed his teammates that the fired-up throng wanted Rocket blood, and if they did not get it, they might want Celtic blood instead.

Before a rabid Garden throng hungry for victory after 7-4 Ralph Sampson had slugged 6-1 Celtic guard Jerry Sichting in a game five loss at Houston, the Celtics roared to a 55-38 halftime lead. A meek, intimidated Sampson went scoreless.

Boston led by 21 after three periods and by as many as 28 in the fourth quarter before calling off the dogs. When the score reached 106-84 with 2:20 remaining, head coach K.C. Jones finally substituted for his four future Hall of Fame starters.

A smiling Dennis Johnson hugged Robert Parish first, then Kevin McHale. DJ high-tenned Larry Bird. One by one the superb Celtic starters were given a final curtain call.

The loudest ovation fittingly was saved for regular season and Finals MVP Bird, who shook off a congratulatory hug from Rocket foe Robert Reid before he reluctantly made the long walk to the Celtic bench.

Not wanting to sub out and finish his magical season yet, Larry turned his back and walked away before circling back and slowly walking toward the bench.

The sold-out Garden crowd rose to its feet in unison and respectfully saluted their favorite son with a thunderous ovation. The loving tribute showed their appreciation of his magnificent season, championship series and game six effort.

Once Larry finally reached the Celtic bench, he high-fived Scott Wedman and high-tenned Bill Walton, his high school hoops idol. Smiling broadly, Walton hugged Larry and patted him on the chest. Wedman, who had missed the entire championship series due to a broken rib, finally saw action in the closing minutes.

After regaining the crown lost the year before to the hated Lakers, it took a few moments before Bird allowed himself to enjoy the moment with a semi-smile. It was Boston’s second championship in three years, and his third. At the time, few thought it would be his last - or Boston’s - for 22 long years.

Future NBA champion Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle subbed in for Danny Ainge, the last starter to leave the parquet floor, and the backup guard nailed two perimeter jumpers to score the final Celtic points of the season.

When he reached the bench, Danny high-tenned backcourt mate DJ and hugged his best friend on the team, resident prankster McHale.

It was a pointed final substitution by Jones, since Ainge struggled under high expectations and the criticism of demanding Rocket coach Bill Fitch when he first came to Boston. Jones also had felt disrespected at the same time as a Celtic assistant coach under Fitch, and so there was little love lost there between all three.

Fitch had coached the Celtics to the 1981 NBA title, but had worn out most of his players (except Bird) with his drill sergeant ways by his fourth season in 1983.

McHale dominated Sampson with 29 points and 10 rebounds in game six, as Ralph scored eight low-impact second-half points. Afterward, McHale crowed he would never again ask Carlisle how his Virginia team never won an NCAA title with the supposedly dominant 7-4 Sampson.

Bird punctuated the blowout with a memorable left corner triple. He grabbed an errant pass in the lane, zig-zag dribbled all the way out to the left corner behind a Walton screen, and buried a dagger trifecta in front of the Rocket bench to extend the margin to 89-61.

Even though he was opposed to the three-point rule in theory, Larry loved to use the shot, which was merely an ancillary part of NBA offenses back then, as a psychologically-damaging weapon.

”He said I want to put a pin in the balloon,” exclaimed legendary Celtic radio announcer Johnny Most after the audacious three, made at a time when even good-shooting teams like Boston attempted less three’s per game than many do now per quarter.

In a rare show of emotion after the killer triple splashed through the net, Bird raised his right fist and was about to high-five DJ as he ran back downcourt. But Johnson had to run away from the hand slap to defend the Rockets, so focused were he and the intense Celtics still on the task at hand.

”We listened to all the talk after game five, and we respond very well to talk,” said a vengefully satisfied DJ after the victory.

The dominating win capped a 15-3 post-season run to the crown by Boston. They went 10-0 at home in the playoffs, with their closest call coming in the epic 135-131 double-overtime win over Chicago in game two of the opening round - the thriller where Michael Jordan scored a playoff-record 63 points, yet still lost.

Bird has often called that Celtic team the best club he has ever seen over his four decades in the NBA. Four of the five starters are in the Hall of Fame, and the fifth (Ainge) was an All-Star.

Sixth man of the year Walton is also a top tier Hall of Famer and a former playoff and regular season MVP. Bird, Walton, McHale and Parish made the NBA all-time 50 Greatest list in 1997, with DJ not far from inclusion.

Sharpshooting 6-7 Wedman, a two-time All-Star with the Kings relegated to lesser minutes behind Bird and Ainge, was the league’s best seventh man. Eighth man Sichting was one of the best third guards in the NBA, a great shooter, feisty defender, clever ballhandler and heady passer.

As of 2017 the 1985-86 Celtics are the only team to boast three NBA Finals MVPs on their roster (Bird 1984/86, Johnson 1979 with Seattle, Walton 1977 with Portland).

Rocket center great Hakeem Olajuwon would call Bird the best all-around player he had ever seen after their decisive championship series defeat.

Three of the Celtic Finals wins were lopsided double-digit victories, the first two at home coming by 12 and 22 points. The game four 106-103 win at Houston, the only Rocket loss suffered at home in the Summit during the 1986 post-season, gave Boston a commanding 3-1 lead and all but assured them of their 16th banner.

A great kick-out pass from Walton to Bird, who swished a high-arching three-pointer, helped seal the hard-fought fourth game win before a raucous Rocket crowd in the final minutes. Big Bill’s offensive rebound reverse layup also was a key basket in the homestretch.

Houston outscored Boston 13-6 in the final moments of game six to make a near 30-point blowout into a more respectable-looking 17-point defeat. But the Celtics could have won by 35 had their starters remained in and kept pouring it on.

All five Boston starters scored in double figures, while sixth man Walton added 10 points and eight boards in just 17 minutes.

McHale led Boston with 25.8 ppg in the series on 57 percent shooting, adding 8.5 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game. Indeed, one could make an argument for McHale as series MVP, as he convincingly out-played Sampson (14.8 ppg, 44% FG shooting) in the pivotal series matchup.

But the transcendent Bird averaged a near triple-double for the series with 24 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game. Larry Legend also sank 31 of 33 foul shots and led both teams in steals with 16 to deservedly earn his second Finals MVP award.

As a team, Boston shot 49 percent from the floor and 79 percent at the line for the series. DJ added 17 ppg, Ainge scored 14.5 and Parish netted 12.7 as all five starters averaged double figures.

Walton, taking Ainge’s place as the main butt of team jokes and barbs, loved the attention while contributing great energy and skill to the squad. The practice sessions were often better than the games, so dominant were the 1985-86 Celtics, with Big Bill leading the vaunted “Green team” second team against their great starting five.

Freed from the dungeon of playing for the lowly Clippers, the redhead was elated to play for a champion again after winning two NCAA titles at UCLA and leading Portland to its only NBA crown in the 1970s.

Now he was finally back on top again after nearly having to retire due to numerous foot injuries. His long, strange trip to Boston was nearly a decade in the making after he missed as many games as he played due to literally dozens of surgeries and two full seasons on the sidelines.

Walton contributed eight points and 6.7 rebounds per outing in just 19.5 minutes off the bench in the Finals to lead the talented second unit.

”I just rode on the coattails of these two big freaks,” joked Ainge of the great season in the post-game celebration, arms draped around the jubilant Walton and McHale.

For weeks after the championship win, Walton would answer his phone by saying “hello, headquarters, world champion Boston Celtics.” McHale would call him just to hear Walton say those cherished words.

The title-clinching win was the pinnacle of the Bird era, as they never climbed to the mountaintop again. Boston went 67-15 in the regular season (82-18 including playoffs), and posted an NBA-record 50-1 mark at home.

Those incredible numbers are even more impressive when one considers this was accomplished when the East was strong and the NBA was a 23-team league, not the diluted 30-team loop it would be less than a decade later due to rapid over-expansion.

The predicted Rocket dynasty under big men Olajuwon and Sampson never materialized as the slender Ralph succumbed to knee injuries and was traded to the Warriors, while drugs sidelined guards John Lucas and Lewis Lloyd.

It would be eight more long years before Houston, behind seasoned MVP Olajuwon, would win the first of back-to-back titles, the only crowns in franchise history.

In Boston, devastating injuries to their Hall of Fame frontline, age and the crushing death of 1986 top pick Len Bias just a few weeks after the game six blowout kept the Celtics from running off a string of titles.

Many fans remember Bird leading Boston to NBA titles over big-man heavy Houston with all-time great Celtic teams in 1981 and 1986.

But fewer might know that before the 1980-81 season, Houston played Boston twice in the EAST semifinal playoffs, in 1975 and 1980.

Or that the Rocket franchise originated in San Diego in 1967 (replete with green and gold colors), and then moved to Houston in 1971.

The Celtics and Rockets were each one win away in 2018 from renewing their Finals playoff rivalry, but both injury-plagued clubs lost at home in game seven of the conference finals.

It was the first time since 1979 that both the east and west conference finals went the distance in the same post-season.

The Celtics have won all four playoff series between the franchises, and hold a 16-5 edge in post-season games won.

In Houston’s first playoff foray in 1975, the eighth season for the expansion Rockets, they were knocked out by Boston.

1975 East semis: Boston 4, Houston 1

In 1975, the defending champion Celtics led by Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and JoJo White beat the Rockets 4-1 in a second round series.

Boston came in with a league-best 60-22 record while the Rockets were just 41-41. Houston had knocked off the Knicks 2-1 in the first round mini-series to advance and ruin a fourth straight Boston vs. New York playoff showdown.

The Rockets featured a lot of offensive firepower with high-scoring forward Rudy Tomjanovich, and a great-shooting backcourt in Calvin Murphy and Mike Newlin.

Hondo averaged 24.2 ppg in that series, while Cowens tallied 20 ppg and grabbed 16 rebounds per outing. White averaged 19.2 ppg while 13th-year veteran Don Nelson tossed in 15.2 ppg.

Defensive ace Don Chaney, later the coach of the Rockets, also scored 15 ppg while future Suns star guard Paul Westphal added 10.6 ppg off the bench.

Murphy, the 5-9 Rockey dynamo, scored a series-high 26.6 ppg in the series. His pal Tomjanovich, the bank-shooting 6-7 All-Star and future two-time champion Houston head coach, tallied 25.8 ppg. Sharpshooting hustler Newlin, a loquacious former English major, added 18 ppg in the five-gamer.

Boston led all the way to comfortably win game one 123-106 in the Garden. The tireless 35-year old Hondo led six Celtics in double figures with 30 points. White netted 24 while Cowens pulled down 19 boards, dished out seven assists and tallied 17 markers.

Rudy T topped Houston with 30 points and nine rebounds, but Murphy was held to 19 on 5 of 13 shooting.

In game two at home, Boston blew open a close halftime score with a 38-23 third period blitz en route to a 112-100 victory (ironically, the same final score as game one of the 1986 Finals between the two rivals).

The versatile Cowens poured in 28 points, yanked down 18 caroms and passed out six assists to lead the Celtics to a 2-0 lead. Havlicek scored 23 with seven assists, and White added 21.

Paul Silas contributed 13 points and 10 boards.

Murphy poured in 30 points to lead the Rockets. Tomjanovich netted 19 and Kevin Kunnert added 18 with 10 rebounds, but it was not enough as Bosotn won the board battle, 43-32.

In game three at the Hofheinz Pavilion (home of the collegiate Houston Cougars), Houston outscored Boston 75-64 after intermission to stay alive with a 117-102 win.

Nellie led the Cetics with 21 points. White and Havlicek each tallied 18, but Cowens was held to eight before fouling out.

In fact, Nelson, Chaney (16 points) and Cowens all fouled out.

Rudy T scored 28 and grabbed a dozen rebounds while Newlin fired in 26 points to pace the Rockets. Murphy added 22 while the gangly but effective seven-foot Kunnert contributed 13 with 10 caroms.

In fact Kunnert was briefly a Celtic, having been signed as a free agent in the summer of 1978. But he was traded to the Clippers before the 1978-79 season started in a six-player deal that helped Boston net star playmaker Nate Archibald.

Game four was the pivotal and best game of the series. A Houston win would knot it up 2-2, while a Celtic victory would all but clinch it with game five back home.

The Rockets led 33-30 after one quarter, but Boston rallied with a 32-18 second stanza to take the lead. The C’s led 93-77 heading to the fourth period.

The Rockets put on a good rally but came up short, 122-117. Cowens enjoyed a monster game with 31 points and 24 rebounds. Chaney tossed in a series-high 29 points whiel Havliceek compiled 22 markers.

Westphal added 14 big points off the pines as White suffered through an uncharacteristic 1-13 shooting night.

Murphy led all scorers with 35 points, and Newlin contributed 31. The sharpshooting backcourt combined for 26 baskets and 14-15 foul shooting. Tomjanovich knocked in 25 points and Steve Hawes added a dozen.

In game five back in Boston, the hot-shooting Celtics methodically wore down the Rockets and eliminated them with a 128-115 victory. Boston canned a sizzling 61 percent of its field goal tries (54-of-89) to ground the Rockets.

Best pals Tomjanovich and Murphy each scored 27 points for Houston, and Newlin added 23.

But White bounced back to drain 14 of 19 shots for 29 points to lead Boston. Havlicek tossed in 28 points while Cowens contributed 16, 12 and seven. The sweet-shooting Nelson also fired in 25 points on accurate 11-15 shooting.

Such a good shooter was the heady 35-year old Nelson that the 6-6 jump-shooter led the NBA in field goal shooting percentage that season (54%), becoming the shortest and oldest player to do so. Think about that achievement for a moment.

1980 East semis: Boston 4, Houston 0

In 1980 when the foes met, Bird was a rookie phenom and Rocket forward Rick Barry, the man most closely compared to Larry Legend - was in the final season of his Hall of Fame career.

Like Larry, Rick was a huge scorer in college - Barry led the NCAA in scoring at Miami, and is the only player to lead the NCAA, ABA and NBA in scoring. Both played the passing lanes well and had exceptional hands and anticipation.

Like Larry, Barry was blonde, extremely smart and highly competitive - as well as an exceptionally great passer. Bird was the far greater rebounder, though. Both were great shooters and Finals MVPs (Barry won the honor in 1975 after leading the Warriors to a 4-0 sweep over the favored Bullets).

But by 1980 Barry was in his upper 30s and coming off the bench for a Houston team led by young center Moses Malone. The Celtics swept the Rockets to send Barry out into retirement unceremoniously.

In Rookie of the Year Bird’s first playoff series in the spring of 1980, the Celtics met the team he played in his first NBA game the previous October. The result was the same as opening night as Boston rolled over the outmanned Rockets.

Boston (61-21) blew out Houston in game one, 119-101. The Celtics outscored the Rockets by a combined 74-46 in the first and fourth periods to win going away.

Bird scored 13 of his 15 points in the first stanza, yet Houston pulled within 61-56 at intermisison with a 16-2 run. But Cowens scored eight of his 17 points in a three-minute span opening the final period to spark the final run to victory.

Unsung guard Chris Ford led seven Celtics in double figures with 19 points. Malone led all players with 27 points while Murphy added 23.

In game two, Boston held the Rockets to just 32 second half points en route to a 95-75 victory and a 2-0 lead. Bird paced six Celtics in double digits with a modest 14 points.

Robert Reid topped Houston with 22 points in a slowdown, low-scoring contest that foreshadowed the grinding 1981 Finals between the two unlikely combatants.

In game three at Houston, Boston beat Houston for the ninth time in a row with a 100-81 throttling at the Summit. The Celtics led just 55-53 midway through the third period before pulling away with a 45-28 finishing kick.

Nate Archibald topped balanced Boston with 20 points. Cedric Maxwell tallied 19 and Bird added 18. Malone led all players with 28 points and Reid added 23. But Barry, Murphy and Rudy T were held to just six markers apiece.

Boston completed the four-game sweep at Houston with a 138-121 blowout, which made them 10-0 vs. the Rockets in 1979-80. The Celtics led 68-66 in the third when Bird ignited a 12-2 run. Larry Legend tossed in a series-best 34 points, while Maxwell added 27.

Sixth man M.L. Carr tallied 23 points off the bench while Pete Maravich added seven and Cowens eight. Malone scored 28 points as Reid and Murphy each added 20. Barry scored 15 points, including two triples, in his final game.

Bird led seven Celtics in double digits for the series with 20.3 ppg, while his forward mate Maxwell added 18.5 ppg. Archibald, Carr, Ford, Rick Robey and Cowens also contributed between 10 and 14 ppg apiece.

Malone led all players with 25 ppg, followed by Reid (20) and Murphy (14.5). Barry tallied 7.5 ppg and Rudy T scored just 6.5 in a reduced role from his All-Star days.

The Rockets shot 88 percent from the line for the series while Boston hit on 85 percent.

1981 Finals: Boston 4, Houston 2

After Boston rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the 76ers in an epic eastern finals, the 1981 Fnals vs. the 40-42 CInderella Rockets were somewhat anti-climactic - but surprisingly competitive.

An emotionally-drained Bird averaged 15.3 points and team-high totals of 15.3 rebounds, seven assists and 2.3 steals per game in the low-scoring six-game championship series.

He also topped Boston in minutes per game (42.8) and was the main reason, by far, why the Celtics won the two most important contests of the bruising series: game one and the game six clincher.

Finals MVP Cedric Maxwell scored a team-high 17.8 ppg and grabbed 9.5 rebounds while adding 2.8 assists. The savvy, gangly 6-8 forward shot 56.8 percent from the field compared to 41.9 percent by Bird, but most of Larry’s shots were from much further out and were contested against the tough defense of Rocket stopper Robert Reid.

Reid’s sole defensive assignment, on the orders of Houston head coach Del Harris, was to stick like glue to Bird and not worry about helping out at all. And for half of the series, he did a creditable job on Larry Legend.

Yet even when his shooting was off, Larry found other ways to help his team win, the sign of a true all-around player. Bird’s superb passing set Max up for many easy shots inside, and the defensive attention he drew from the entire Rocket team, not just Reid, opened things up for all of his teammates.

Bird shot 81.3 percent from the foul line compared to 75.9 by Cornbread in the series.

Bird did suffer through a shooting slump in the series, but he broke out when it mattered most. At the end of game one, the Celtics were clinging to a 96-95 lead with under 30 seconds left.

The upset-minded Rockets led much of the game against the uninspired Celtics, who had just won three straight barnburners over the rival 76ers by a combined total of five points - including the game seven thriller on Bird’s 14-foot bank shot which touched off a wild on-court celebration after the victory a few days before.

It was late in the game when Bird authored perhaps the greatest individual move of his career (certainly the best in his 31 Finals games) at a key moment. He took a handoff from Parish and misfired from 18 feet at the right of the circle. Instinctively knowing his shot was off to the right, Bird immediately followed it in.

He caught the rebound on the fly along the right baseline as he was going out of bounds in midair. Knowing he couldn’t shoot it righty, Bird deftly switched the ball to his left hand and tossed in a delicate 10-foot swisher as he floated out of bounds.

The incredible shot brought an amazed Garden crowd to its feet and shook the slumbering Celtics, who were lured into the slowdown Rocket style, out of their doldrums.

Red Auerbach called the incredible midair southpaw putback the greatest move he had ever seen.

Moments later, Bird’s defensive rebound and long outlet assist to a leaking out Maxwell for a breakaway dunk finally gave Boston the lead in the fourth period after they had trailed much of the game vs. the upstart Rockets.

Yet scrappy Houston hung close, and was down just 96-95 as the final minute arrived amid an uneasy, tense Garden. Houston was poised to pull off the unthinkable.

Just about every Celtic on the floor took a shot in a relentless possession except Bird, who was moving furiously without the ball in an attempt to get a shot, to no avail. Chris Ford made two exceptional saves to keep the ball alive, and Parish missed twice.

Finally Bird got his hands on the ball by grabbing a weakside offensive rebound, his 20th carom of the contest. He was clearly fouled from behind by Malone as he missed the first putback try, but no whistle was blown in the wild melee under the hoop.

Amid a huge crowd of players, Larry showed exceptional toughness and persistence as he grabbed his own miss, taking a page from Malone’s book of offensive rebounding.

He gave a head fake to freeze the defense, and then crossed under the basket along the baseline where he banked in a pretty left-handed reverse layup. His clutch finish gave Boston a hard-fought 98-95 lead with just 16 seconds left, and that is how the game ended.

Bird tallied 18 points, grabbed 21 rebounds and dished out nine assists in the win, just one helper away from a triple-double in his first Finals contest.

Cornbread tallied 10 points as Bird led six Celtics in double figures on nine made field goals. Amazingly in such a physical game, Bird did not attempt a single free throw, hinting at the lack of star calls given at that time compared to today.

In game two Bird again led Boston with 19 points while Max tallied six. But the Celts lost a 92-90 grinder as Archibald missed a long jumper just before the buzzer.

The scene shifted to Houston for game three, where Boston blew out the Rockets, 94-71. Maxwell led six Celtics in double digits with 19 points, while Bird was held to eight.

Maxwell’s inside artistry paced Boston with 24 in game four, but Rocket guard Mike Dunleavy poured in a career-playoff high 28 points to lead Houston to a 91-86 upset that tied the series. Bird, struggling with fatigue and the swarming Rocket defense, was held to just eight again.

Back in Boston for game five, the Celtics asserted themselves by racing to a 59-37 halftime edge en route to a 109-80 blowout. Cedric netted 28 huge points and the double-teamed Bird hit for a dozen while selflessly setting up teammates with his deft passing.

In game six, Larry broke out of his offensive slump in a big way to push the pesky Rockets to the brink of extinction. Boston built an 86-67 lead early in the fourth quarter and appeared headed for an easy clincher.

But with Bird resting, Houston rallied to score 16 unanswered points and creep within 86-83 late in the contest. With the packed Summit crowd rocking, Bird simply took over and quieted the rabid throng.

He quickly nailed a long jumper. Bird then made a sideline in-bounds pass, took the return feed and dribbled to the left baseline where he swished a difficult pull-up jumper over tight defense.

Larry then canned another shot from the top of the key before showing off his all-around brilliance. Bird drew a charging foul, later stole the ball and had another jumper from the circle nullified on a dubious palming call, something that would never be called today.

Shortly thereafter, his lob pass feed into Max resulted in another big basket on a Cedric layup.

Then Bird, already carving out his reputation as a clutch finisher in his second season, delivered the crushing blow that clinched the 13th Celtic championship by swishing a corner three-pointer.

The usually-poker faced Bird, who had never won a championship at any level, violently swung his right arm and fist in the air after canning the backbreaker. His nine-point barrage had buried the Rockets and paced a 16-8 closing spurt.

For good measure, he fittingly grabbed the final defensive rebound amid a crowd with great hands off a Dunleavy airball triple try to secure the title. Bird tallied a game-high 27 points and snared 13 rebounds in the title-winner.

The bruising Malone, who rarely shot outside eight feet, made only 40 percent of his shots in the brutal, slow-paced series as Houston reduced the tempo to a crawl in an attempt to harness the fast-breaking Celtics.

Despite always planting himself near the basket, Moses grabbed only six more rebounds (98-92) in the rugged series than Bird, and frankly about half of the 46 offensive caroms Moses corraled were off his own missed bunnies.

Yet Malone, who took 119 shots in the series, 26 more than Bird, was not criticized for his very poor shooting from close range, while Larry was put down by the major media for not shooting at his normal pace or scoring as much.

All this despite the facts Houston’s halfcourt defense was geared to contain Bird and that Larry took much more difficult, longer shots.

Even crusty Boston coach Bill Fitch, rarely if ever satisfied and notably stingy with compliments, complained disgustedly that Bird “deserved both MVP awards” after Erving and Maxwell were given the season and Finals honors over Bird.

Max scored 19 in the finale, but the man he guarded much of the series, Reid, tallied 27. Bird guarded Reid some too but covered 6-11 veteran Billy Paultz much of the series as the Rockets deployed an earlier version of the Twin Towers before Olajuwon and Sampson updated it five years later - another duo also conquered by the Celtics in six games in the 1986 Finals.

Certainly Max played well, was a fine inside scorer, unsung defender and a clutch player in the 1981 and 1984 title runs. But he benefited from Larry’s superb post feeds and the Rocket defensive attention to Bird.

Thirty four of Max’s 57 rebounds in the series came on the offensive glass, where he had a nose for the boards and scored many easy baskets as Houston focused on Bird.

Bird snared a whopping 76 defensive rebounds (12.7 per game in the series) while Max pulled down just 23 (3.8 per game). Larry’s 76 defensive boards were an impressive 24 more, four more per game, than the next closest total of 52 in the series amassed by the 6-11 Malone.

Bird’s superb passing was underlined by his series-best 42 assists, made all the more impressive since he was a forward with fewer touches playing in a grind-it-out series where the average score was 96.5-87.6 due to the Houston slowdown tactics.

Celtic point guard Archibald, who had the ball much more than Larry, passed out 33 assists in the six-game series while no Rocket amassed more than 25.

To contact the author directly, you can e-mail Cort Reynolds at

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