In honor of The Last Dance documentary about the Chicago Bulls and some prominent Boston Celtics footage featuring in Episode 2, we’re looking back at a game that was 34 years ago today. On 4/20/1986, the Celtics and Bulls met in Game 2 of their first-round series in the 1986 NBA Playoffs.
1. The 1986 Celtics were awesome. Maybe the best team in the history of the NBA. They finished 67-15 and then went 15-3 in the playoffs for an absurd 82-18 overall. They had the best defense in the league and the NBA’s third-best offense that season.
On the other hand, after playing without Michael Jordan for the majority of the season due to Jordan’s broken foot, the 1986 Bulls snuck in the playoffs with a 30-52 record. They had the NBA’s 9th best offense, but the worst defense in the league.
2. Outside of Game 2, Boston’s dominant defense showed up in this series. They held Chicago to 104 points in both Games 1 and 3, as the Celtics completed a three-game sweep. Game 2 got away from Boston pretty early on defensively, as Chicago had 116 points through regulation.
3. Michael Jordan was absurd. He scored 63 points on 22-of-41 shooting from the floor and 19-of-21 shooting from the free throw line. If you do the math, you’ll see Jordan didn’t make a single three-pointer. Even crazier, considering the prevalence of the triple in today’s game, Jordan didn’t even attempt a three-pointer. As a team, the Bulls only took two threes for the entire game and missed them both.
4. The Celtics were known as a team that had embraced the three-point shot, behind Larry Bird’s willingness to let them fly. Boston took a whopping nine three-point attempts in the two-overtime win, making three of them. Bird was 2-of-5 himself from behind the arc.
5. How unstoppable was Jordan? The 63 points tell you that, but the 21 free throw attempts add to the story. Mostly by himself, Jordan managed to foul out both Dennis Johnson (Boston’s primary defender for Jordan) and Bill Walton. In addition, Bird, Danny Ainge and Robert Parish all had five fouls and Kevin McHale had four.
6. The starters for both sides were iron-men in this game. In the 58-minute contest, Bird played a game-high 56 minutes. McHale logged 51, Ainge 47 and Johnson 44.
On the Bulls side, Jordan played 53 minutes and Orlando Woolridge played 54.
7. The Celtics bench was pretty productive. Walton scored 10 points and grabbed 15 rebounds before fouling out. Jerry Sichting had eight points and four assists. The Bulls got 15 combined points from Gene Banks and Sidney Green.
Also, playing five minutes off the Chicago bench? George Gervin! The Iceman was in his 14th and final season, and the only NBA year he played for anyone other than the San Antonio Spurs. After averaging an impressive 16.2 points per game as a starter for most of the season, Gervin was benched late in the season after Jordan returned from injury. Game 2 against Boston would ultimately be his final game.
8. It got lost a bit in Jordan’s huge night, but Bird was pretty dominant himself. He scored 36 points on 14-of-27 shooting, to go along with 12 rebounds, eight assists and two blocks.
9. Some other names you might recognize from this game:
- Rick Carlisle – the current Dallas Mavericks coach played three minutes for the Celtics
- Charles Oakley – Better-known for his time withe the New York Knicks, Oak started and had a double-double of 10 points and 14 rebounds for the Bulls
- John Paxson – The long-time Bulls VP of Basketball Ops played 32 minutes off the Bulls bench and scored four points
10. Two nights after the two-overtime win, Boston went to Chicago and swept the series with a blowout victory. Boston then rolled over the Atlanta Hawks 4-1 in the second round, before sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals.
In the 1986 NBA Finals, Boston beat Hakeem Olajuwon and the Houston Rockets 4-2. That Rockets team had defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 4-1 using their twin towers approach featuring Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson.
In the Finals, the Celtics handled the Rockets relatively easily. They took Games 1 and 2 by double-figures. The Rockets squeaked out a Game 3 win by two points in Houston, before Boston won on the road in Game 4 to take a commanding 3-1 lead. Houston managed a win in Game 5. Back in Boston for Game 6, the Celtics blew out the Rockets for the 16th NBA title.
Larry Bird would add to this third-straight regular season MVP by winning the 1986 NBA Finals MVP. Bird averaged 24 points, 9.7 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game.