I just watched game 2 of the 1986 Eastern Conference Round 1 match-up between the Chicago Bulls and the Boston Celtics (I watched it on DVD, but the above is a youtube highlight package of the game). This is the historic game in which, coming off an injury shortened season, Michael Jordan set the single game playoff scoring record (which still stands) of 63 points in a double overtime thriller. It was the game where Jordan went from an exciting curiosity to a major-league NBA star.
Oddly the least interesting thing to me was watching MJ score. He was too fast and too explosive for the Boston defenders to handle, and that was really the whole story. They could not keep him out of the paint without doubling him up high, and he continually burned them by hitting cutters in the paint when they did that. The Boston defense was predicated on three things: 1) DJ & Ainge pressuring ball-handlers. 2) Parish, McHale, and Walton clogging the paint and challenging shots at the rim. 3) Bird zoning up, disrupting passing and driving lanes, and controlling the defensive boards. Jordan’s ability to get by the Boston guards and go over or around the Boston bigs with pullup jumpers and finishes in the lane was just something they couldn’t account for. At least not that night. Also of course when Jordan was “on” he could just jump directly over whoever was guarding him and get a look at the basket regardless of position. Jordan’s defense was fun to watch. He went after the Celtic big men in the post compulsively, flying in out of nowhere. He even opened a cut up over McHale’s eye with his elbow on one blocked shot attempt. No flagrant. No timeout to get the blood cleaned up. Different era.
Much more interesting to me was watching Kevin McHale’s offensive game. He was so smooth, so polished on the blocks… Tim Duncan looks almost stiff by comparison. He could wrap his body around a defender and maintain great balance. His hook was quick and high. McHale’s defense was really impressive too. Because Boston never left Bird isolated against aggressive athletes, Kevin guarded Orlando Woolridge, and his ability to use his length and spacing to defend the smaller, quicker player was really impressive.
Orlando did a good job on Bird. Normally Larry would work a big defender like him around screens, but the Celtics were set on running their offense through their post guys, so they did not run a lot of double screen sets to free up Bird. His offense came more on broken plays and pick and roll situations.
Very surprised by how athletic Ainge looked. He out-jumped Orlando on one play, and he really hounded Kyle Macy and John Paxson on defense. When he played Jordan he pretty much just held him the whole time. I’m pretty sure he would have picked up 6 fouls on 6 possession in today’s game.
Speaking of Kyle Macy, I think Chicago had 2 players on their entire team who could have made Boston’s rotation, and that might be over-estimating. Could Oakley get minutes among Bird, McHale, Parish, and Walton? Maybe. Could Orlando steal some minutes from Bird and Wedman? Unlikely since Jordan would also see minutes at the 3 in this hypothetical. So Jordan would get in the guard / forward rotation, and I honestly doubt any other Bull would be good enough to make the team. Even if Paxson or Macy was better than Sichting, and at that point in their careers they weren’t, there still wouldn’t be any minutes to take away from Jordan, DJ, and Ainge. That’s pretty staggering.
The Celtics played tremendous team ball at both ends. I described the team defense above, but I should just mention that the overall court awareness of the group was very high. They covered for each other beautifully. On offense, the patience and interior passing was tremendous. They had two great shooters, two great passers, four guys would could post their men on any given play, and terrific communication on the court. Bird’s ability to actually make entry passes from way beyond the three point lane stretched opposing defenses, and McHale and Parish would post on opposite ends, burying the big man defenders in the paint where they can’t rotate to help as the Celtics cutters move through the lane. They also ran textbook fastbreaks when they were available. After a whole game of playing him mostly off the ball they went to Larry in isolations late, and he punished a tired Orlando in the high post. Larry didn’t score a point in the first quarter and wound up with 30+.
The Bulls were a strangely built team. Their two best offensive players, Jordan and Woolridge, were made for the running game, as was uber-athlete Sidney Green. But everyone else on the team was really at his best playing half-court offensive. Macy, Paxson, Oakley, Corzine, Banks… none of them had great skills to play uptempo. Not to mention, Jordan handled the ball so much it would be very difficult to use him as a wing player in transition, and since Macy and Paxson aren’t true point guards, he had to handle against pressing defenses. They almost had to make the game harder than necessary because of their mismatched pieces.
Chicago tried to mix the matchups to keep Boston off-balance. They played Corzine against McHale, and Oakley against Parish, hoping extra length would bother Gumby and extra strength would bother Parish. Basically what happened was that both Chicago players wound up in foul trouble as the Boston bigs exploited them. Of course the entire Boston frontline was in constant foul trouble because Jordan exploited the whole defense.
Also important to note: Bird was rocking what looked like a classic ’80s mullet-perm, and Charles Oakley looked the same at 22 that he did at 42. Paxson sported a porn-stash that looks like it sleezed its way off a used car salesman in Clifton, NJ circa 1976.
Jordan had two great clutch moments at the end of regulation. Up 2 points with about 16 second left in the game and the shot clock winding down, Bird threw up a jumper against a double team looking for a foul call, and Parish snagged the offensive rebound. Jordan batted the ball away, and Oakley picked it up, and Chicago got a timeout with 6 seconds left. If not for that extra possession created by Jordan’s fast hands, the Chief gets the chance to close the game at the foul line. Jordan then drew a foul a on the ensuing possession. He hit two foul shots to take it to overtime.
Bird made a great knockaway towards the end of the 1st overtime. Jordan had burned everyone going baseline and when he tried to dump it into Oakley, Larry tipped it up to Parish who wound up getting the foul at the other end and tying the game at the line. Jordan had a chance to win it with a jumper fading to his left – overshot it by an inch. Then Bird had a chance to win it with a deep straight away three, and HE overshot it by an inch. Double OT.
Larry stole a ball and hit a jumper in the first minute of the second OT. Boston (Ainge in particular) did a nice job keeping the ball out of Michael’s hands and trapping him when he caught it. Chicago had three turnovers in their first 4 possessions of the 2nd OT. Jordan ties the game with back to back great jumpers over multiple defenders (and the defensive rebound between those possessions) reaching the historic 63rd point. Parish iced the game on a pick and roll with Bird. He slid the screen and Larry hit him with an over the top pass for a baseline jumper. Oakley rotated but couldn’t really challenge Chief’s high release.
Very fun watch overall. Chicago didn’t seem to consider themselves overmatched. They were totally game to bring it to Boston. Boston never seemed worried despite their inability to account for Jordan and the two overtimes. The crowd in the Boston Garden was raucous throughout. Couldn’t ask for anything more out of a ballgame.