PHOTOGRAPHY COPYRIGHT STEVEN A ROSEBORO
THE GOLDEN AGE OF BASKETBALL
BY STEVEN A. ROSEBORO
LARRY JOE BIRDwon his second consecutive regular season MVP award in 1985 but the trophy lost its luster as the Los Angeles Lakers avenged their devastating 1984 Finals loss to Boston with a 6 game victory in the 1985 Championship Series, led by Ageless Wonder Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bird's Hardwood Doppelganger, Earvin Magic Johnson.
Entering his seventh season, Bird had already secured First ballot Hall of Fame status with career stats of 23.6 points on 49% shooting from the field and 86% from the free throw line, (he took less than two 3 pointers per game in his first 6 seasons!) 10.7 rebounds and 5.8assists while securing two NBA Titles in his 3 Trips to the Finals.
His 1984 Finals performance will stand for the Ages as one of the Greatest displays of skill and will ever seen on the NBA's biggest stage: Sharing the Court with 8 future Hall of Famers (Magic, Kareem, James Worthy, Bob McAdoo and Jamal Wilkes on the Lakers, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson of Boston) and two Hall of Fame Coaches (KC Jones and Pat Riley) Bird carried the team on his shoulders, amassing averages of 27.4 pts, 14.0 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 2.1 steals in 7 Games; but it was his transcendent performances in the pivotal games 4 (an Overtime Masterpiece won at the Forum) and 5 (the famous 104 degree "Heat Game" at Boston Garden) which securely put the Celtics in control of the series, earning Bird his first Championship MVP award.
Despite all the accolades, the 1985 Finals rematch loss to his nemesis Magic stung Bird to the core, so he (and Celtic Patriarch Red Auerbach) plotted a redemptive strike of an NBA season still talked about decades later as a measuring stick for unselfish team play.
The argument for a great player making his teammates better was never more on display than the heights Bird's Band of Brothers reached that season.
Kevin McHale made the quantum leap on the heels of his terrific 1985 Finals performance and never looked back; he was second on the team in scoring at 21.3 PPG, grabbed 8.1 rebounds and added 1.9 blocks in 68gms, earning an All-Defensive First team selection; McHale missed 14 games but began to establish himself as a low post legend with an unstoppable repertoire of moves that terrorized defenses.
Old Reliable, The Chief, Robert Parish remained the team's backbone as last line of defense; Parish logged season averages of 16 points shooting 54% from the field (still sticking those midrange rainbows), pulling down 9.5 rebounds and swatting 2 shots a night.
The Celtic backcourt bounced back from a miserable Finals performance in 1985 to deliver a formidable perimeter punch in both the regular season and Playoffs of 1985-86. Dennis Johnson averaged 15.6ppg shooting 45% from the field and 81% from the line, with 5.8 Assists per game on his way to making the NBA's All Defensive second team, his 8th overall selection. The much-maligned Danny Ainge averaged 10 points on 50% shooting, 37% from beyond the Arc and 90% from the line while dishing 5 assists a contest.
The Celtic bench, their Achilles heel in the '85 finals was rock-solid after the addition of Center Bill Walton, acquired from the Los Angeles Clippers for Cedric Maxwell. Walton, a forgotten man after a string of devastating foot and ankle injuries slashed close to 400 games off his promising Career averaged 7.6 points and 6.8 rebounds in 19 minutes per game while keeping Parish fresh for the Playoff run; reserves Scott Wedman, Jerry Sichting, Greg Kite, David Thirdkill, Sam Vincent and Rick Carlisle played important roles greasing the wheels of the Green Machine throughout the season as Boston rolled into the Finals with an 11-1 record in the Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Coach KC Jones and his assistants Jimmy Rodgers, Chris Ford and Ed Badger managed minutes, massaged egos and kept this team of veterans laser focused throughout a season that would encounter few if any speed bumps; he could count on Bird was a coach on the floor and the last word in the locker room, while the waffling smoke of Red Auerbach's Cigars were never strayed far from practices or games.
The Celtics logged a 40-1 Home record in 1985-86, a record that stood for 3 decades until tied by the San Antonio Spurs in 2016. Their 28 Road wins featured an overtime victory in Portland where Bird scored 47 points (adding 14 rebounds and 11 assists) while deliberately taking half of his shots Left Handed, just for fun. It was that kind of season.
These numbers placed this Celtic team on the short list of the all time Greatest Teams in NBA History.
Points Per Game 114 (Ranked 8th in the League)
Team Field Goal Percentage: .508 (FIRST)
Team Three Point Percentage: .350 (FIRST)
Free Throw Percentage: .790 (SECOND)
Team Assists per Game: 29 (SECOND)
The assist numbers do a disservice to the passes that led to the pass; Boston opponents caught a cold from whipping the ball around the court every night.
They were no slouches on the Defensive Side of the ball either, because as everyone knows, Defense wins Titles.
Points Allowed 104 (THIRD IN THE LEAGUE)
Opponent FG percentage .46% (FIRST)
Defensive Rebounds/gm 33.6 (FIRST)
Total Rebounds/gm 46.4 (FIRST)
Blocks per game 6.2 (FOURTH)
During the 1986 regular season, Jerry West, Icon of Basketball Icons, a Winner on every level, (Player, Coach, General Manager, Consultant) said of Larry Bird, who would win his 3rd Consecutive Most Valuable Player Award while leading the Celtics to a 67 win regular season, good for 3rd best record in NBA history:
"He is ...nearly as perfect as you can get in almost every phase of Basketball".
"NEARLY AS PERFECT AS YOU CAN GET IN EVERY PHASE OF BASKETBALL..."
...JERRY WEST ON 1986 REGULAR SEASON AND FINALS MVP LARRY BIRD
THE 1985-85 BOSTON CELTICS DOMINATE THE NBA
Their Opponents in the Finals would once again be the Lak....wait, what?. The 60-22 Lakers flipped the script by belly-flopping in the Western Conference Final, losing in 5 games to a young and Hungry Houston Rocket team led by their young Twin Towers, Ralph Sampson and Akeem "The Dream" Olajuwon, and crafty former Celtic Coach Bill Fitch. Fitch, having coached Bird, knew the MVP and the Celtic front line would be a totally different Animal, and before you could say sweep Boston was heading south to Houston with 2 convincing victories in their back pockets. The Rockets delayed the inevitable with two impressive wins on their home floor, game 5 sullied by Ralph Sampson fists to the faces of Jerry Sichting and Dennis Johnson.
The Celtics would wrap up their NBA record sixteenth World Championship on the Parquet floor in Game Six rout as Larry Bird was once again voted Finals MVP; The Master of the Half Inch came within a half inch of averaging a triple double in the 6 games with 24 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.5 assists and 2.7 steals per game.
The NBA in 1985-86 was Larry Bird's World and we were all going along for the ride...a reminder to those with short memories that his mastery of the game of Basketball secured his place at the VIP table of the Hall of Fame.
SIXTEEN:STILL TASTES SWEET
THE DECADE'S BEST