Watching the highlights from the Bulls game on NBA TV, they had some footage of the 1986 playoff series between the Celtics and the Bulls. I was thinking back to that series and how great that Celtics team really was. They have been considered perhaps the greatest team ever. They won 67 games that year including going 40-1 at home and 31 straight home wins.
But, in spite of how great that team was, a young Michael Jordan and the Bulls gave them all they could handle in the playoffs. Michael Jordan had missed most of the season with a broken foot and returned to the lineup just 6 weeks before. The first two games of the series were played in the Garden where the Celtics had been practically unbeatable that season. In game 1, Jordan scored 49 points in a Bulls loss. After the game, McHale responded by saying, "That will never happen again."
Well, McHale was partly right. In game 2, Jordan didn't score 49 points. He scored 63. But, once again, the Bulls lost in spite of the barrage of points from Jordan. After the game, Bird made his famous (or infamous) quote, "That was God disguised as Michael Jordan. He's the most awesome player I've ever seen...he was getting his points in the flow of the game...scary." Celtics coach KC Jones added these thoughts, "I was watching and all I could see was this giant Jordan and everyone else was just in the background."
More than anything, these games always stood out to me as proof that team play is greater than one player taking over a game on his own. Jordan scored 63 points but the Celtics had a balanced attack with everyone contributing and that is what won the game. The Celtics had 3 stars but they had a team concept with everyone contributing and that won out over the single player trying to do it all himself.
That 1986 Celtics team was a thing of beauty. I remember watching their fast breaks where the ball never touched the floor. DJ to Bird to DJ to McHale inside. Or DJ to Ainge to Bird for the 3. It was always about team and no matter what team was in town you always expected a win. When they didn't win, you were surprised and knew that it was just a bump in the road. They would win the next game... they never lost two in a row. I remember that feeling and it was a good one. It is starting to come back, but we also still have that gnawing feeling from the past 20 years that something has to go wrong.
This year's Celtics have brought a lot of comparisons to that '86 team. Both have a "Big Three" and they both emphasize team and team play. Their records are an identical 17-2 after 19 games and both teams were undefeated at home at this point of the season. I remember very well the excitement around that last championship team. I remember watching Michael Jordan playing 5 on 1 and team winning over individual stardom. I also remember the joy of winning that last championship. It sure feels good to have that excitement back and once again having the Celtics winning and being dominant.