The Celtics and Bulls are currently battling in the 2017 NBA Playoffs. While these two team have both had a lot of championship level success, it came at different times. It wouldn’t be accurate to say that these two great NBA franchises are rivals. When the history of these two teams in the playoffs is even discussed, the number one topic is Michael Jordan’s 63 point game in Game 2 of the First Round Playoff Series in 1986 against the Celtics. Jordan was outstanding and it was the really the first game where most NBA fans got a glimpse of his true greatness. With that said, do you know what’s never discussed about that game? The team that won it. It was the Celtics who not only won that game, but they also won that series in a three game sweep. We all know the story from there. The Celtics went on to win their 16th NBA Championship led by the Most Valuable Player in the league for the third straight year – Larry Bird.
Going into the 1987 season, the Celtics were again the favorites in the East and were expected to make it to the Finals for another showdown against the Lakers. The Celtics delivered in the regular season by posting a 59-23 record. Bird had another outstanding season averaging 28.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, and 7.6 assists. Kevin McHale had the best season of his NBA career averaging 26.1 points, 9.9 rebounds, and shooting 60% from the field. Both Bird and McHale were on the All NBA First Team that season. Robert Parish rounded out the Big Three with another All-Star season. 17.5 points and 10.6 boards a game for “The Chief”. Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge were again a very solid back court. The Celtics were on their way once again.
The Celtics would, once again, face the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. You don’t hear a lot about this series. Why? Because it was never a series just like the one before it. However, something very unique happened in Game 1 of this series that highlights just how good a certain individual was as a player. 30 years ago today, on April 23, 1987, Larry Bird posted the following stat line:
17 points; 13 assists; 9 rebounds; 4 for 7 from the field.
That’s right 4 for 7 from the field. The great Larry Bird. The same Larry Bird who is arguably the best all around shooter that every played basketball. The same Larry Bird who took over games and average 28 points a game that season. When most fans refer to Bird’s greatness it’s about his shooting. They reference three-point contest and game winning shots. Bird’s game went far beyond just shooting. He was a complete player who made his teammates better. It was never about him and that is what stuck out about this performance 30 years ago. He could quarterback a game. He didn’t need to be the guy that scored the touchdown.
When was the last time you saw Lebron James dominate a game shooting just seven shots? How about Michael Jordan? Kobe Bryant? When Magic Johnson stated “there will never be another Larry Bird”, he was absolutely right.
The Celtics went on to sweep the Bulls again. No 63 point game. Just more Bird domination. He had 29 points in Game 2 and went for 32 points and 14 rebounds in Game 3. The Celtics cruised to another sweep against Jordan’s Bulls.
Here’s another stat you probably won’t see a lot of. In head to head games in the playoffs, Larry Bird led teams vs. Michael Jordan led teams.
Bird – 6 wins
Jordan – 0 wins
Granted, Bird’s teams in the mid – late 80’s were much better than Jordan’s, but he could beat you in a number of ways as shown on April 23, 1987. As the record states, Michael Jordan never won a game against Larry Bird in the playoffs.