This is a picture of Larry Bird beside the words: Re-watching the 1986 Boston Celtics

Re-Watching the 1986 Boston Celtics Playoffs 1

The 1986 Boston Celtics are considered one of the best basketball teams in the history of the NBA. I was a kid when they played. I am re-watching their games to see what I think as an adult. This is the first game of their second playoff series vs the Atlanta Hawks.

Game Information

Hawks at Celtics: Playoff Round 2 Game 1

Box Score Available here.

Final Score: Celtics 103  Hawks 91

Coaches: K.C. Jones vs Mike Fratello

Pre-Game Thoughts

I re-watched ½ of a regular season game between these teams. I meant to watch the whole thing but you need to move quickly with these Youtube games – they get taken down fast!

I am putting the video here, but if it’s gone, that is why! 

The C’s won the regular season game after being down big at the half. They beat Atlanta every game in the regular season: 6-0. 

The C’s had lost only one game at home coming in! Crazy. 

Celts starters: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, and Danny Ainge.

Hawks starters: Dominique Wilkins, Tree Rollins, Kevin Willis, Doc Rivers and Randy Wittman. 

Broadcast Notes

The game was broadcast on CBS. Brent Musburger was on play-by-play and Billy Cunningham was doing color. Cunningham is trying to say it’ll be a close series despite the C’s winning all 6 regular season matchups. 

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: not having the score on the screen is tough for a modern fan! They pop it on the screen occasionally but get it out of the way quick because it’s so huge. 

No commercials shown during this one which is a disappointment. 

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Coming out of a 1st quarter break, they showed the 1983 fight between Tree Rollins and Danny Ainge. Musburger says he meets a lot of people who think Ainge bit Rollins. Those people are not from Boston: Tree Bites Man! 

Late in the 1st half Cunningham says: “You think Dennis Johnson must feel relieved looking at (Randy) Wittman and not Michael Jordan?” Yeah, Billy, I think you could say that. 

John Salley, a possible 1st round pick in the upcoming draft, was shown in the crowd. The woman with him shook what god, or a talented surgeon, gave her. It threw Musburger and Cunningham off their games quickly. They didn’t know what to say! 

First Half Game Thoughts

I have written a bit about the spacing in these games before. It’s still jarring to a modern fan who watches the 2023 Cs regularly to watch guys taking so many long twos and passing up open shots to drive into traffic. 

But I want to note some things I love about these older games: pushing the ball up the floor. Bird, McHale or Parrish get the ball out of the hoop or the rebound and they fire it to Danny Ainge or DJ who pushes it up the court. The teams get into their offense so quickly and it’s refreshing to watch! 

In three games I have watched, no one threw their head back as if they had been killed when there was no actual contact. That is a nice change from the modern game! 

There are only two refs and they make quick decisions. There are no long conferences and video replays. The refs are barely part of the game! It’s nice. 

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The interior passing is so good from this Cs team. All the big men could pass! It’s so fun to watch. 

Cs are dominating the offensive glass early. There have been a bunch of white shirts all over the glass in Atlanta’s end of the court. 

Two straight Parrish dunks after beating Tree Rollins down the court in transition. They all push the ball and it’s fun. 

McHale is guarding Nique as you would expect. Bird has Kevin WIllis. 

Cs are outrunning them in the 1st quarter. The announcers are saying the Hawks are tired after just finishing a tight series with Detroit. 

Spud Webb checks in late in the 1st. Announcers mention that many teams would post him up but Ainge is not really much of a post player. It’d be interesting to see what modern teams would do to Spud Webb in the playoffs – gotta think he’d be unplayable. 

The Cs lead 30-23 at the end of the 1st quarter. Hawks did not play well and should be happy with that score in my opinion. 

They came out of the commercial highlighting a Celtic break with Bird getting a board, handing it to Danny who dribbled twice and pushed a long pass forward to McHale who beat his man downcourt. That play should be in a museum. 

Bill Walton and Scott Wedman came in for the Cs to start the second quarter. It never got easier for opponents’ frontcourts. 

I was thinking Bird was dominating the glass when Musburger said Bird had 8 boards already – early in the 2nd quarter! 

There are 5 minutes left in the first half. I don’t remember a three point attempt by either team yet! The Cs will take 3 in the game (Bird, Ainge, McHale 1 each) while the Hawks will take 5, mostly in garbage time, and make 1! 

Dominique Wilkins has been quiet in the first half. The C’s are doubling some but McHale seems to be giving him trouble. I re-watched McHale shutting down Barkley in the ‘86 regular season earlier. 

McHale is a tough defender and Wilkins’ game did not give him much trouble. McHale backs down and dares him to shoot, but he drives into McHale’s long arms instead a lot – not a good move for anyone. He finished with 6 points in the first half. 

Hawks are hanging in the game due in no small part to Kevin Willis who is getting a bunch of putbacks. C’s lead 52-46 at the half.

2nd Half Thoughts

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Bird with his 10th board early in the 2nd while Wilkins missed a jumper to go 2-11 for the game after a Parrish miss. 

C’s really do look “down the floor for the open man” as Musburger said. And it’s fun to watch. 

The three point shot really is an afterthought. Dominique played off Bird who never considered shooting it. 

Both McHale and Parrish score so consistently. The two of them took the team to a much bigger lead with consistent post scoring. 

Ainge stole the ball for an easy layup and forced the Hawks to call timeout. There might be something to the Hawks being worn down from their Detroit series. They look tired. 

C’s are up 21 late in the quarter. A graphic comes on the screen showing the C’s lead 32-12 in fast break points. 

The Celtics halfcourt offense is locking in now too. McHale posts up, the Hawks double because he’s killing them. He makes the right pass to someone who makes a good decision with the ball to get an easy look for himself or a teammate: tough to stop. Game is getting out of hand. 

McHale’s three point attempt, one of three for the C’s for the game, came because he caught a pass with 1 second left in the third quarter. 

Celtics lead 86-63 at the end of 3. They outscored the Hawks 34-17 in the third quarter. 

The C’s beautiful offense continues in the 4th: cutting and pinpoint interior passing. Breaking the Hawks down with either Parrish or McHale in the post. They seem to make the right decision nearly every time. 

Ainge hit a three when Parrish was covered in the post by his man doubling down off of him. Next time down he was feeling himself and took a long, contested two that banked in. 

Fourth quarter mostly garbage time. McHale and Ainge are still in with 7 minutes left but Bird has been sitting the whole quarter and Parrish and DJ are getting a lot of rest. 

One thing I am noticing is personalities: Ainge seems to play like I think he would – a lot of confidence, energy and quickness. Walton is playing with a smile enjoying every minute. McHale and he seem like a good match. 

The fourth quarter is all garbage time. The Hawks made a few runs but nothing serious. 

Somehow the C’s went 7 minutes without a field goal but were still up 12 with 2 minutes to go. The Hawks tried a few threes at that point to try to give themselves a chance, but they missed. K.C. Jones never went back to the starters. 

Final: Celtics Win 103-91! 

Check Out My Other Celtics Re-Watching Posts

Only two so far.

Check out my post about a regular season C’s vs Sixers tilt here.

Read about a regular season match up between the Hawks and C’s here.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Adapted from: “Bernard Cardinal Law, Larry Bird and Mayor Raymond L. Flynn” by Boston City Archives is licensed under CC BY 2.0