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

Re-watching the 1986 Boston Celtics 1

The 1986 Boston Celtics are considered one of the best teams in NBA history. I was a kid when they played. I am re-watching their games to see what I think as an adult. This is the team’s twelfth regular season game from November in 1985.

Game Information

Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics, November 22, 1985

Box Score: Here

Final Score: Celtics 110 Sixers 103

Pre-Game Notes

  • During introductions, fans cheered Dr. J. and booed Charles Barkley. Tommy Heinsohn said: “They’re going to be booing Charles Barkley for quite a few years. I’ll tell ya. He’s going to be a player-and-a-half before his career is over with”.
  • Philly came into the game 6-5.  The Celtics were 9-2. 
  • Celtics Starters: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parrish, Danny Ainge and Jerry Sichting. Sichting was filling in for Dennis Johnson who was in California on personal/family business. 
  • 76ers Starters: Moses Malone, Julius Erving, Charles Barkley, Mo Cheeks and Sedale Threatt.
  • The two front courts are BOTH made up of three Hall of Famers! Big Mo, Dr. J and The Round Mound of Rebound vs Bird, McHale and Parish! Not only that, both teams had a Hall of Fame front court player on the bench: Bill Walton and Bobby Jones. 
  • That has to be some sort of record: 8 front court Hall of Famers playing against each other. 
  • It’s crazy that if DJ had been available, both teams would have started 4 Hall of Famers and brought in another for big backup minutes. 
  • I don’t think that is typical for the modern game! Are there many modern teams with 5 Hall of Famers playing? Maybe the Warriors when they had Kevin Durant? Even then, they had like four, right? Both teams in this game had five! 

1986 Boston Celtics Announcers

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  • The game aired on Sports Channel New England. 
  • Mike Gorman called the game with Tommy Heinsohn. I miss Tommy. He was in top form for this game.
  • Gorman is the consummate professional. He was great then and he’s great now. 
  • Tommy was hating on the refs in both directions – I loved it. 
  • When Sir Charles scored his first points of the game in the 4th quarter on a god-awful-looking shot, Tommy said “It was not a pretty basket”. He was not wrong. 
  • Tommy called it both ways, however, honestly saying it was “A woeful shooting night for Larry Bird.”
  • Tommy after Bird fired a full court pass to Ainge to push the Celtics lead from six to eight with one minute to go: “It takes a gutsy guy with a lot of confidence at that stage of the ballgame to let one fly like that”. Uh huh. 
  • Another Tommy quote: “Really was a surprise to me how ineffectual Charles Barkley was tonight (…notes he killed C’s in the prior year) He’s not too happy sitting on the tail end of the bunch. Sucking on his thumb”. 
  • It’s tough not knowing the score  – they show it sometimes but it’s not always on the screen like it is now.  Mike Gorman did a good job saying how much the C’s were up or  down like radio announcers do now. 
  • I also hate that they don’t show a game clock. You never knew how much time was left in the quarter. At one point they briefly showed a shot of the clock for like ten seconds, but mostly you were on your own. 
  • At one point, Mike Gorman read an ad for an upcoming Hartford Whalers/Edmonton Oilers game. You could watch Bird vs Dr. J one night then see Wayne Gretzky lighting up the Whale the next. It truly was the Golden Age!

Game Notes: 1986 Boston Celtics Game 12

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  • Barkley got abused by McHale on 1st possession. And then again on the 2nd possession. McHale is going right at him on defense and shutting him down on offense. Barkley looks terrible in this game. He finished with 3 points on 1-7 shooting! 
  • The Celtics doubled Moses Malone and Dr. J early but were mostly willing to let others shoot. 
  • Bird started terribly: 0 for his first 6 and did not score until there was about 3 minutes left in the 1st half. Bird is 0-6. 
  • McHale dominated the first quarter with 14 points and the first half with 23. 
  • The Celtics started the 2nd quarter with Bill Walton and Scott Wedman up front with McHale and Rick Carlisle and Sam Vincent in the backcourt. All of them had decent if unspectacular games. 
  • Moses Malone was a machine. In some ways, he and Parish play similar styles. Nothing too pretty, just consistent, reliable scoring from down low. Malone finished with 21 and Parish had 20. 
  • Barkley sat for a long time in the first half. They took him out early in the first and then he sat long into the 2nd quarter. When he came back, the C’s went right back at him with both McHale and Walton. 
  • Moses and Dr. J carried the Sixers to a 56-51 halftime lead. 
  • Both Bird and Barkley struggled throughout, but Bird ended up having much more of an impact on the game. He shot 5-16 and finished with only 11 points. But he had 9 boards and 6 assists and made a lot of little plays to help the team win. When the game was tight late, the C’s went to Bird and he scored or passed them into buckets. 
  • Barkley was a ghost. He finished with 3 points on 1-7 shooting. He scored his first point in the fourth quarter and was unplayable at times as the C’s went right at him and Goukas went with Bobby Jones for long stretches. He did fight hard vs McHale on one late possession and Tommy Heinsohn noted that he had “come to life”. 
  • The C’s depth took over the game late. When they needed a bucket they had real options: Bird, McHale and Parish all had big hoops for them. And Ainge and Wedman provided some big hoops as well. 
  • The Sixers had the names, but Malone and Dr. J did most of their damage in the first half and were a little quieter in the 2nd. Sedale Threatt and Mo Cheeks had good games but the C’s had too much high end talent. 
  • The differences in the teams were obvious in this game: the Celtics had a bunch of stars in their primes while the Sixers stars were mostly not exactly in their primes.
  • Charles Barkley was still young and not ready for what the C’s were offering.  Dr. J only had one more year left after this season so he was clearly on the downside of his career.  Moses was in his prime, but at thirty years old was probably slightly on the back nine as well.

General Observations

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  • Danny Ainge plays fast. He moves quickly with the ball, passes it quickly, drives quickly and just plays fast. I can see why he loved Patyon Pritchard who plays with a similar style. 
  • The Celtics have many good passers. I am not talking about good ball movement as much as guys who are capable passers and make pretty, even showy, passes. Bird had a great pass early and then another couple as the game went on. But it’s not just Bird: Walton, McHale, and Wedman all made nifty passes. 
  • Spacing is so poor by modern standards. Often there were 8-9 players in or at least close to the paint. They take a lot of contested long two point shots. 
  • Often it seemed like the ball handler would pop out to the three-point line to create some space for himself while the rest of the team was packed into the paint. 
  • It’s amazing how often players will have a reasonably open shot and will pull it down to drive into traffic and take a much more contested shot. 
  • The three point shot had almost no effect on the game. Dr. J started firing threes late when the Sixers were down ten. He hit one of three. His first three attempts of the year. 
  • Compared to the modern league, fans are not right on court. Under the baskets are not filled with fans. It was mostly empty space. 
  • The media had prime seats courtside. They are sitting at tables with banners featuring advertisements. Those seats would be sold at quite a price in today’s game. 


One of my favorite parts of watching the game was the ads! They are amazing. 

  • My four and six-year old boys were super excited to see the Nissan 300zx ad – the car looked so cool. There were a lot of boring Nissan/Datsun ads as well and a ton of other car ads. 
  • There were sooo many Bud and Bud Light ads. I can see how they came to dominate the watered-down beer market.  
  • I loved the True Value Hardware ads featuring an iron and a flashlight you could buy – $24.99 for the flashlight seemed high. 
  • If you mention their ad at Silver Lake Dodge you could get a handsome dash compass clock! (for free!!)
  • I gasped loudly at OJ Simpson and Arnold Palmer putting on disguises to go in and rent a car from Hertz with their Amex card! Then I tried to explain it all to my boys. 
  • I loved the local ads: Barrett’s on Boston Harbor featured a 7 digit phone number in their ad and there was a Clark’s ad that got cut off. So many FleetBank and Sullivan Tire ads. The kid in the Sullivan Tire ad might be retired by now. 
  • OMG. We got a real-life Sy Sperling sighting.  PRESIDENT OF THE HAIRCLUB FOR MEN! He really says“I am not only the Hairclub president, I am also a client!”. 
  • I liked the car prices. You could lease a Grand Am Sedan for $184/month or a new Pontiac 6000 for $202/month! You could buy a Cadillac Phaeton Coupe for $17,995 at Frost Motors. That’s just under $50,000 in today’s dollars. 
  • Maybe the best ad was for a dating service called Together! The owner Susan Pappas struggled to read the copy while staring at the camera. It was delightfully awkward. 
  • My daughter was stunned by the ad for the 1986 Pontiac Parisienne. They said you get factory air conditioning at no extra charge! Daughter: What? You had to pay for air conditioning? Isn’t that just in the car? 

Check Out My Other Larry Bird Posts

I am not just a writer. I am a fan. A Celtics fan. You can tell by just how many articles I have written about the 1980s Boston Celtics, and Larry Bird in particular. Check them out below!

I wrote about Larry Bird’s defense here. He was better than you think!

I wrote about his college years at Indiana State here.

I wrote about Larry Bird’s nicknames here. The Hick from French Lick was a good one!  

I wrote about Larry’s time  on the Dream Team here. 

I wrote about Larry Bird’s  draft class here. 

I wrote about his rookie season here. 

I wrote about his best teammates of all time here. 

I wrote about Larry Bird’s prime here. 

I wrote about Larry Bird’s Finals record here. 

I wrote about Larry Bird’s championships 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

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