Who was the greatest basket team of all time?
The 1986 Boston Celtics.
I know what your thinking. This is just an old dude that thinks everything was better when he was growing up.
There probably is a lot of truth in that. But when you’re talking the 1986 Celtics, no other team comes close.
No matter what you hear, Larry Legend was one of the greatest players ever to grace an NBA court. 1986 was his finest season, and his numbers were remarkable. Bird won his third consecutive NBA MVP award by averaging 25 points, 9.8 rebounds, and 7.8 assists. Bird could do it all, and in 1986 he did.
This cannot be argued. You had four men on the frontline that would all make it into the Hall of Fame. Of course, there was Bird and McHale, but you also had the greatest one-two punch in NBA history at center in Robert Parrish and Bill Walton. Nobody expected much from Walton as his injuries were his Achilles heel. This was not the case in 1986.
There have been other great sixth men in NBA history, but there was never, for that one year, a sixth man who affected the game in the way that Walton did. He gave them a dimension that no team had and the best one-two center punch in the history of the game. That was a dimension that no team has ever had. The game has changed so radically and everybody says the big men don’t matter anymore. I think those big men would make it matter. I just think they would impose their will on the teams of today.
Make no mistake the Celtics had a big-time backcourt. Dennis Johnson was a streaky shooter but was more known for his ability to defend. There was Danny Ainge who was an emotional player, who could shoot from deep. Johnson and Ainge were both clutch players. Jerry Schicting had played five years with the Indiana Pacers and averaged 11 points per game, was tough as nails. Scott Wedman was a brilliant outside shooter. Before coming to the Celts, Wedman was a two-time all-star.
Bird, of course, was the MVP. Walton won the Sixth Man of the Year award and the Celtics went 67-15, included in that was a 40-1 home record. The top four seeds all won 50 or more games in that 1986 season, and the fifth seed, Detroit Pistons, were 46-36.
The Bucks were led by Marques Johnson, Sidney Moncrief, Bob Lanier, Brian Winters, and Junior Bridgeman. The 76ers had a frontline of Moses Malone, Charles Barkley, and Julius Erving. The Hawks had Dominique Wilkins and the Pistons were in the formative stages of being the “Bad Boys.” The competition was stiff there were no expansion teams to pad your record against.
The Celtic’s first-round matchup was against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls were 30-52 in 1986, but Jordan had missed most of the season because of an injury. He came back for the matchup with the Celtics fully rested and ready to go. Most fans remember Jordan’s 63 point game in Game 2 of that series. Do you know what never gets discussed about that game? The team that won. FYI – Bird had 36 points, 12 rebounds, and 8 assists in that game. In the series, Bird and McHale both averaged 28.3 points.
The Celtics averaged 126.7 points per game for the series. All five of their starters averaged over 17 points per game. Good night, MJ. Did you read that all 5 starters for the series averaged over 17 points per game? In-game 3 played in Chicago, the Celtics also figured out how to defend Jordan and held him to just 19 points in the series-clinching win.
Next up was the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks were led by Dominique Wilkins, Kevin Willis, and Doc Rivers. This was a team that won 50 games during the regular season, but they were no match for the Celtics. The Celtics won the series 4-1.
In the clinching game, the final score was 132-99. Bird had 36 points and 10 rebounds in that game. For the series, all five starters averaged over 14 points per game.
The Eastern Conference finals shaped up to be a tough matchup for the Celtics as they faced the 57-25 Milwaukee Bucks. The Celtics swept with ease! The average margin of victory was 15 points. There was one game in the series where the margin of victory was less than 11 points. All five starters averaged over 14 points for the series. See the trend?! The trend is that this Celtics team was so complete and so unselfish that it was insane how well they played together.
The biggest disappointment in the 1986 season was the fact that the Houston Rockets upset the Los Angels Lakers in the Western Conference finals so that meant no Celtics/Lakers matchup for the world title. For the record, the Celtics won both regular-season games by an average of ten points against the Lakers.
In the finals, the Rockets accomplished an amazing feat. They beat the Celtics twice! But, It was never really that close. The “Twin Towers” of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson were no match for Parish, McHale, Bird, and Walton. The Celtics dominated the series and finished off the Rockets with a 114-97 victory in Game 6.
For the series, Bird averaged 24.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.5 assists, and 2.7 steals per game on his way to winning the Finals MVP. The Celtics had won their third championship in six years in dominating fashion. Combined with the regular season and playoffs, the Celtics went 82-18.
Bird was the leader of a team that had one priority: Winning a championship. The talent level of the starting five was the best. They could beat you with a dominant inside game or with great outside shooting. They exemplified the word “team.” The Celtic’s ability to find the open man was uncanny and a lot of times the ball would be passed around until the man with the open shot was found. If he wasn’t found Bird could create his own shot or feed McHale in the post.
This team was deep and unselfish and that’s why the 1986 Celtics are the best NBA team of all time.
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