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1986 NBA Finals

1986 NBA Finals
Team Coach Wins
Boston Celtics K.C. Jones 4
Houston Rockets Bill Fitch 2
Dates May 26 – June 8
MVP Larry Bird
(Boston Celtics)
Television CBS (U.S.)
Announcers Dick Stockton and Tom Heinsohn
Radio network WRKO (BOS)
Announcers Johnny Most and Glenn Ordway (BOS)
Gene Peterson and Jim Foley (HOU)
Game 1: Jack Madden and Ed T. Rush
Game 2: Jess Kersey and Hugh Evans
Game 3: Joe Crawford and Jake O'Donnell
Game 4: Darell Garretson and Earl Strom
Game 5: Hugh Evans and Jack Madden
Game 6: Jake O'Donnell and Darell Garretson
Hall of Famers Celtics:
Larry Bird (1998)
Dennis Johnson (2010)
Kevin McHale (1999)
Robert Parish (2003)
Bill Walton (1993)
Hakeem Olajuwon (2008)
Ralph Sampson (2012)
K.C. Jones (1989, player)
Earl Strom (1995)
Eastern Finals Celtics defeat Bucks, 4–0
Western Finals Rockets defeat Lakers, 4–1

The 1986 NBA Finals was the championship round of the 1985–86 NBA season. It pitted the Eastern Conference champion Boston Celtics against the Western Conference champion Houston Rockets, in a rematch of the 1981 Finals. The Celtics defeated the Rockets four games to two to win their 16th NBA championship. The championship would be the Celtics' last until the 2008 NBA Finals. Larry Bird was named the Finals MVP.

On another note, this series marked the first time the "NBA Finals" branding was officially used, as they dropped the "NBA World Championship Series" branding which had been in use since the beginning of the league, though it had been unofficially called the "NBA Finals" for years.

Until the 2011 series, this was the last time the NBA Finals had started before June. Since game three, all NBA Finals games have been played in June. Starting with the following year, the NBA Finals would be held exclusively in the month of June. It was also the last NBA Finals series to schedule a game on a Monday until 1999 and also the last NBA Finals game to be played on Memorial Day.

CBS Sports used Dick Stockton and Tom Heinsohn as the play-by-play man and color commentator respectively. Meanwhile, Brent Musburger was the host and Pat O'Brien (the Rockets' sideline) and Lesley Visser (the Celtics' sideline) were the sideline reporters.


  • Background 1
    • Boston Celtics 1.1
    • Houston Rockets 1.2
    • Road to the finals 1.3
    • Regular season series 1.4
  • The finals 2
  • Series summary 3
    • Game 1 3.1
    • Game 2 3.2
    • Game 3 3.3
    • Game 4 3.4
    • Game 5 3.5
    • Game 6 3.6
  • Quotes from the Finals 4
  • Aftermath 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8


Boston Celtics

The Celtics made the 1985 NBA Finals, but lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers. The series exposed some of Boston's weaknesses, such as the lack of bench scoring, which was exploited once Kevin McHale moved to the starting lineup after Cedric Maxwell fell to injured knees. In addition, Larry Bird played through an elbow injury, which severely affected his shooting. In the offseason, president Red Auerbach decided to tweak the roster, trading Maxwell to the Los Angeles Clippers for oft-injured center Bill Walton. He also made a trade with the Indiana Pacers, acquiring the younger Jerry Sichting for an aging Quinn Buckner. Those moves would pave the way for the Celtics' greatest season yet.

The 1986 Boston Celtics team finished the NBA regular season with a record of 67–15, and is frequently cited as the greatest NBA team of all-time.[1] It boasted numerous NBA players enshrined in Springfield, including Larry Bird (the NBA MVP for the third consecutive year in 1986), Kevin McHale, Bill Walton (the NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 1986), Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson, and NBA All-Star role players such as Danny Ainge, Scott Wedman, and Jerry Sichting.

The Celtics steamrolled through the Eastern Conference Playoffs, sweeping Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls 3–0 in the first round. Although Boston dispensed of Chicago without losing in the series, Game 2 of that 1986 first round series is generally considered to be one of Jordan's greatest games.[2] When asked about Jordan's performance in Boston's 135-131 2OT victory, Boston's coach K.C. Jones said, "I don't have a word for today." [2] In retrospect, this game is considered to be a classic clash of the NBA's (arguably) greatest player, Jordan, and the NBA's (arguably) greatest team, Bird's '86 Celtics.[2]

In the second round of the NBA playoffs, the '86 Celtics faced-off against the youthful Atlanta Hawks, led by future Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame scorer Dominique Wilkins. (The Hawks also started Boston's future championship coach, Doc Rivers.) The Celtics won this semifinal series four games to one, blowing out the Hawks in the series' final game with a score of 132-99, (Boston outscored Atlanta 36-6 in the game's 3rd quarter.)

The Eastern Conference Finals matched the Celtics up against the Milwaukee Bucks and head coach Don Nelson, a former Celtic player who enraged the Celtics in the 1983 NBA Playoffs by accusing Celtic guard Danny Ainge of "dirty" play, and subsequently sweeping the Celtics, the first time in Celtic history which that has happened in a seven-game series (The New Jersey Nets did it in the 2003 Eastern conference semi-finals). The Celtics got their revenge, sweeping the Bucks easily. This series was the third of four consecutive NBA post-seasons that Boston faced Milwaukee during the mid-1980s, ('83-'87.) Milwaukee beat Boston in 1983 before losing in three consecutive post-seasons.

Houston Rockets

Following their previous Finals appearance in 1981, the Rockets entered a brief rebuilding period, which included the retirements of long-time Rockets Calvin Murphy and Rudy Tomjanovich, the departures of Mike Dunleavy, Sr., Bill Willoughby, Tom Henderson and Billy Paultz, and the 1982 trade of Moses Malone to the eventual 1983 champions Philadelphia 76ers. After finishing with the NBA's worst record at 14 wins in 1983, the Rockets hired former Celtics coach Bill Fitch, and with the top overall pick, selected Ralph Sampson. They would earn the top pick again in 1984, this time taking Hakeem Olajuwon (then named Akeem) to form the Twin Towers.

After winning 48 games in the 1984–85 season, the Rockets won three more games the following season to claim the Midwest Division title. They easily swept the Sacramento Kings in the opening round in three straight before meeting Alex English and the high-scoring Denver Nuggets. The home team won the first five games, including a 28-point trouncing in game five by the Rockets at Houston, and finally knocking off the Nuggets in Denver in a double overtime classic game six. They faced a trial by fire by facing the legendary Showtime Lakers in the conference finals led by their big three of Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy. Olajuwon, Sampson and the young Rockets were dealt a tough schooling by the experienced Lakers at the Forum in game one. Los Angeles, who had reshuffled its team in the off-season by releasing Bob McAdoo and Jamaal Wilkes, picking up veteran power forward Maurice Lucas in a trade, and rookie A. C. Green through the draft, were looking to repeat as champions, a feat not accomplished since the Celtics in 1969. The Lakers got off to a good start on their way to a 62-20 record, but complacency had begun to set in by playoff time as the Lakers blew out nearly any opponent they played.

The Rockets, on the other hand, came back playing with confidence and enthusiasm after game one. With Bill Fitch as coach, they sported the original "Twin Towers," 7-foot-4 Ralph Sampson at power forward and 7'0 Hakeem Olajuwon at center. Jim Petersen backed up the Twin Towers, while Robert Reid and Rodney McCray shared time at small forward. The guards included Mitchell Wiggins, Lewis Lloyd, Allen Leavell, and John Lucas before being suspended by the league for violating the league's drug policy.

The Rockets would come back to shock the Lakers, sweeping the next four games, including both at The Summit. Their series-clinching victory against Los Angeles in Game 5 ended the Lakers' season in dramatic fashion. Olajuwon had been ejected for fighting with Mitch Kupchak, and Los Angeles held a three-point lead in the final thirty seconds, until Robert Reid tied the score at 112 with 15 seconds remaining by hitting a clutch three-point field goal after missing a previous attempt, the possession saved by an offensive rebound by Mitchell Wiggins. Byron Scott missed the game-winning attempt and Lewis Lloyd grabbed the rebound with a second left. Rodney McCray inbounded the ball to Sampson, who caught and made a turn-around shot all in one motion, hitting the front of the cylinder and falling through the hoop. The shot floored the Forum crowd, ending the 5-year period of the Lakers representing the Western Conference in the Finals. Ironically, it was the Rockets who had also dethroned the Lakers five years prior, who had won the previous years' championship.

Allen Leavell and Robert Reid were the only Rockets with Finals experience, having played in the 1981 Finals with the team.

Road to the finals

Houston Rockets (Western Conference Champion) Boston Celtics (Eastern Conference Champion)
# Western Conference
1 c-Los Angeles Lakers 62 20 .756
2 y-Houston Rockets 51 31 .622 11
3 x-Denver Nuggets 47 35 .573 15
4 x-Dallas Mavericks 44 38 .537 18
5 x-Utah Jazz 42 40 .512 20
6 x-Portland Trail Blazers 40 42 .488 22
7 x-Sacramento Kings 37 45 .451 25
8 x-San Antonio Spurs 35 47 .427 27
9 Phoenix Suns 32 50 .390 30
10 Los Angeles Clippers 32 50 .390 30
11 Seattle SuperSonics 31 51 .378 31
12 Golden State Warriors 30 52 .366 32
2nd seed in the West, 5th best league record
Regular season
# Eastern Conference
1 z-Boston Celtics 67 15 .817
2 y-Milwaukee Bucks 57 25 .695 10
3 x-Philadelphia 76ers 54 28 .659 13
4 x-Atlanta Hawks 50 32 .610 17
5 x-Detroit Pistons 46 36 .561 21
6 x-Washington Bullets 39 43 .476 28
7 x-New Jersey Nets 39 43 .476 28
8 x-Chicago Bulls 30 52 .366 37
9 Cleveland Cavaliers 29 53 .354 38
10 Indiana Pacers 26 56 .317 41
11 New York Knicks 23 59 .280 44
1st seed in the East, best league record
Defeated the (7) Sacramento Kings, 3–0 First Round Defeated the (8) Chicago Bulls, 3–0
Defeated the (3) Denver Nuggets, 4–2 Conference Semifinals Defeated the (4) Atlanta Hawks, 4–1
Defeated the (1) Los Angeles Lakers, 4–1 Conference Finals Defeated the (2) Milwaukee Bucks, 4–0

Regular season series

The Boston Celtics won both games in the regular season series:

The finals

The Larry Bird led Celtics would defeat the Rockets again 4 games to 2 in the 1986 NBA Finals. The Celtics dominated the first two games at the Boston Garden, where they had gone 40-1 during the regular season. The Rockets had been almost as good at home during the season, and they defeated the Celtics 106-104 in game three. Game 4 would be a tense battle at the Summit and the Celtics prevailed 106-103, with Bill Walton coming off the bench to spell a tired Robert Parish to score a crucial basket. The infamous fifth game featured the signature moment of the series, when 7'4" Ralph Sampson ignited a brawl with Jerry Sichting, a player 15 inches (380 mm) shorter than Sampson, ultimately leading to his ejection. While Jim Petersen would lead the Rockets to a decisive victory, Sampson's actions would motivate the Celtics to end the series in six. Bird would dismantle the young Rockets in game 6, as the Garden crowd booed every time Sampson touched the ball. The Celtics blew out the Rockets 114-97 in a game that wasn't as close as the score would indicate.

Bird was named the Finals' MVP for that year, averaging 24 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.7 assists and 2.7 steals per game for the series. It was the Celtics' 16th championship in 40 years and it was their last championship before winning their 17th NBA championship in 2008.

Series summary

Game Date Home team Result Road team
Game 1 Monday, May 26 Boston Celtics 112-100 (1-0) Houston Rockets
Game 2 Thursday, May 29 Boston Celtics 117-95 (2-0) Houston Rockets
Game 3 Sunday, June 1 Houston Rockets 106-104 (1-2) Boston Celtics
Game 4 Tuesday, June 3 Houston Rockets 103-106 (1-3) Boston Celtics
Game 5 Thursday, June 5 Houston Rockets 111-96 (2-3) Boston Celtics
Game 6 Sunday, June 8 Boston Celtics 114-97 (4-2) Houston Rockets

Game 1

May 26
3:00 pm EDT
Houston Rockets 100, Boston Celtics 112
Scoring by quarter: 28–34, 31–27, 17–30, 24–21
Pts: Hakeem Olajuwon 33
Rebs: Hakeem Olajuwon 12
Asts: Robert Reid 8
Pts: Bird, McHale 21 each
Rebs: Dennis Johnson 11
Asts: Larry Bird 13
Boston leads the series, 1–0
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 14,890
  • No. 14 Jack Madden
  • No. 4 Ed T. Rush

The "Twin Towers" Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon were saddled with foul trouble for much of the game. Sampson got three quick fouls just 4:45 into the game and scored only two points; Olajuwon picked up five fouls despite scoring 33, 25 of which came in the first half. The backcourt tandem of Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge provided the third quarter spurt for the Celtics, combining for 22 points, while Boston held Houston to just 17 points in an expected victory.

Game 2

May 29
9:00 pm EDT
Houston Rockets 95, Boston Celtics 117
Scoring by quarter: 30–31, 20–29, 19–34, 26–23
Pts: Hakeem Olajuwon 21
Rebs: Hakeem Olajuwon 10
Asts: McCray, Reid 5 each
Pts: Larry Bird 31
Rebs: Larry Bird 8
Asts: Larry Bird 7
Boston leads the series, 2–0
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 14,890
  • No. 20 Jess Kersey
  • No. 25 Hugh Evans

The third quarter again proved decisive for the Celtics, outscoring the Rockets 34-19 in the quarter. Sampson and Olajuwon combined for 32 points in the first half, but only seven in the second. Larry Bird paced the Celtics with 31 points on 12-for-19 shooting, while Kevin McHale added 25 in another Boston rout. It was Boston's 40th consecutive victory at home, regular season and playoffs combined.

Game 3

June 1
3:30 pm EDT
Boston Celtics 104, Houston Rockets 106
Scoring by quarter: 29–33, 30–29, 25–18, 20–26
Pts: Kevin McHale 28
Rebs: Larry Bird 15
Asts: Larry Bird 11
Pts: Ralph Sampson 24
Rebs: Ralph Sampson 22
Asts: Robert Reid 9
Boston leads the series, 2–1
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,016
  • No. 17 Joe Crawford
  • No. 11 Jake O'Donnell

The Rockets rallied from eight points down in the fourth quarter before escaping to a much-needed two-point win at home, despite another third quarter meltdown. Sampson and Olajuwon combined for 47 points and 30 rebounds, Robert Reid added 20, while reserve guard Mitchell Wiggins tipped in off an Olajuwon miss late in the fourth to put the Rockets ahead for good. The Celtics only managed one more shot in their final two possessions, a missed 5-footer by Robert Parish. Kevin McHale and Larry Bird both scored 28 points in the loss, but Bird was held to 3-for-12 shooting in the second half due to Reid's defense.

Game 4

June 3
9:00 pm EDT
Boston Celtics 106, Houston Rockets 103
Scoring by quarter: 30–30, 33–34, 23–21, 20–18
Pts: Robert Parish 22
Rebs: Robert Parish 15
Asts: Larry Bird 10
Pts: Ralph Sampson 25
Rebs: Hakeem Olajuwon 14
Asts: Ralph Sampson 9
Boston leads the series, 3–1
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,016
  • No. 10 Darell Garretson
  • No. 12 Earl Strom

Larry Bird's three-pointer with 2:26 remaining gave Boston the lead for good, while holding the Rockets to just one basket in the final four minutes, keyed by Kevin McHale's three forced turnovers on Houston's final three possessions. Robert Parish scored 22 while hauling 15 rebounds. Dennis Johnson also added 22, while Bird scored 21 and dished out 10 assists. Ralph Sampson led the Rockets with 25 points, while Hakeem Olajuwon, Robert Reid and Rodney McCray added 21, 19 and 17 respectively. The Rockets suffered their first home loss of the 1986 playoffs.

Game 5

June 5
9:00 pm EDT
Boston Celtics 96, Houston Rockets 111
Scoring by quarter: 28–26, 19–32, 18–28, 31–25
Pts: Kevin McHale 33
Rebs: Kevin McHale 8
Asts: Danny Ainge 5
Pts: Hakeem Olajuwon 32
Rebs: Hakeem Olajuwon 14
Asts: Robert Reid 17
Boston leads the series, 3–2
The Summit, Houston, Texas
Attendance: 16,016
  • No. 25 Hugh Evans
  • No. 14 Jack Madden

The game was highlighted by Ralph Sampson's ejection early in the second quarter. With 9:40 remaining in the second, Sampson threw punches at the Celtics' reserve guard Jerry Sichting, 16 inches shorter than Sampson, leading to his ejection while the benches were cleared. The Rockets were leading 34-33 at the time of the brawl, and would lead by as many as 25 points in the second half to score a lopsided victory. Hakeem Olajuwon scored 32 points while blocking 8 shots. Though Kevin McHale scored 33, Larry Bird was held to only 17 points, ultimately leading to one of the worst losses suffered by the Celtics that season.

Game 6

June 8
1:00 pm EDT
Houston Rockets 97, Boston Celtics 114
Scoring by quarter: 23–29, 15–26, 23–27, 36–32
Pts: Hakeem Olajuwon 21
Rebs: Hakeem Olajuwon 10
Asts: McCray, Reid 5 each
Pts: Larry Bird 29
Rebs: Larry Bird11
Asts: Larry Bird 12
Boston wins the series, 4–2
Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Attendance: 14,890
  • No. 11 Jake O'Donnell
  • No. 10 Darrell Garretson

In a masterful display of team basketball and payback for the Game 5 loss, Larry Bird notched a triple-double of 29 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists to pace a lopsided Boston win that clinched their 16th NBA championship. Kevin McHale added 29 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks. Hakeem Olajuwon paced the Rockets with 21 points and 10 rebounds, but Ralph Sampson was held to only eight points on 4-for-12 shooting, visibly distracted by an angry Boston Garden crowd in the aftermath of Game 5. The Celtics led by as much as 30 in the fourth to put away the Rockets.

Following the conclusion of the 1986 NBA Finals, a video documentary of the 1986 NBA season, known as "Sweet Sixteen", was released. David Perry was the narrator after Dick Stockton narrated the last three NBA season documentaries.

This would be the city of Boston's last professional championship until 2002 when the New England Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI. Had the Patriots and the Boston Red Sox won Super Bowl XX and the 1986 World Series, respectively (the Patriots lost 46-10 to the Chicago Bears, while the Red Sox lost in seven games to the New York Mets), it would've given Boston three championships in the same calendar year. A Houston-Boston World Series was also a possibility; however, the Mets defeated the Houston Astros in six games of the 1986 National League Championship Series.

The closing song following Game 6 was "Whatever We Imagine" by James Ingram.

Quotes from the Finals

Leavell, hits a three and here's Ainge releasing back and lays it up and in from Bird! Take no prisoners, that's Larry Bird's motto.
— CBS Commentators Dick Stockton and Tommy Heinsohn on the Celtics' precision plays in Game 1.
It's been all Celtics here in the third period. Here's Bird with a great pass to Walton, back to McHale! And that is Celtic basketball. They lifted both the Twin Towers!
— CBS commentators Dick Stockton and Tommy Heinsohn after Celtics' ball movement wraps around the powerful Rockets frontline of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson for a jam.


The Celtics would return to the NBA Finals in 1987; however, they fell in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers. Until 2008 this was the Celtics' last NBA championship. In the 1987 season the Celtics extended their home winning streak to 48 games and went on to win 59 games, 39 of which came at either Boston Garden or Hartford Civic Center. The Celtics went the distance in the 1987 NBA Playoffs; save for a three-game sweep of the Chicago Bulls in the first round, they were pushed to a Game 7 against the Milwaukee Bucks and Detroit Pistons before eventually returning to the NBA Finals. The Celtics faltered down the stretch due to injuries, fatigue and age. This would also be the last championship for a team in the Boston area until the New England Patriots won Super Bowl XXXVI in the 2001 NFL Season, which would start a trend of Boston teams becoming successful with 9 championships in the last 14 years to date.

As for the Rockets, their stay at the top of the Western Conference would only be temporary, as Ralph Sampson fell down with a knee injury that eventually curtailed his career. The Rockets would only win 42 games, upsetting the Portland Trail Blazers in the first round until being dethroned as west champions in the playoffs' second round by the Seattle SuperSonics in six games. The 'Twin Towers' were disbanded after Sampson was traded to the Golden State Warriors early in the 1987-88 NBA season. The Rockets would not return to the finals until their championship season in 1994.

See also


  1. ^ "NBA Power Rankings: The 1986 Celtics, 1996 Bulls and the 10 Best NBA Teams Ever". Bleacher Report. 2011-03-10. Retrieved 2012-08-08. 
  2. ^ a b c "Michael Jordan had record 63 points in playoff game 25 years ago - Alex Wolff -". Retrieved 2012-08-08. 

External links

  • NBA History
  • Basketball Reference1986 NBA Finals at
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