The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks Engaged in an Epic Playoff Series 35 Years Ago

The Boston Celtics get set to take on the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday afternoon. It’s a series that many believe features the top two teams in the East. The third-seeded Bucks are the defending champs and play the first two games in Boston against a second-seeded Celtics team that has taken its game to another level in the last three months.

This is the series many want to see. These teams met in a thrilling 1987 Eastern Conference Semifinals that had it all. If this year’s Celtics vs. Bucks battle is anything like the matchup from 35 years ago, we’re in for a pretty good ride.

The Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks had a classic playoff showdown in 1987

Kevin McHale of the Boston Celtics shoots against the Milwaukee Bucks during an NBA basketball game circa 1987 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

The top-seeded Celtics hosted the Bucks in the second round of the NBA playoffs in 1987. Led by future Hall of Famer Larry Bird, Boston looked to make its way to the NBA Finals for the fourth straight year.

The Celtics took care of business early, winning the first two at home, although they had to fend off a furious Bucks rally in Game 2. They also needed 30 points from Danny Ainge, who shot 1-for-9 in the series opener. The Bucks also shot poorly, with Paul Pressey missing all 12 of his shots, and five-time NBA All-Star Sidney Moncrief going 1-for-3 in Boston’s 111-98 win.

After holding off the Bucks in Game 2, 126-124, the series shifted to Milwaukee, where the desperate Bucks needed to hold serve. Boston’s Kevin McHale, who missed Game 1 with a foot injury and played sparingly off the bench in Game 2, played 38 minutes in a reserve role in Game 3 and put up 25 points.

With nine seconds left and his team holding a 114-112 lead, Bucks center Jack Sikma was called for a violation as he couldn’t get the ball in play within five seconds. Robert Parish hit a jumper to send the game into overtime.

Ricky Pierce converted a key three-point play in the extra session to give Milwaukee a 124-118 lead. The Bucks held on for a series-saving 126-121 victory.

The Boston Celtics outlast the Milwaukee Bucks in 2OT thriller in Game 4

McHale returned to the starting lineup in Game 4 and played 56 minutes. He and Bird combined for 76 points — Bird leading the way with 42. Milwaukee’s backup center Paul Mokeski came through with two clutch free throws at the end of regulation to send the game to overtime tied at 117 apiece.

After both teams scored 10 points in the first OT, the Celtics outlasted the Bucks in the second to pull off a 138-137 victory that would all but end the series. After all, the Bucks hadn’t won in the Boston Garden in two years, and they have to win there in Game 5 to stay alive.

“All the cliches come out,” said Mokeski after Game 4, per United Press International. “Our backs are against the wall, take one game at a time and just try to win in Boston. We’ve got to win three in a row from the Celtics, which is no easy task.

“But we’ve got no choice in the matter. The next game, if we lose, we’re playing golf. I don’t think anybody on this team wants to do that this early.”

Even Bird seemed confident, heading back home with a 3-1 series lead.

“They’ve got to beat us twice in the Garden and nobody’s done that in a long time,” Bird said. “And we’re going to play better on Wednesday night than we did here. We always play better at home. So, if they’re going to beat us, they’re going to have to take their game up a notch.”

The Bucks shocked the Celtics in Game 5 and eventually forced Game 7

Moncrief came up big for the Bucks in Game 5 in Boston, scoring a career playoff-high 33 points in a shocking 129-124 win in Boston.

“This is the best I’ve felt since the first two weeks of the season,” Moncrief said, per UPI. “I’m in good shape and mentally into the game. I’ve taken it on myself to be aggressive and look for the shot.”

Not only did the Bucks pull off the stunner, but the Celtics suffered a blow when Parish went down with an ankle injury with four minutes remaining. He had 30 points and 16 rebounds. McHale was still hobbling, and reserve center Bill Walton hadn’t played in the series because of a hairline fracture in his ankle.

Parish missed Game 6, and the Celtics missed him badly as the Bucks sent the series Back to Boston for a deciding Game 7 after pulling out a 121-111 victory. He returned for Game 7 and made a world of difference.

Parish finished with 23 points and a game-high 19 rebounds as the Celtics dominated the boards in a 119-113 victory. The wounded Celtics outrebounded the Bucks 57-27, and that proved to be the difference.

“The old adage is that a wounded bear is the most dangerous one,” said McHale, who had 26 points and 15 rebounds. “We’ve got enough wounds on us to last a lifetime.”

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