Dennis Johnson took it hard. Known as a lock-down defender, the former Boston Celtics guard was crushed after a young Michael Jordan torched the team for 49 points. Although the Celtics convincingly won 123-104 in Game 1 of the first round of the 1986 NBA Playoffs, DJ wasn’t happy.
He vowed to do a better job on Jordan the next game. “Little did he know what was coming,” said Boston’s Jerry Sichting of Johnson.
Michael Jordan helped the Bulls stay close early in Game 1 with a 49-point effort
The Celtics were the best team in the NBA during the 1985-86 NBA season. Led by MVP Larry Bird, the Celtics finished the regular season with a league-best 67-15 record. They faced Jordan and the Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. Although Boston swept Chicago in the best-of-five series, it wasn’t as easy as expected.
In the series opener, the Bulls hung tough early at the Boston Garden, trailing 61-59 at the half. The Celtics got it together in the second half and pulled away, winning 123-104.
Jordan kept the Bulls close with a 49-point effort. He hit 18 of 36 shots from the floor and went 13 of 15 from the line. He did not attempt a 3-point shot. Jordan and Orlando Woolridge accounted for all but 30 of the Bulls’ points.
For Jordan, he was just getting warmed up. He had been limited to 18 regular-season games after breaking his foot earlier in the season. The Bulls were hesitant to bring Jordan back at all, but the NBA sophomore insisted on playing, and he helped push the Bulls into the playoffs.
Dennis Johnson was distraught after Michael Jordan put up 49 points in the opener
The Celtics won the opener by 19 points, but that didn’t stop Johnson from being down on himself. Johnson, who put up 26 points of his own, took pride in his defense. Watching Jordan put up 49 certainly didn’t have him feeling like a winner after the game.
Sichting, a reserve guard with the Celtics, explained how hard and personal Johnson took Jordan’s Game 1 performance.
“Dennis was a prideful defensive player,” recalled Sichting, according to NBA.com. “He’s in the shower after that Game 1 when Michael has 49, and he’s got the stat sheet stuck to the wall and he’s staring at it. He’s all soaped up, and he says, ‘The good news is we beat them. Michael is never going to have another game like that again.’
“Little did he know,” Sichting said with a laugh, “what was coming.”
Jordan responded with a 63-point outing, prompting Larry Bird to famously compare him to God
Game 2 of the series was a thriller, and Jordan made it all happen. The Bulls got off to a quick start, leading 33-25 after one quarter, and held a seven-point lead at halftime.
Jordan finished the game with 63 points, and the Bulls took the mighty Celtics to double overtime before finally falling 135-131. His performance prompted Bird’s now-famous “God disguised as Michael Jordan” quote after the game. Jordan made 22 of 41 shots from the floor and 19 of 21 free throws in his legendary performance.
Bird later said he was simply unstoppable, and the Celtics tried everything.
“We had about everyone on the team guarding him,” Bird said. “He obviously was in a zone. He kept them in the game with big basket after big basket. We couldn’t stop him. We tried to shade him to help, everything.”
“I always thought that was his coming-out party,” said Sichting. “He does that against the best team in the league on national TV. All of a sudden, the whole country knows.”
Jordan wasn’t the only star in that game. Bird finished with 36 points. Kevin McHale poured in 27 points and grabbed 15 rebounds. That’s what Dave Corzine, who had the task of guard him, remembered most.
“What do I remember?” asked Corzine. “McHale scoring over me repeatedly. I remember that.”