Michael Jordan Was ‘Eye-Opening’ in the ’86 Playoffs, but Kevin McHale Said the Boston Celtics Were Never Concerned
Michael Jordan wasn’t quite Michael Jordan yet. He was a couple of years into the NBA, but there were no championships or MVPs. The Boston Celtics were the class of the Eastern Conference, having been to the NBA Finals the previous two seasons. Now, during the 1985-86 campaign, they racked up a league-leading 67 wins and were on their way to their third straight championship round.
First, they had to get by Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the opening round of the playoffs. Jordan did everything he could to make it a series. Years later, Celtics forward Kevin McHale admitted Jordan opened some eyes, but the Celtics had no doubt they were in control.
Michael Jordan was ‘God’ against the Celtics in the 1986 postseason
The Celtics took on the Bulls in the opening round of the 1986 playoffs and made quick work of them in Game 1. Despite a 49-point effort from Jordan, the Celtics cruised to a 123-104 victory.
While Jordan was the flashy player and the acrobatic dunker who wowed everyone, the Celtics were business-like and were by far the more complete team. Jordan and Orlando Woolridge combined for all but 30 of Chicago’s points in the series opener. Meanwhile, the Celtics, led by Larry Bird, had four starters score between 23 and 30 points.
Game 2 was a different story. The Bulls took the Celtics to double overtime but fell 135-131. Jordan put the team on his back with a 63-point effort on 22-for-41 shooting from the floor. His performance prompted Bird’s famous quote of Jordan being “God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
Jordan, however, was 0-for-2 despite going for 112 points in two games. He certainly made a name for himself, but the Celtics kept winning and inching toward their third championship of the decade.
Game 3 of the best-of-five series was played in Chicago. The Celtics paid much more attention to Jordan and held him to 19 points on 8-for-18 shooting. Dave Corzine was the star of that game for the Bulls, racking up 22 points and 15 rebounds. John Paxson had 23 points off the bench. The Celtics ended the series with a 122-104 victory.
Kevin McHale said the Celtics weren’t concerned about the Bulls, despite Jordan’s efforts
After sweeping the Bulls, the Celtics knocked off the Atlanta Hawks 4-1 in the conference semifinals before sweeping the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Confrence Finals. The won their third NBA title of the ’80s by ousting the Houston Rockets in six games.
Many years later, McHale reminisced about Boston’s magical ’86 season. He specifically spoke about Jordan’s heroics. He called Jordan’s play eye-opening but admitted the Celtics were never worried about the Bulls.
“I think they had won 35, 36 games,” McHale told NBC Sports Boston. “Michael had broken his foot earlier in the year. At some point, he came back, finished the season and was playing great. But, honestly, it wasn’t like we were looking at the Bulls like they were going to beat us. We prepped for them, but the prep was like, let’s get these guys out of here.
“We weren’t really double-teaming Michael, and we didn’t do any schemes on him. I think the first game he had like 40 or something — a lot. We’re like, man, this guy can play. After the second game, we’re like this guy is the real deal. In the third game, we doubled him. I don’t remember the specifics. We really got into scheming. That was the start of Michael Jordan becoming Michael Jordan.
“Again, there was never a doubt that we were going to beat them. I never thought there was any chance of them beating us one game, much less two or three. We kind of crushed them in Chicago in that third game. It was eye-opening for all of us of how good that guy was going to be, but we probably took them for granted a little bit.”
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