The 1985-86 Boston Celtics Team Is 1 of the Best Ever, but Danny Ainge Said There Was a Letdown That Season
After falling to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1985 NBA Finals, the Boston Celtics went to work. They traded veteran Cedric Maxwell to the Los Angeles Clippers and brought back oft-injured center Bill Walton to help bolster the bench. They also added a shooter in Jerry Sichting to help bring some instant offense from the reserves.
The Celtics had four future Hall of Famers in their starting lineup in Larry Bird, Dennis Johnson, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish. They went on to win 67 games and cruise to their third championship of the decade. Despite the high level of success, Danny Ainge, the team’s fifth starter, recently said there was one letdown during that season.
How good was that 1985-86 Boston Celtics team?
The Boston Celtics somehow found a way to beat the Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals. The Lakers completely outplayed the Celtics in the early part of the series. If not for Gerald Henderson’s late steal in Game 2, the Celtics likely would have been staring at getting swept in Game 4. Instead, the Celtics trailed 2-1 in the series and rallied for a Game 4 win in LA to tie things up. Boston outlasted the Lakers in seven games.
The Celtics looked to repeat as champions when the teams squared off again in the championship round for the second straight season. Despite getting blown out in Game 1 in what is known as the Memorial Day Massacre, the Lakers went on to win the title in six games. The Lakers became the first team to ever celebrate a championship on Boston’s home court.
The Celtics used 1985 as motivation for 1986. The addition of Walton was just what Boston needed. He came off the bench to spell Parish and McHale. Walton appeared in 80 games and averaged just under 20 minutes that season. He was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.
The Celtics went 67-15 in the regular season and rolled through the playoffs en route to their second championship in three years. They lost one game at home all season.
Bird and several other members of the Celtics have said they would put that 1985-86 team against any other in NBA history.
Ainge said not facing the Lakers in the ’86 Finals was a big letdown
Losing to the Lakers in 1985 hurt the Celtics. It carried over into the next season, and it became somewhat of an obsession for Boston to exact revenge, according to Ainge.
“Our fans hated them,” Ainge said recently on the Knuckleads Podcast. “It was like the country’s divided between the Celtics and the Lakers. I never hated them. I had amazing respect.
“We thought about them all season long. We beat them in ’84. At that time, I actually thought they were a little better than us. In ’85, I thought we were better than them, and they beat us. In ’86, our entire season, every day we thought about the Lakers. It’s a great motivation for us because we’re going to get them in ’86.
“Then they get beat by Houston in the conference finals. That was a killer. I mean, it was like a letdown because all year long, we just wanted another crack, and we were 100 percent healthy.
“It was a team that — it’s easy to say now — but we weren’t going to lose. We went 50-1 that year at home. That was a little bit of a letdown.”