The 1987 Boston Celtics Sought a Title Repeat, but Their Feet Got in the Way
The Boston Celtics had already won three NBA championships in the decade, but they were seeking the franchise’s first title repeat since 1969. The Celtics took care of the Houston Rockets in six games in the 1986 NBA Finals and now faced the rival Los Angeles Lakers for the ’87 title.
The teams already squared off in the championship round in 1984 and 1985, the Celtics winning in ’84 and the Lakers in ’85. The Celtics were ready to hang a banner for the second straight year, but their feet wouldn’t let them.
The 1985-86 Celtics go down as one of the best NBA teams ever
Before the 1985-86 season began, the Celtics went out and strengthened their bench. Already armed with the best starting lineup in the league, Boston needed to add some depth. The Celtics had four future Hall of Famers — Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and Dennis Johnson — in the starting lineup, and they were logging more than their fair share of minutes.
They traded veteran forward Cedric Maxwell and brought in veteran center Bill Walton. The oft-injured Walton played in 80 games, the most in any season of his 10-year career. His play earned him Sixth Man of the Year honors. The Celtics finished the regular season 67-15 en route to their third title of the decade.
During a 2020 interview with Brian Scalabrine, Walton admitted he’d put the ’86 Celtics team up against anyone.
“We had a great team, and we loved each other,” Walton said. “We loved the way we played, and we knew we could get the job done. We’ll take our chances. We’ll take our chances anywhere against anybody, anytime. We had it all. We had size, strength, power, finesse, skill, discipline, talent.
“And at the end of the day, we had Red Auerbach, K.C. Jones, Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and nobody else did.”
The 86-87 season was supposed to be more of the same, but it didn’t quite work out that way.
Injuries derailed Boston’s hopes in 1987
The Celtics did what they could to reach the NBA Finals again in 1987, but in the end, the hungry Lakers were just too much.
The Houston Rockets stunned the Lakers in ’86, and LA was ready to redeem itself during another championship meeting with the Celtics. Los Angeles proved to be too much, dominating the first two games at home and winning Game 4 in Boston. The Lakers won the series in six games.
Boston was dealt a heavy dose of injury problems that year, highlighted by McHale’s foot injury. Not only was McHale coming off a sprained ankle, but he played the entire series with a stress fracture in his right foot. A foot injury limited Walton to just 10 regular-season games that year. Parish was hobbled by a severely sprained ankle in the conference semifinals and missed time.
There was a lot of foot talk during Boston’s postseason.
“Underneath the basket, you have these big men constantly jumping on each other’s feet,” Dr. Thomas Silva said before the Celtics began their championship series with the Lakers, per United Press International. ‘These are very big people, weighing 230 and 250 pounds, all working for position in a small space under the basket.
“These big men have developed strong ankles, and tape is man’s attempt to give extra support to the ankle. But you still see more ankle and foot injuries in these players than in the smaller men, guards like Danny Ainge, who are moving out in the open most of the time. X-rays show evidence of a lot more smaller injuries having taken place in the bigger men’s feet, despite the specially made shoes they wear.”
The Lakers earned that ’87 championship, and the Celtics never made any excuses. It was the beginning of the end for that Boston dynasty of the ’80s.