Skip to main content

The 1985-86 Boston Celtics had plenty going for them. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish were in peak form. They had been to the last two NBA Finals and sought their third championship of the decade.

They racked up 67 regular-season victories and cruised through the playoffs. The Celtics suffered one home loss all year, playoffs included. During that playoff run, they squared off against the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, posting a four-game sweep. Those four straight losses left Bucks head coach Don Nelson shaking his head and realizing his team had no chance.

The 1985-86 Boston Celtics are one of the best teams in NBA history

Everything clicked for the Boston Celtics in the 1985-86 season. They went out and brought in a couple of key pieces for the bench, adding veteran center Bill Walton and guard Jerry Sichting. The Walton signing was key as the oft-injured future Hall of Famer played 80 games that season and was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.

The Celtics had four future Hall of Famers in the starting lineup in the 1985-86 season. In addition to Bird, McHale, and Parish, they had veteran guard Dennis Johnson, whom they acquired before the 1983-84 season. Every year since they acquired DJ in a trade with the Phoenix Suns, they reached the NBA Finals.

Bird won his third straight MVP that season. Only one team in the Eastern Conference — the Bucks — finished within 10 games of the Celtics. The Celtics went 67-15 and then made quick work of the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the playoffs. They swept Chicago in the best-of-three series despite Michael Jordan’s 63-point masterpiece in Game 2.

The Celtics then knocked off the Atlanta Hawks in five games before facing the Bucks, who won 57 games, in the conference finals. Boston cruised past the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, winning four straight.

Instead of matching up with the rival Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals, Boston met the Houston Rockets. Houston upset the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals, and the Celtics knocked off the Rockets in six games to claim their third title of the ’80s.

Boston’s postseason sweep of the Bucks had Don Nelson shaking his head

The Celtics and Bucks had plenty of playoff battles in the decade. The Bucks swept the Celtics in the conference semis in 1983 before the Celtics ousted Milwaukee in five games the following season. In 1986, they met again for the right to advance to the championship round.

The Celtics set the tone early in the series, taking a 41-14 lead in the second quarter of Game 1 and cruising to a 128-96 victory. In Game 2, the Celtics showed just how balanced they were. No starter had less than 20 points, and none had more than 26 in a 122-111 victory.

With the series shifted to Milwaukee for Game 3, it’s almost as if the Celtics toyed with the Bucks. Boston never held a lead until the fourth quarter. Milwaukee outscored Boston in each of the first three quarters, but the Celtics got hot in the fourth and escaped with a 111-107 win and a 3-0 series lead. The loss left Milwaukee coach Don Nelson shaking his head.

“We played it like a seventh (game),” said Nelson, per Sports Illustrated. “I do know we played as hard as we could. We can’t play any better.”

The Celtics closed out the series in Game 4 with a 111-98 victory.

“I’m not so sure Boston isn’t just on a different planet than us mere mortal teams,” Nelson said.

Nelson wasn’t alone in believing the Celtics were nearly impossible to beat.

“The matchups are impossible,” said Bucks center Paul Mokeski. “You have to put your big guys on Parish and McHale, or you get burned, so your third-biggest guy goes on Bird. And if that guy’s small, Bird just posts him up. If he’s big, Bird just goes outside. It’s pretty awesome.”

Related

Kevin McHale Dragging a Bucks Fan Out of the Stands in ’87 Playoffs Gets Forgotten, but Jerry Sichting Remembers It Well