Top 5 Signature Moments in Boston Celtics Playoff History
With 17 NBA championships, the Boston Celtics sure have had their share of big-time playoff moments. They even added another Sunday when Jayson Tatum’s buzzer-beater gave them a 115-114 thrilling victory over the Brooklyn Nets in Game 1 of their playoff series.
There have been many great playoff games and battles involving the Celtics, but we’ll try to narrow down the franchise’s top five signature moments in their rich playoff history. Included in this short list are meaningful plays that had an effect on the series and top individual performances that impacted the outcome.
5. Bill Russell scores 30 points, grabs 40 rebounds as the Boston Celtics top the Lakers in Game 7 of 1962 NBA Finals
From 1959-1966, the Celtics won eight consecutive NBA titles. The Los Angeles Lakers nearly halted that run in the 1962 Finals. Elgin Baylor certainly did his part in trying to make it happen, scoring 41 points and pulling down 22 rebounds in a winner-take-all Game 7.
Celtics center Bill Russell made sure the streak didn’t end. He put up arguably the most dominant Finals performance that still stands today. He finished with 30 points on 8-of-18 shooting from the floor (14-for-17 from the line). Russell also pulled down 40 rebounds to lift Boston to a 110-107 victory.
The Lakers held series leads of 2-1 and 3-2. They had a chance to clinch at home in Game 6, but Sam Jones’ 35 points sparked the Celtics, who cruised 119-105.
Russell then made sure Game 7 was Boston’s with his monstrous double-double.
4. Gerald Henderson’s miraculous steal turns the 1984 NBA Finals around for the Boston Celtics
Without Gerald Henderson, the Celtics don’t beat the Lakers in the 1984 NBA Finals. The Celtics got slapped around at home in a Game 1 loss and were in the process of losing Game 2 in Boston with 18 seconds remaining. The Lakers held a 113-111 lead and had the ball. They knew the Celtics were in foul mode.
LA inbounded the ball to Magic Johnson, who made a quick pass to James Worthy. Worthy then attempted a cross-court pass intended for Byron Scott. Henderson intercepted the pass and went in for a game-tying layup with 13 seconds remaining. The Lakers never attempted a shot in regulation, and the Celtics won in overtime, tying the series.
The Lakers blew out the Celtics in Game 3, the first one in LA, and should have been looking at a 3-0 series edge. The Celtics outlasted the Lakers in seven games, something that still haunts those Lakers players and their fans.
3. Kevin McHale clotheslines Kurt Rambis in the 1984 NBA Finals
Yes, the 1984 NBA Finals had its share of signature moments. Two games after Henderson’s steal, the Celtics had another one.
By the time Game 4 rolled around, the Celtics were desperate. The Lakers dominated Game 3, winning 137-104. They outplayed the Celtics in all three games, but Boston managed to hang around, trailing 2-1 in the series. After the Game 3 embarrassment, Larry Bird called out his teammates for being soft.
In the third quarter of Game 4, the Celtics found themselves in a familiar spot, losing to the Lakers. With his team trailing 76-70 in the third quarter, Kevin McHale took Bird’s message to heart.
As Lakers forward Kurt Rambis was heading in for a layup on a fast break, McHale clotheslined him, igniting a bench-clearing brawl. The spark seemed to lift the Celtics, who took the game’s momentum change and ran with it. Boston evened the series with a 129-125 overtime victory.
2. ‘Havlicek stole the ball’
During Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Division Finals against Wilt Chamberlain and the Philadelphia 76ers, the Celtics held a 110-109 lead with five seconds and just needed to put the ball in play. Russell’s inbounds pass, however, struck a wire from behind the basket, and the violation gave Philadelphia the ball and the chance to win it.
Instead, John Havlicek picked off the inbounds pass, deflecting it to Jones, who ran out the clock. The steal not only saved the game and put the Celtics in the NBA Finals, but it also triggered one of the most iconic play-by-play calls ever.
“Havlicek stole the ball,” Celtics legendary broadcaster Johnny Most screamed. “It’s all over. It’s all over.”
Celtics fans stormed the court. The Celtics went on to defeat the Lakers in the NBA Finals in five games.
1. Larry Bird steals the ball, passes to Dennis Johnson for an improbable game-winning basket in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals
There is no way the Celtics should have won Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons. The odds were severely stacked against them, making Larry Bird’s steal and assist the biggest signature playoff moment in franchise history.
The series was tied a two games apiece, but the Pistons appeared to be on their way to stealing Game 5 in Boston, holding a 107-106 lead with five seconds left and having possession of the ball.
Isiah Thomas took the ball out of bounds, knowing the Celtics would be fouling as quickly as possible. The veteran point guard lobbed a pass intended for center Bill Laimbeer, but Bird raced in front of Laimbeer, and as his momentum nearly took him out of bounds, he flipped a pass to a cutting Dennis Johnson, who drove in for the game-winning layup.
The Celtics won 108-107 and eventually won the series in seven games.
All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.