The Boston Celtics have always been a team that’s struggled to win championships, but in the 1980s there was one big change. A small move by Larry Bird changed everything for the franchise and set up their 1986 title run.
The Boston Celtics made an unusual move with Larry Bird that set the stage for their 1986 title. The team traded away Kevin McHale and Robert Parish in order to make room for Larry Bird. This trade was a huge risk, but it paid off big time when the Celtics won the NBA championship in 1986.
The Boston Celtics had flirted with the idea previously, but it paid off in the 1986 Eastern Conference Finals. The Celtics used a play with three-time MVP Larry Bird in Game 4 against the Milwaukee Bucks that helped them finish the sweep and bring Boston to the NBA Finals. It also helped the Celtics defeat the Houston Rockets and win their third championship in the 1980s.
During the 1985-86 season, Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics enjoyed a remarkable run.
On January 22, 1986, Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics practices before a game in Boston, Massachusetts. Getty Images/Ronald C. Modra
The Boston Celtics lost in the NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers in 1985, and they wanted to make sure it didn’t happen again. Boston has been relying too much on its starters and wanted to see more from their bench. The frontcourt of Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish was probably the finest in NBA history. Dennis Johnson, a future Hall of Famer, and Danny Ainge made up the backcourt.
The 1985-86 Celtics boasted probably the strongest starting five in NBA history, with four future Hall of Famers in the backcourt. When experienced big man Bill Walton came off the bench, they were even more dangerous.
They were a group of brilliant people who, nevertheless, functioned considerably better together.
“Everybody played off each other,” McHale stated in a film celebrating the 1986 championship by the Boston Celtics. “Everyone was able to pass, and everyone moved.” We had plenty of room. We just had a whole bunch of guys that were aware of the importance of space and mobility.
“At the end of the day, being a great team mattered a lot more than being a great individual.” We would have scored more but lost less if we had been on other teams.”
Bird was the shining light who improved everyone around him. He was named MVP for the third time in a row at the end of the season.
Larry Bird’s addition to the Boston Celtics was a risky move for its opponents.
Before reaching the semifinals in 1986, the Celtics cruised through the regular season, winning 67 games. The Boston Celtics swept the Chicago Bulls in a series that saw Michael Jordan blossom into the superstar he is today. Despite his 63 points in Boston, the Celtics won three consecutive games to go to the semifinals, where they will face the Atlanta Hawks.
Until the Celtics reached the NBA Finals, the Hawks were Boston’s only playoff defeat. The Celtics swept the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals after defeating the Hawks 4-1. Boston made a move with Bird in Game 4 that proved to be crucial in the NBA Finals.
When Johnson fouled out in the fourth game, the Celtics went to their “Lumberjack Lineup,” as United Press International dubbed it.
K.C. Jones of the Celtics opted to replace Johnson with 7-foot Walton and then shift the 6-foot-9 Bird to guard. In the backcourt, Bird and Ainge, who is 6-foot-5, were teammates. In the frontcourt, Walton and Parish, both 7-footers, joined up with McHale, who is 6-foot-1. It’s a strategy they’ve utilized in the past, and it’s caused matchup problems.
According to UPI, Jones remarked, “It’s something that has worked for us previously.” “We merely placed Larry at guard after Dennis fouled out.”
Milwaukee coach Don Nelson was irritated by the maneuver, which guaranteed the Bucks’ sweep.
“I wish everyone knew how difficult scoring inside is when they’re trying to shut you down,” Nelson said. “They’re a fantastic basketball squad that’s well-coached.”
In the NBA Finals, the ‘Lumberjack Lineup’ caused issues for the Houston Rockets.
Larry Bird recorded a triple-double against the Rockets on this day in 1986, sealing the Celtics’ 16th NBA championship and earning NBA Finals MVP accolades to go along with his regular-season MVP. pic.twitter.com/JnGlYDcZ15
June 8, 2021 — ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo)
After sweeping the Bucks, the Celtics had a week off to await the winner of the Rockets/Lakers series. The Celtics were up against the twin towers of Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson as the Rockets progressed.
Walton received substantial time in the Finals, averaging about 20 minutes per game, as the Celtics’ starting five continued to take up plenty of minutes. In a Game 5 defeat, he played 28 minutes.
The Celtics had little issue with the Rockets, winning both of their home games by an average of 16 points. They won Game 4 in Houston before clinching the series in the Boston Garden with a 114-97 victory in Game 6.
Bird subsequently said that he would put the 1985-86 squad up against any other. With or without the “Lumberjack Lineup,” they dominated the regular season and playoffs.
RELATED: Larry Bird said the Boston Celtics’ continued success hinged on one player — and it wasn’t him — after winning three consecutive MVP awards.
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The “larry bird autograph” is a move that the Boston Celtics made with Larry Bird in order to set the stage for their 1986 title.
Frequently Asked Questions
How did the Celtics end up with Larry Bird?
A: The Boston Celtics were originally founded in 1946 by Bill Russell, Frank Ramsey and Bob Cousy. In 1963 the team drafted Larry Bird with their first pick of the draft and made him #2 on the depth chart behind Robert Parish. When he averaged 12 points a game for his rookie season, there was some talk that they should trade or cut him out of favour because he didnt have enough skill to be worth playing. But rather than let this happen and lose one of the best players ever, Red Auerbach decided to keep going at it with the little guy as they had so much success over the years together.
Who led Boston Celtics and dominated the NBA?
A: Bill Russell led Boston Celtics and dominated the NBA.
Why did Larry Bird leave the Celtics?
A: Larry Bird left the Celtics because he felt that they were not giving him enough playing time and was tired of being a role player. He wanted to be an all-star, as did many other players in his era.
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