The day Larry Bird said, ‘It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan’
As almighty as Jordan’s record 63-point playoff performance was, the Celtics still won the game in double overtime
Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird could have sworn the individual who dropped a historic 63 points in a playoff game was actually God dolled up as Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan.
But quite frankly, if God was going to lace up a pair of sneakers, play a double-overtime contest and break Elgin Baylor’s 24-year-old record, don’t you think he would’ve also given himself the win for all that effort?
Alas, almighty Jordan came, he scored, but ultimately he and his No. 8-seeded Bulls didn’t conquer as they fell to the top-seeded Celtics at the Boston Garden, 135-131, in two overtimes on April 20, 1986.
“I would never have called him the greatest player I’d ever seen if I didn’t mean it,” Bird told The Boston Globe. “It’s just God disguised as Michael Jordan.”
What’s a God to a nonbeliever, though? Because that’s essentially the role Bird, who finished with 36 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, had to play to help Boston win the game and head to Chicago with a 2-0 series lead.
Jordan used any and every scoring method in his 53 minutes — dunks, layups, floaters, jump shots, 3-pointers — and finished 22 of 41 from the field to overtake Baylor’s playoff scoring record. The former Los Angeles Laker set the mark with 61 points against the Celtics in the championship series on April 14, 1962.
Jordan’s 50th point gave Chicago a 111-110 lead in the fourth quarter. The future Hall of Famer then sent the game into overtime by stealing the ball from Celtics center Robert Parish and hitting a pair of free throws (his 53rd and 54th points) to tie the game at 116-116.
Jordan finished 19 of 21 from the foul line with six assists and five rebounds. His scoring breakdown was 17 points in the first quarter, six in the second, 13 in the third, 18 in the fourth, five in the first overtime and four in the second.
“I’m not worried about the points,” Jordan told The Washington Post. “I’d give all the points back if we could win.”
In Game 1 of the best-of-five series, the Bulls went through Jordan on 90 percent of their offensive plays, and he dropped 49 points.
“He is the most exciting, most awesome player in the game,” Bird told the Post. “I didn’t think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us the past two games.”
The sellout crowd of 14,890 was treated to a three-hour, five-minute Game 2 in which the Bulls took a lead (4-2) they did not surrender until Bird hit a shot clock-beating 3-pointer to give Boston a 93-92 advantage. Nine consecutive lead changes followed.
And while everything that led up to the final moments might lead one to believe that Jordan, Bird or Kevin McHale (27 points and 15 rebounds) would prove the hero, it was the Celtics’ Jerry Sichting who put the game away for the perennial power.
Sichting, a 6-foot-1-inch guard who was playing in only the second postseason game of his six-year career, took an inside-out pass from McHale and pulled up from 18 feet at the top of the key to break the game’s 13th tie. Boston led 133-131 with 57 seconds left.
“The play was designed to go to Kevin McHale,” Sichting, who was brought over from the Indiana Pacers in the offseason, told The New York Times, “but he was double-teamed, and he kicked it out to me. I was wide open at the top of the key, and I just buried it.”
Jordan’s equalizer from the left baseline was off the mark and corralled by Parish. He then threw an outlet pass to Bird, who passed it right back to Parish.
Even though Parish had been cold shooting out of the pick-and-roll, he gathered Bird’s pass and connected on a 12-footer along the right baseline, which gave Boston a four-point lead with nine seconds remaining. A 3-pointer from the Bulls closed out the nail-biter.
“As soon as he set the pick and rolled, I gave it to him,” said Bird. “When he goes, you’ve got to give him the ball. You don’t worry about Robert Parish. I never do, because he’s made a lot of big plays for this team.”
“We played very well,” said Jordan, “and the end of the game just came down to who got the breaks … and who didn’t.”