1986 C's Take 1-0 Lead Over Bulls

Welcome to an evening of debuts at Thuh Gahden. Jerry Sichting's first 21 play-off minutes included eight points and a leg-crossing, they-all-go-down tumble with Bulls rookie Charles Oakley.

Whereupon Sichting's eyes opened wide. Orlando (Enforcer) Woolridge was running at him. "Oakley's described as another Barkley and here's another guy coming to help him with me," Sichting said. "My reputation must be overblown."

Maybe Woolridge has blown an emotional gasket. He skipped two games this year for "personal reasons." Woolridge, who is married, reportedly is being sued for child support and reacted to the published report by shoving a Chicago reporter, which was apparently good practice for his shove of Sichting.

Yet maybe genius thrives on such edges, because Woolridge contributed 25 points. Plus, "he played great" -- this according to a Celtics mystery guest. Can you name him? (Answer below).

Anyway, Sichting's last laugh was as soft as twine. He was 4 for 4 in the second quarter while the Celtics were transforming a 12-point deficit into a two-point halftime advantage. Which became a 123-104 Boston first-round victory. Which was followed by -- no, it couldn't be . . .

Larry Bird was Talking

Bird has boycotted these postgame Garden parties this season. But last night he was sitting on a locker-room table, swinging his $2 million legs, moving his lips, watching TV lights blink on and pens secrete. Larry said, "In the first half, Michael (Jordan) controlled the ball a lot, and that's what we want."

Michael Jordan controlled the ball for 30 magnificent clicks of the scoreboard -- more than half of the total that kept the Bulls snorting into halftime. Jordan was responsible for probably six Celtics fouls. And the Celtics wanted this?

"We want everybody else to stay out of the game," Bird said. "It makes it easier on us. We like one guy to shoot the majority of the shots.

"There is no question that Michael Jordan -- healthy -- is the best basketball player in the league. But there are not very many teams in this league that we let beat us, much less one guy.

"It's tough, standing around (while Jordan is spinning around). All of a sudden, the ball's in your hands and you don't know what to do with it. They were basically a two-man team tonight. The teams that give us problems are the teams that play with five, six, seven guys. Chicago might not have the horses other teams have. Michael Jordan did a tremendous job. (ANSWER TO QUIZ:) Orlando Woolridge -- he played great. The other guys are going to have to pick it up if they're going to have a chance in this series."

Bird finished with 30 points last night, but with the exception of a couple of three-pointers, they had all the splash of a toe dipped into a lukewarm pond. "I don't know if I'll take a lot of shots in this series," he said. "If I have to, I will. But I think we have a big advantage down low. Oakley's guarding Robert (Parish), and (Dave) Corzine is on Kevin (McHale). I'll be looking to pass it to them."

Jordan Outscores DJ 30-2 in First Half

He felt sometimes as if he were the guy who holds the cape and waits for James Brown to finish the song. Other times he felt as if he were the butler, opening the door, center stage for Sir Laurence Olivier, maybe saying, "Dinner's ready," before the great man began a soliloquy. Other times . . . you get the idea.

The spotlight would click high on the roof of Boston Garden last night, and Dennis Johnson would stand in its fringe. Michael Jordan was in the middle.

"Could you feel the spotlight?" the Celtics guard was asked after his team dropped the Chicago Bulls, 123-104, to win the first game of the first round of the 1986 NBA play-offs. "When you were out there -- alone, guarding Michael Jordan -- could you feel that the spotlight was on you?"

"I wasn't guarding him," Dennis Johnson said with a mock smile of protest. "Not me. No one was guarding him."

That was the way life was for the longest period of time. Dennis Johnson was there, but he wasn't there. What could he do? What could anyone do? Better to try to stuff a tornado into your hip pocket than try to contain this basketball acrobat from Chicago. Better to try to put a moonbeam into a jar. Better to . . . you get the idea.

For the first 24 minutes of basketball on a 48-minute championship night, Michael Jordan was player who had been snipped out of some other dimension. He was a man on an imaginary trampoline. There seemed to be nothing he could not do and nothing he could not try.

He scored 30 points in that first half, and if extra points were awarded for degree of difficulty, the building could have closed for the night right there. He dunked, he hit velvet-soft jumpers, he dribbled into the middle of the big bodies under the basket, then stopped in front of them and softly walked carpeted stairs to slip basketballs through the rim as easily as if he were mailing a letter home.

"I read a little program insert or something the other day that said he could have been a great athlete in any sport he chose to play," Dennis Johnson said. "Well, I believe it . . . and I wish he chose some other sport to play."

Johnson was the Celtics' obvious choice to try to stop the recuperating Jordan -- hey, you ought to see the guy when he's healthy -- since he is an every-year choice on anyone's all-defensive team. He had no idea of what to do here. None. He tried to stay in front of the Bulls guard and hope for the best. The best was not good.

"A couple times, I tried to reach around and knock the ball away," Johnson said. "But I got called for fouls. I'm playing as hard as I can, but three fouls and I'm out of there. There's not much I can do."

"The only thing you can do with a guy like him is try to keep him away from the ball," Rick Carlisle, who also had a short run at the defensive assignment, said. "After that, you just play him straight up and see what happens. He gets that ball (the spotlight) and he looks you in the eye and you know that something's going to happen. And it probably won't be good."

To compound Johnson's problems, he was clanging jump shots off the rim at the other end on offense. Jordan, in turn, was guarding him, but not really guarding him at the same time. Jordan was slipping off to help guard against Robert Parish and Larry Bird and Bill Walton and Kevin McHale and whatever list of tall timbers were in the Celts' frontcourt.

Johnson would be left to take the jump shot. Johnson missed all six he took.

"Did you have a talk with yourself at the half?" he was asked, the score sheet reading, "Jordan 30, Johnson 2."

"Not really," Dennis Johnson said. "I'm never worried about my numbers. I'm worried about winning. That's what's important. I told myself to put more arc on my shot. I told myself not to grab as much and get the fouls. Even with all of his points, we still were winning by two points."

True enough. The score was 61-59 when the Celts returned to the court and soon the bulge was much larger. Why? Guess. The same shots Dennis Johnson missed in the first half were the shots he hit in this half. He missed his first jumper, now 0 for 7, but then started hitting everything. He hit the next seven in a row, six of them jumpers, all in the third quarter. By the time his streak was finished, the Celts were gone, into the sunset, with an 84-71 lead.

"No strategy to it," Dennis Johnson said. "I hit the shots I didn't hit in the first half. They were the same shots. I just hit 'em."


FLCeltsFan said...

These looks back to 1986 that parallel this season are among my favorite articles. I can only hope the parallels go all the way to the title.

Lex said...

I'm going to pay particular attention to DJ.

As you said, the HOF rejection is a total sham.

When I think of DJ, I think of defense and hitting every shot down the stretch. He was money, more so than bird.

Look at this from game 1 against the bulls.

The same shots Dennis Johnson missed in the first half were the shots he hit in this half. He missed his first jumper, now 0 for 7, but then started hitting everything. He hit the next seven in a row, six of them jumpers, all in the third quarter.

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