The Overlooked 31-6 Run

By now readers of this blog are familiar with the 1986 Celtics vaunted 36-6 run to close out the third quarter of the deciding game in the Eastern Conference Semis against Doc Rivers and the Atlanta Hawks. Bill Walton called it the greatest exhibition of basketball he ever witnessed. Danny Ainge still has a Celtics Gone Wild video tape of the game.

Readers of this blog also know the 1986 Celtics occupy a special place in my life as a Celtics fan, as they do for many long-time fans of the green. As much as I love the 2008 Boston Celtics, I'm not quite on board with Grampa Celtic's notion that it is the second best Celtics team of all time. I'm warming up to it, but I'm not there yet.

Still, I do think I need to give credit were credit is due.

And if the 36-6 run is the greatest spurt of basketball in NBA history, the 31-6 run in game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals isn't all that shabby. Granted, the Celtics 31-6 run against the Lakers didn't embody the total demolition that the 36-6 run represented. Remember, the 1986 Celtics scored the last 24 points of the third quarter against the Hawks, and headed into the fourth quarter up by a score of 100-61. The Celtics did in fact play pretty close to perfect basketball during the 36-6 run, while this year's Celtics made at least two blunders during the 31-6 run.

On the other hand, the 36-6 run came in the Eastern Conference Semis, while the 31-6 run was mounted during the deciding game of the NBA Finals. So the 1986 Celtics dominated an also-ran, while the 2008 Celtics dominated the second best team in the NBA, one that was heavily favored to crush them in the series.

No less important is the fact the 2008 Celtics run spanned two quarters. So they sustained a level of great play for a longer period of time. During that time, the 2008 Celtics held the Lakers without a field goal for seventeen minutes and thirty-seven seconds.


You remember the Lakers, right? The greatest passing team anyone had seen since the Knicks of the early 1970s? The greatest offensive force of their generation? Nada. Zip. Couldn't put the ball in the basket. Heavens. Now that's some bad-ass defense.

Ah, and therein lies the distinction between our two storybook squads.

The 1986 Celtics pulled off their run with near perfect play on the offensive end, while the 2008 Celtics relied on stifling, suffocating defense to shut down the Lakeshow. In my humble opinion, this, too, is how the history books will distinguish these two teams over time.

The 1986 Celtics could score with abandon.

The 2008 Celtics could prevent you from scoring...period.


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