For 77 Seconds, Ainge Outduels Jordan
April 21, 1986
Danny Ainge has no illusions. He knows what would happen if he were to
play one-on-one with Michael Jordan. Ainge couldn't help laughing at the idea.
"I concede right now," Ainge said.
He didn't give an inch, though, when facing up to the Bulls' Jordan
Sunday afternoon. For at least one stretch, when he wasn't even supposed to be
on the floor, Ainge had beaten Jordan at his own game.
The triumph may have lasted only 77 seconds. And it may have inspired
Jordan to pay back Ainge with the basketball revenge known as "in your
face." Sixty-three points worth.
But the impact of Ainge's moments of glory may have been greater. The
Celtics, after all, did beat the Bulls 135-131 in double overtime, giving them
a 2-0 lead in the best-of-five series.
There had to be some Celtic heroes in the game. It was just hard to find
"I was watching and all I could see is this giant Jordan and everyone
else is sort of in the background," said Boston coach K.C. Jones.
Ainge, a starting guard, certainly was invisible most of the game. He was
scoreless at halftime and had just two points on free throws when Jones sent
in Jerry Sichting to replace him with 2 minutes 40 seconds left in the third
Ainge never left. Dennis Johnson, worn out by trying to guard Jordan, saw
Sichting coming and assumed the substitution was for him. By the time the mix-
up was discovered, Ainge had scored the first two of his eight straight
"I figured I better get a couple buckets before they sat me down,"
He raced past Jordan for a left-handed scoop. He hit four foul shots. He
finished the streak with a drive and running left-hander, cutting the Bulls'
lead to 84-83.
"I think that last drive made him (Jordan) mad," Ainge said. "He came
down with fire in his eyes."
Jordan would score only two fewer points in the next 13 minutes than the
24 that Ainge had in the game. Jordan simply took over. "It's very rare you
see a guard take over an entire game like that," said Celtic center Robert
Lesser mortals are content to do it for a few instants. Ainge had. So did
Sichting, coming off the bench to score 6 of his 8 points in overtime.
"I was open, and those are shots I practice every day," Sichting said.
"But those were the biggest ones I've ever taken as a professional.
"Sitting and watching that game, you couldn't get a bit cold. The action
was pretty hot the whole time."
Sichting hit a 15-foot jumper when it was most needed, after the Bulls
had gone ahead 123-119 with 1:39 left in the first overtime. And he hit what
turned out to be the winning basket from the top of the key with 51 seconds to
It was such outside shooting ability that had led the Celtics to rescue
Sichting from the Indiana Pacers, for whom he had played exactly 1 minute and
13 seconds of playoff basketball in five seasons. He rewarded Boston with
career-high field-goal accuracy, 57 percent. In both playoff games, Sichting
has been 4-for-5 from the field.
"I took the shots they gave us," Sichting said. "The last one was
supposed to go to Kevin (McHale), but he was double-teamed. They just kicked
it out to me."
Sichting didn't think it would come down to him after Ainge's final
basket had given the Celtics a 131-127 lead with 2 minutes left. Then Jordan
hit two straight baskets to tie.
"Every time I thought we had the game in our grasp, he did something,"
Sichting said. "Michael raised his game another level, if that is possible.
"I think anyone critical of the Bulls' style of play has to give it
another thought after today."
Jordan's 63 points were the most scored against the Celtics in Boston
Garden. His 49 points in Game 1 were, at that time, the fifth-highest total
scored against the Celtics in a playoff game.
"I didn't think anyone could do that against us," said Larry Bird,
whose 36 points Sunday gave him a mere 66 in the two games.
"I don't think many people have witnessed a performance like this,"
Parish said. "What is more significant is that he (Jordan) scored 63 within
the framework of the club. It wasn't like he was in some summer league or
The Celtics, especially Bird, had been critical of the way the Bulls had
allowed Jordan to play in Thursday's playoff opener, which Boston won by 19
points. They wondered about a Chicago offense that simply cleared out to let
"I'll still take our style of play over theirs," Ainge said. "When
you've got a player like Michael, it's tough not to get the ball into him. But
their other players almost look guilty to take a shot."
In two games, Jordan has taken 77 shots. No Celtic has taken more than
"He was getting his points right in the flow of this game," Bird said.
"When he does that, it's scary."
"The only way to stop him is to make him give up the ball a little
more," Ainge said. "It's not only what he does but how. It's so spectacular-
looking that you find yourself just watching and going, 'Holy Cow!' "
The thing to remember, though, is that not even Michael Jordan could
leave Ainge or the Celtics wholly cowed.
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