April 20, 1986. 37 years ago to the day. The playoffs are just beginning. Their perfume is felt everywhere in the United States, and on this Easter Sunday, it is downright “God” who will invite himself on the ground.
A look back at the first NBA exploit of Michael Jordanauthor of 63 points against the Celtics, future NBA champions.
The Celtics rule this season
That year, the big favorites were the Celtics, led by Larry Bird, accompanied by Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Bill Walton. They have only one goal: to recover the title lost in 1985 against the Lakers of Magic Johnson. Everything started well for them: Bird was voted MVP of the season, Walton best sixth man and the C’s won 67 games in the season, including 40 at home out of 41! Only Portland will bring them down at home, and it remains an NBA record, since the Spurs only equaled it in 2016.
The Celtics are therefore invincible or almost on their land and have the advantage of the field throughout the duration of the postseason.
For the first round, they face the Bulls. The men of Stan Albeck, who died in 2021, won only 30 games (and that was enough to go to the playoffs…), the fault of a serious foot injury to Michael Jordan, package after only three games. In total, MJ will miss 64 games for a small total of 18 games played, before facing the invincible green armada in the playoffs.
That year, Michael Jordan only played the Celtics once, a game that ended in a 126-105 defeat despite 20 points on his clock. The previous season, his first, the Brooklyn native had averaged 32.5 points against the same Celtics, including a peak of 41 points.
A premonitory Game 1
The first game ended in a victory for the C’s 123-104, despite 49 points behind the Bulls! The late Dennis Johnson, yet renowned for his defense, does not control him because Michael Jordan is too big, too fast, too fluid in his gestures. He demonstrates that his mid-distance shot can be formidable, he who was considered at that time only as a penetration player. His first-half fadeway over Dennis Johnson is the perfect example.
The Celtics have decided to deny access to the racquet to MJ, because of his exceptional athletic qualities, but the latter manages to get by with his long shots, without however forgetting to gratify us with a few dunks, including one on the counterattack. After that first match, Kevin McHale said of Jordan’s performance: ” This will not happen again… “
Michael Jordan therefore arrives at the Garden, this Sunday, April 20, for Game 2 with the intention of bringing down his opponents. After his 49 points from Game 1, he knows he can score against them. Only, how many must he score to make them fall? Asked about this before Game 2, MJ confides: “I don’t think a (only) player can beat the Celtics. »
From the start of the match, Michael Jordan continued to shoot outside, notably with a legendary shot on Larry Bird, after several dribbles between the legs. In the second half, it was the reigning MVP who reacted with more skill to raise the atmosphere in the Garden.
Boston forced to take three or four!
Only, Boston fails to stop him one-on-one. In fact, they make mistakes almost systematically on all his penetrations. Bird responds to Jordan, and the level of play increases, as evidenced by his 3-pointer from 8 meters! For his part, the Bulls star continues and causes Dennis Johnson’s 5th foul. He is already at 40 pts.
The Celtics then decide to defend as a team on the number 23 of the Bulls. As soon as Jordan enters, two or three or even four of them are waiting for him in front of the basket!
Despite the adversity, MJ scores his 50th point on a high post shot. As the term approaches, the match is still tight. The C’s are in the lead. There are a handful of seconds left to play. Michael Jordan picks up the ball, tries a 3-pointer (but his foot is on the line), misses it… but the referee blows his whistle!
There is no more time to play, the Chicagoan must succeed in his throws to snatch the extension. He managed both in a bustling Boston Garden. Like Derrick Rose in 2009 against the same Celtics, he showed great composure and sent both teams into overtime.
Two incandescent extensions
In the extra-time, the rear in Nike red scored 5 new points and raised his total to 59 units. A glance at the history books tells us that the playoff record belongs to the late Elgin Baylor with 61 pts, in 1962 against the… Celtics.
On an attempt at almost 10 meters, Larry Bird tries to snatch the victory. His shot is too long, synonymous with a second extension. Then, on yet another basket from 4 meters, Michael Jordan manages to 61 points, an NBA record equaled. He will beat him on a shot in the axis, higher than Robert Parish, in order to equalize at 131 everywhere.
Unfortunately for the Bulls, they will not exceed this mark. Parish will finish the job and Boston will finally win 135-131 after a match of anthology.
A record and tears
This evening of April 20, 1986, a 23-year-old sophomore has just dusted off a 24-year-old record, against the best team in the league and one of the greatest in history, in the most impregnable fortress in the city. time, having played only 18 season games!
Only defeat can tarnish the picture, Michael Jordan will not accept it and he will cry bitterly on the bus taking him back to Chicago. In the end, his statistical line is huge: 53 minutes, 63 pts at 22/41 and 19/21 free throws, 5 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 steals and 2 blocks.
Although Chicago will be eliminated the next game (we were playing the best of five games at the time), the star showed that night the full extent of his offensive repertoire in one of the most incredible individual performances in the club. NBA history.
The praise will then rain down on the Bulls player after this unimaginable game.
– Danny Ainge: “Everyone knew Michael was a great player, but I think it’s the first time everyone realizes how great he is. »
– John Paxson: “Michael was doing so much and so well that I found myself wanting to just watch him, (and yet) I was playing… “
–Larry Bird: “I don’t think any player is capable of doing what Michael did to us. He is currently the most incredible and spectacular player. »
Larry Bird ended his tribute with a statement that will go down in history: “I think it was God disguised as Michael Jordan. »
Thirty-seven years later, we can say that Larry Bird was perhaps not wrong…