The trade for Bill Walton put the Boston Celtics over the Los Angeles Lakers.
The greatest team in the history of the Boston Celtics was the 1985-’86 squad. This edition boasted one of the deepest frontcourts of all time with Robert Parish at center, Kevin McHale at power forward, and Larry Bird at small forward in the starting lineup.
There was one offseason move that put the Celtics over the top of the league. After the Celtics lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals in 1985, President Red Auerbach knew he had to upgrade the bench. The starting unit played over 2,500 minutes during the season and they were exhausted when they had to play the Lakers who were bent on exacting revenge for letting the series in 1984 slip away. The Celtics sent Cedric Maxwell to the Los Angeles Clippers for 6-foot-11-inch’Bill Walton.
Walton was an extraordinarily gifted passer and he had put up Hall of Fame statistics throughout his career. The issue with Walton was he could not stay on the court. Before the 1985-’86 season, Walton had not played more than 67 games which came in the previous year when his minutes declined to 24.6 per game. Auerbach knew that if Walton’s minutes continued to drop, this would increase the chances of Walton staying healthy for the majority of the season.
This theory proved to be correct as Walton played in a career high 80 games and he only averaged 19.3 minutes per game. Walton was also a team player who had won earlier in his career both in college (UCLA) and NBA (Portland Trail Blazers). His skills brought out the best in Bird. Bird was among the league leaders in five categories. He was fourth in scoring (25.8 points per game), seventh in rebounding (9.8), first in free throw percentage (89.6), fourth in three-point field goal percentage (42.3), and ninth in steals (2.02).
The Celtics also employed Scott Wedman, a talented reserve small forward who was an All-Star and the leading scorer for the Kansas City Kings (they eventually became the Sacramento Kings). Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge provided a pressure defense and playmaking ability for the scorers in the frontcourt. These two guards also could score in double figures. Jerry Sichting was a depth guard.
There was continuity with this team since the players played together for many years other than Walton. K.C. Jones returned for his third season as the head coach. Jones had already led the Celtics to a championship in 1984 and he nearly helped them successfully defend their title.
The Celtics led the NBA in rebounding (46.4), which was five more than their opponents. They scored 114.1 points per game, which was 8th in the league and they finished third in points allowed (104.7). The entire starting five averaged double figures in points and three players averaged at least 8 rebounds per game. Wedman scored 8.0 points per game while Walton posted 7.6 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 2.1 assists off the pine.
This roster also featured five Hall of Famers (Bird, McHale, Parish, Walton, and Johnson). There were six players who became head coaches or President of Basketball Operations (Bird, McHale, Johnson, Ainge, Sam Vincent, and Rick Carlisle). Carlisle (Dallas Mavericks) and McHale (Houston Rockets) are active head coaches. Ainge is currently the President of Basketball Operations for the Celtics. Bird won the Executive of the Year with the Indiana Pacers in May before he decided to leave the organization after turning them into a playoff caliber team.
The Celtics finished the season 67-15. They went 40-1 at the Boston Garden with their only defeat coming against the Trail Blazers on December 6th.
In the postseason, the Celtics swept through the Eastern Conference. They lost only one game to the Atlanta Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals. They swept the Chicago Bulls in three games in the first round. The Celtics survived Michael Jordan’s output of 63 points in Game 2. The Celtics were hoping for vengeance against their rival, the Lakers. The Lakers lost four straight games after winning the opener in the Western Conference finals to the Rockets.
The Rockets had two 7-footers in Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon. Sampson was 7-foot-4-inches and Olajuwon was 7 feet. Since the Celtics had a deep frontcourt, they were able to neutralize the Twin Towers. They also utilized double teams from Bird and Johnson to harass both Sampson and Olajuwon.
Bird posted 24.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, and 9.5 dimes in the series. The Celtics took the series in six games to finish the playoffs with a 15-3 record. They won all 10 of their home contests in the playoffs.
This team can truly be defined by the word dominant.