A Magnificent Seven
The Philadelphia 76ers raised a few eyebrows and received their share of kudos for pushing the Boston Celtics to seven games before losing the teams’ 2012 National Basketball Association Eastern Conference Semifinal playoff series.
The 76ers also saw themselves ousted from the Eastern Conference Semifinals 26 years ago in seven games by the Milwaukee Bucks in one of the most intense playoff series the Bucks have ever played.
The epic confrontation was among the highlights of a remarkable run of playoff appearances for Milwaukee. Beginning in 1980, the Bucks reached the postseason for 12 consecutive seasons.
The Bucks entered the 1986 playoffs as the second seed in the East after winning the Central Division for the sixth straight season with a 51-31 record. Philly drew the No. 3 seed after finishing second in the Atlantic Division at 54-28. Boston held the top seed in the East, having won the Atlantic title with a 67-15 mark.
Milwaukee swept past the New Jersey Nets in three games in its first-round playoff series while Philly had to go the distance to beat the Washington Bullets, three games to two, in its opening-round set.
The 76ers proved no worse for the wear in the opening game of the semifinals, scoring a 118-112 victory at Milwaukee. Philly outscored the Bucks 30-19 in the fourth quarter of that contest, which Bucks All-Star guard Sidney Moncrief missed due to plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
Charles Barkley, who would be named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, was a wrecking crew for the Sixers, collecting game highs of 31 points and 20 rebounds in the series’ opening game. Philly also got 27 points and seven assists from point guard Maurice Cheeks and 18 points from another future Hall-of-Famer, Julius Erving (aka “Dr. J.”).
Forward Terry Cummings scored 23 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Bucks while Paul Pressey, who wound play some of the best basketball of his career during the series, collected 20 points, 13 assists and five rebounds from the “point forward” position in coach Don Nelson’s alignment. Pressed into extra duty with Moncrief unavailable, second-year forward Kenny Fields came through with 14 points for Milwaukee, which placed seven players in double digits in a losing cause.
The Bucks rebounded quickly, though, to earn a split of their two home games to open the series with a 119-107 triumph in Game Two. Cummings had his best outing of the series, leading everyone with 30 points and 15 boards. Moncrief scored 16 points in his return to the lineup, matching the total of sixth-man extraordinaire Ricky Pierce. The Bucks received big production from their pivot men, getting 15 points and eight rebounds from starter Randy Breuer and 10 points and five boards off the bench from Alton Lister. Barkley came up with 26 points and 15 rebounds, Erving had 24 points and Cheeks tallied 23 for the 76ers.
As the series shifted to Philadelphia, the 76ers took the upper hand with a 107-103 win in Game 3, during which they outscored Milwaukee 35-20 in the second quarter. Barkley paced everyone with 29 points and 13 rebounds, and Sedale Threatt was a difference-maker with 20 points off the bench. Milwaukee got 27 points and nine rebounds from Cummings, 23 points in a reserve role by Pierce and 15 points and nine assists from Pressey, but couldn’t compensate for the absence of Moncrief, whose foot pain flared up again.
Moncrief gutted out Game 4 and the Bucks evened the series with a 109-104 road win. Barkley narrowly missed a triple-double, totaling 37 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists, but the Bucks offset “Sir Charles” by placing six players in double figures. Cummings led the way with 19 points and 13 rebounds, Pressey had 17 points and four assists and Moncrief came through with 13 points and five boards. The Bucks got big contributions off the bench from Lister, who had eight points, six rebounds and four blocks, and Fields, who also scored eight points.
Milwaukee took back the series advantage with a 113-108 victory in Brewtown in Game 5. Pressey turned in what was arguably his best performance in a Bucks uniform with a 23-point, 10-rebound, 16-assist triple-double, and Cummings collected 23 points and a team-high 11 rebounds. Breuer loomed large again with 15 points and nine rebounds, as did Lister, who chipped in with 11 points and two blocks as the Bucks won without Moncrief. Barkley had 29 points and eight rebounds and Cheeks 27 points for the Sixers.
With Moncrief sidelined once again, Philly registered the most decisive victory of the series with a 126-108 home win in Game 6. Barkley continued to rack up big numbers with 23 points and 21 rebounds, and Cheeks came up with 16 points and 13 assists. Forward Bobby Jones enjoyed his biggest game of the series with 23 points, and Philly also got 18 points from Hall-of-Fame-bound Bob McAdoo, who spent the last of his 14 NBA seasons with the Sixers. Guard Craig Hodges scored a series-best 22 points and established a Milwaukee single-game playoff record with eight steals. Lister enjoyed his finest hour of the series with 17 points, 10 rebounds and four blocks in reserve.
The fact that Moncrief played in pivotal Game 7 should have come as no surprise. How he played was remarkable, scoring 23 points as the Bucks pulled out a 113-112 victory to win the series four games to three. Cummings totaled 27 points and eight rebounds, Hodges was on-target again with 24 points, Pressey pitched in 11 points and 15 assists and Pierce delivered 16 points off the bench. The Bucks overcame a game-high 28 points by Threatt off the bench and 22 points by Cheeks and “held: Barkley to 18 points and 12 rebounds.
Milwaukee went on to lose the Eastern Conference Finals to Boston in four straight games. The Celtics went on to win the 1986 NBA championship, defeating the Houston Rockets four games to two.