Another 7-game epic

Celtics outlasted Bucks in 1987 Eastern Conference Semis

Future Hall-of-Famer Larry Bird went off for 40 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in Game 1 on May 5, 1986.
By: Dick Raphael

If the Milwaukee Bucks played a more intense and thrilling playoff series during the 1980s than their seven-game 1986 Eastern Conference Semifinals set with the Philadelphia 76ers, it may have come one year later when they returned to the conference semis against their other arch-rival of the decade, the Boston Celtics.

The Bucks outlasted Philly in that 1986 series, which was detailed in the previous segment of this Milwaukee playoff retrospective. They lost in their return to the conference semifinals the following season, but not before pushing Boston to the limit in another seven-game classic.

Milwaukee went into the playoffs after having its string of consecutive division championships snapped. The Bucks finished regular-season play at 50-32, but wound up third in the Central Division behind the Atlanta Hawks and Detroit Pistons.

Boston, meanwhile, won the Atlantic Division with a 59-23 ledger, the second-best in the league behind the Los Angeles Lakers’ 65-17 mark.

The Bucks ousted the Philadelphia 76ers in five games in their opening-round playoff series while Boston made a three-game sweep of the Chicago Bulls.

The Celtics took the upper hand in the conference semis with a 111-98 victory in Game 1 on May 5. Future Hall-of-Famer Larry Bird went off for 40 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, Robert Parish also achieved a double-double with 22 points and 12 boards, and Dennis Johnson contributed 20 points. Milwaukee got a 28-point, 12-rebound double-double from Terry Cummings, 17 points and nine rebounds from Jack Sikma, who had been acquired in a preseason trade with Seattle; and 18 points off the bench from Ricky Pierce.

Cummings put up another 28 points in Game 2, but the Celtics won a 126-124 thriller at Boston Garden on May 6. Bird collected 30 points and 10 rebounds, Danny Ainge poured in a series-best 30 points, Parish netted 24, and Johnson came up with 21 points and 10 assists. Pierce scored 20 points, Sikma totaled 19 points and 14 rebounds, and starting guards John Lucas and Sidney Moncrief chipped in with 16 and 15 points, respectively while Craig Hodges contributed 14 off the bench.

The series shifted to Milwaukee’s MECCA Arena on May 8 and the Bucks broke through for a 126-121 overtime triumph. Lucas, in his first season with the team, delivered a monster performance with 30 points, going 4 for 4 from 3-point range and 2 for 2 from the free-throw line. Pierce complemented it with 29 points, Moncrief scored 20, and Cummings (17/12) and Sikma (14/10) had double-doubles. Johnson led Boston with 32 points and 14 assists, and Kevin McHale scored 25 points off the bench, but no other Celtic reached the 20-point mark.

The rivals outdid that marathon in Game 4 as Boston took a 3-1 series advantage with a 138-137 double-overtime victory at Milwaukee on May 10. Bird notched a series-best 42 points and grabbed seven rebounds and McHale, inserted into the starting lineup, added 34 points and 11 boards. Parish also had a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds. Cummings came up with 31 points and 11 rebounds and Paul Pressey totaled 20 points and 11 assists for Milwaukee, which also got 22 points from Moncrief and 18 apiece from Sikma and Lucas.

The Bucks weren’t finished, though.

Moncrief scored a game-high 33 points, Cummings totaled 23 points and nine rebounds and Sikma had 21 points and nine boards as Milwaukee took Game 5 at Boston 129-124 May 13. Pressey contributed a 14-point, 10-assist double-double to help the Bucks overcome 30 points and 16 rebounds by Parish, 27 points and 11 rebounds by McHale and 26 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists by Bird. Milwaukee outscored Boston 32-22 in the fourth quarter to stay alive.

Moncrief topped his Game 5 performance in Game 6 at Milwaukee, collecting another game-high 34 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals in leading the Bucks to a 121-111 series-tying victory May 15. Pressey delivered 16 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds from his point forward position, Cummings had a 16-point, 11-rebound doubler and Sikma added 17 points and nine boards. Johnson had 25 points and 14 assists, Bird 22 points and 14 rebounds, Ainge 22 points and McHale 21 points and 16 rebounds for the Celtics, who played without an injured Parish.

The series returned to Boston for the decisive Game 7. Milwaukee held an 89-88 edge after three quarters, but the Celtics outscored the Bucks 31-24 in the final 12 minutes and emerged with a 119-113 victory May 17. Bird narrowly missed a triple-double with 31 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, McHale totaled 26 points and 15 rebounds and Parish returned to the lineup in a big way with 23 points and 19 boards. Johnson chipped in with 19 points and 10 dimes. Pressey scored a series-best 28 points and handed out eight assists, Lucas scored 20 points, Pierce had 18 and Sikma added a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double for the Bucks.

The Boston contingent, which included four individuals who played either earlier or later with the Bucks – Fred Roberts, Jerry Sichting, Sam Vincent and Conner Henry – went on to beat Detroit in another seven-game series in the Eastern Conference Finals before losing to the Lakers in the NBA Finals in six games.