Posted Aug 29 2011 8:46AM
The 1985-86 Boston Celtics boasted one of the strongest, deepest frontcourts in NBA history, thanks to a daring trade that united the game's best passing center with its best passing forward.
Acquiring Bill Walton from the Clippers in exchange for Cedric Maxwell was a gutsy move. For all his passing skills and brilliant all-around game, Walton usually was injured -- he had never played more than 67 games in any of his 11 pro seasons, and he had missed three full seasons due to injury. But Celtics President Red Auerbach recognized that the upside overshadowed the risk, and that Walton's versatility could strengthen the Celtics in so many ways. He gave them a first-class center that enabled Head Coach K.C. Jones to give Robert Parish the rest he needed, and his emphasis on passing and team play helped him mesh well with the Celtics' talented scorers. Plus he knew how to win, having done so at UCLA and with the Portland Trail Blazers.
The acquisition of Walton, like that of versatile, team-oriented guard two years earlier, seemed to bring out the best in Larry Bird, the ultimate team-first player. Walton's great passing skills enhanced those of Bird, and when they were on the court together the ball would move from player to player with speed and precision till an open shooter was found. Bird enjoyed one of his finest seasons, ranking among the league leaders in five categories-fourth in scoring (25.8 ppg), seventh in rebounding (9.8 rpg), ninth in steals (2.02 spg), first in free throw percentage (.896) and fourth in three-point field goal percentage (.423). For good measure, he led the Celtics in assists at 6.8 apg. The result was a third consecutive Most Valuable Player award, putting Bird alongside Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to win it three years in a row.
Bird and Walton teamed with veteran center Robert Parish, offensive-minded forward Kevin McHale and talented Scott Wedman, a classic small forward who had been an All-Star and top scorer in Kansas City, in a formidable five-man frontcourt rotation that nobody in the NBA could match. In the backcourt were Johnson and Danny Ainge, two big guards who could play harassing defense and provide double-figure scoring while focusing on feeding the front line, with scrappy Jerry Sichting in reserve. The result was a unit that won 67 games, a record for the fabled Celtics franchise.
McHale averaged 21.3 ppg and 8.1 rpg, Parish had 16.1 ppg and a 9.1 ppg, and Johnson (15.6) and Ainge (10.1) also scored in double figures. Wedman contributed 8.0 ppg off the bench, and Walton played in a career-high 80 games and averaged 7.6 ppg and 6.8 rpg. Boston led the league in rebounding with 46.4 rpg, nearly five per game more than its opponents. And the Celtics were virtually unbeatable at home, losing only a game in December to Portland en route to a league-record 40-1 home mark (they would also win all 10 home playoff games).
Boston breezed through the first three rounds of the playoffs, losing only one game, but an anticipated rematch with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers was denied when the Houston Rockets knocked off the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals. In the NBA Finals, the Celtics' deep frontcourt contained the Rockets' Twin Towers of Ralph Sampson and Hakeem Olajuwon, and Boston grabbed control of the series by shooting 66 percent from the field to win Game 1 and then pulling away from Houston in the second half for a 117-95 decision in Game 2. After the Rockets took Game 3, Boston met the challenge with a 106-103 win at Houston in Game 4 and eventually wrapped up the title in six games, winning the finale 114-97 behind a triple-double of 29 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists by Bird, the NBA Finals MVP. It was Boston's second championship in three years, the third (and last) of the Bird-Parish-McHale era and the franchise's 16th overall.