Last time on #86Celtics we talked about Michael Jordan’s 63-point effort at the Garden, and that was fun but at the same time everyone knows about Jordan’s 63-point effort at the Garden. That performance will live on forever and never slip through the cracks of history.
On the other hand, there’s the third quarter of Game 5 of the 1986 Eastern Conference Semifinals between Atlanta and Boston.
Now if you don’t know or remember what happened in that quarter, you’re not alone. Those 12 minutes have largely been forgotten over time. Personally, I have no recollection. I asked a lot of people who know a lot about the Celtics and they didn’t remember either. Maybe they just weren’t old enough but regardless that’s too bad because what the Celtics did to the Hawks on May 6, 1986 is every bit as unbelievable as what Jordan did to the Celtics a few weeks earlier. In fact you can quite easily argue that the third quarter of Game 5 of the 1986 Eastern Conference Semifinals was the most one-sided quarter in NBA playoff history. So in honor of the 16th championship banner that the #86Celtics raised to the rafters, here’s 16-point breakdown of the quarter that led Hawks coach Mike Fratello to say: “All I could do is call timeouts. The league doesn't let you make trades during games.”
1. Two days earlier, down 3-0 in the series, the Hawks beat the Celtics 106-94 in Atlanta. The 12-point loss was Boston’s worst in five months and their second worst of the season. For the second straight game, Bill Walton sat out with a strained left knee ligament. Only one Celtics starter shot better than 36 percent, and Larry Bird shot a team-worst 5-19 (.263) from the field.
Dominique Wilkins led Atlanta with 37 points but the difference was rookie Spud Webb, who put up 22 points, 12 assists and six rebounds in only 24 minutes off the bench.
“It was against the Celtics,” Webb repeated after the game. “There is something about beating the Celtics, and being part of it was something special, very special.”
2. Bird was clearly pissed off after his Game 4 effort and took the court in Game 5 — back in Boston — ready to yank out Atlanta’s heart and methodically devour it in front of their children. He hit his first three shots and scored 15 points in the opening quarter. By halftime he had 24. In all the Celtics dropped 66 points in that first half and took the locker room with an 11-point lead — and only 24 quality minutes standing between them and the Conference Finals.
3. Bird rattled out a mid-range jumper on the first possession of the third quarter. Atlanta got the rebound, current Clippers coach Doc Rivers pushed it up and found current Wizards coach Randy Wittman for an open baseline jumper. Wittman connected to cut the lead to nine points with 11:33 left — and now pay attention because this is where it gets good.
4. The Hawks made only one more field goal the rest of the quarter.
5. No, seriously. Atlanta finished 2-19 from the field and two of three from the foul line. They were outscored 36-6. The six points set a record for the fewest in any postseason quarter in NBA history.
That record was broken by Isaiah Rider, Rasheed Wallace and the 1999 Trailblazers, who put up five points in the fourth quarter of a playoff game in Utah, but believe me the ’86 Hawks would’ve begged for the mercy Portland received.
6. The funny thing is that while the Celtics defense dominated the Hawks for the entire period, Boston’s offense actually needed a little time to warm up. Six minutes in, the score was 76-58, which meant the teams had only scored 10 and three points, respectively. “It’s been a strange third quarter,” said 38-year-old Celtics play-by-play man Mike Gorman. “Neither team’s been able to get on track.”
7. For reference, to say that Mike Gorman was 38 years old is to say that he was the same age as Brian Scalabrine is now.
But obviously much better looking.
8. Almost immediately after Gorman’s observation, Danny Ainge picked off a really bad pass from Doc Rivers, and we should point out that Doc threw a bunch of really bad passes in this game. The Hawks had eight turnovers in the quarter and the 24-year-old Rivers was at the root of at least five. He looked like Tony shaving points in Blue Chips. He looked like Austin Rivers playing against the #86Celtics. Honestly, there’s no way that Rajon Rondo has ever seen the footage from this game because otherwise he would’ve listened to Doc even less than he already did.
Doc: “Damn it, Rajon. You can’t force the pass in that situation!”
Rondo: “Man, I saw that third quarter against the Celtics. Don’t tell me $%@#.”
9. Ainge’s steal resulted in an easy basket for Robert Parish and a 78-59 lead. On the ensuing possession, after a 20-second timeout, Dominique scored at the rim with 5:31 left in the quarter.
The Hawks wouldn’t score again.
10. On the next Boston possession, Atlanta was hit with an illegal defense and Bird hit the foul shot. After a McHale missed jumper, another Hawks turnover found its way to Bird, who hit a streaking McHale for an emphatic dunk on Kevin Willis’ head. On the next Hawks’ possession, another turnover led to an easy lay-in for Robert Parish. On the next Hawks possession, Parish mercilessly blocked young Jonny Koncak’s shot; Ainge picked it up and threw an outlet to McHale who was clotheslined by Doc Rivers at the rim.
These days Doc probably would’ve been tossed, but in this game it was just a regular foul. Regardless the Hawks were clearly unhinged. McHale hit both foul shots and it was 85-61. A 7-0 run for Boston.
11. Next time down, McHale swatted a Johnny Davis jump shot for the Celtics fourth block of the quarter. Now they were just completely dominating on both ends like you’ve never seen. The Hawks couldn’t get a decent shot. They could barely see the rim. Meanwhile the Celtics did whatever they wanted whenever they wanted: Cutting at impossible angles and weaving perfect passes and somehow turning half court inbound plays into fast break offense.
“I didn't realize they scored so few points in the third period,” Bird (who finished with 36 points) said afterwards. “But I can see why. Every time they shot, we either blocked the shot, rebounded or stole the ball. Once we did that, we just ran and kept running.”
12. Ainge hit two free throws. Rivers got called for an offensive foul. Bird worked Cliff Levingston for a little lefty scoop shot. The Hawks missed two attempts at the rim which resulted in a rebound for Dennis Johnson, an outlet pass to Bird, an entry pass to Robert Parish and then a beautiful dish to McHale — who aggressively threw it down with two hands right on Tree Rollins’ brain.
McHale and Rollins got tangled up under the hoop and you could see McHale say something as he jogged back down. Tree was clearly beyond frustrated. The score was 91-61. A 13-0 run for Boston.
13. On the next Hawks possession, Ainge steals the ball from Levingston, flips it ahead to DJ, who finds Bird posted up under the hoop for a little lefty reverse. As the ball goes in, a trailing Tree Rollins gives McHale a little forearm shiver to the back. McHale pushes back. Rollins loses his mind and tries to fire the inbounds pass at McHale’s head. Naturally he misses, the ball goes right to Danny Ainge who calmly steps up and drains a three pointer. The crowd erupts. The Celtics are now up 35, on an 18-0 run.
14. “The Hawks are totally confused!” said SportsChannel commentator Rick Weitzman (Tommy was on national assignment). “They just don’t know what’s going on out here.”
“They really don’t,” Gorman said. “I’ve never seen a team fall apart like this. I really haven’t.”
Ainge hit two foul shots with 1:12 left, after which Johnny Davis missed another jump on the Hawks end, after which Bird grabbed the rebound, fired it up to Ainge, who took a few dribbles and connected with a sprinting McHale, who threw down another monstrous fast break dunk. The Celtics are now up 39, on a 22-0 run.
15. “Beat LA! Beat LA!”
That’s the Garden crowd, knowing that the Hawks were dead in the water; knowing that these #86Celtics would destroy whichever team they faced in the conference finals; just not knowing that the Lakers would choke out West against Houston.
Davis missed another jumper as the buzzer sounded, but just for fun Kevin Willis decided to throw McHale to floor. He got called for a foul and McHale went to the line by himself, drained both free throws and put the cap on a 24-0 run, a 41-point lead, and the most dominant quarter in NBA playoff history.
16) And now that you’ve read about it. Kick back and watch: