Were the #86Celtics the best passing team of all time?


Were the #86Celtics the best passing team of all time?

Last week I searched high and low on YouTube for the best and most awkward Larry Bird commercials. For this week’s edition of #86Celtics, I was back on the hunt, this time for actual basketball footage, all in the name of answering this question:

Are the #86Celtics the best passing team of all time?

For starters, the presence of Bill Walton sure helps the Celtics’ cause. Walton was and still is one of the best passing centers of all time. He was player who not only understood team basketball, but expressed that knowledge in a way that teammates latched on to. Remember the immediate impact Kevin Garnett had on the 2008 champs? Okay, so take that down a few notches. Now imagine KG spent his off time taking bong hits under a black light instead of screaming at a mirror inside a cold, dark room. That's what Bill Walton did for the #86Celtics. His team spirit was contagious.

Walton clicked especially well with Larry Bird. The pair consistently made other teams look silly with a two-man game that encapsulated so many cerebral aspects of passing — from the geometry to body control to misdirection to — honestly, just watch this clip:

And the more they played the more they evolved with different routines and variations to keep the opposition thinking. And once they caught you thinking, you’d already lost.

Now that’s beautiful but for pure aesthetics you need to see the #86Celtics run a fast break. I don’t want to be that guy who uses nostalgia to tear down “today’s NBA” but you don’t see fast breaks like this anymore. The ball never touches the ground. If Norman Dale had left Hickory to launch a second career as a porn director, this is the climax of his first feature film.

But the #86Celtics also dominated in the half-court, and that’s especially impressive considering the 3-pointer was basically non-existent. The defense didn’t have as much space to cover, and you figure that made it more difficult to create open shots.

The #86Celtics got along fine, though. That’s because they simultaneously had two of the most unstoppable offensive weapons in NBA history, and in the prime of their careers. The Celtics had two guys — especially Kevin McHale — who demanded double teams. That kept the defense frantic while the Celtics sat back like surgeons. In this next clip, you’ll first see Bird abuse a double team but then it’s all McHale. Watch how fast the defense freaks every time he touches the ball in the post, and how fast the Celtics move to take advantage.

This next one’s a little more Bird-oriented but it’s about the whole team and better described as “simply ridiculous.”

And speaking of ridiculous, here’s a little more of ’86 Larry Bird doing what ’86 Larry Bird was known to do:

So yeah, back to the original question.

Are the #86Celtics the best passing team of all time?

People like to say so, but there’s no way to really prove it. Where would you even start? What goes into definitively establishing the best passing team ever as the “Best. Passing Team. Ever.”?

It might be nice to just fall back on assists but it’s not that simple. If it is, then we can stop the conversation because the #86Celtics didn’t even lead the 1986 NBA in assists. The Lakers did. Not to mention the ’87 Celtics finished with more assists than the #86Celtics. So did the ’88 Celtics and the ’90 Celtics. And anyway just because a team passes a lot doesn’t mean they’re the best passers. There’s a difference between best and most prolific. We’re talking quality over quantity. And in that case the whole conversation is complicated by aesthetics. It’s so subjective. What makes one pass better than another?

The answer is personal preference, and that’s fine. That's passing. It might be a fundamental, but it's also an art form. While a bad pass is a bad pass is a bad pass, a great pass can mean many things and be appreciated on many levels, and arguing over words like “best” and “quality” is an insult to the art itself. It’s not there to make you angry or frustrated. It shouldn’t be a burden. Art is supposed to make you happy and if it does then who cares what anyone else thinks?

That said if you don’t find at least a lot of happiness in the way the #86Celtics shared the basketball, maybe basketball isn’t for you.

Gordon Hayward rips back a morning workout while repping his Butler Bulldogs

File Photo

Gordon Hayward rips back a morning workout while repping his Butler Bulldogs

There hasn't been all positive news surrounding Gordon Hayward as of late.

The Celtics have been shooting down rumors of Hayward returning this season. Recent news has detailed a minor setback in his recovery.

But it's always good to see the C's superstar up early crushing a workout in the weightroom.

We might not see him back in 2018, but his dedication during recovery is something to admire.


Celtics look to continue rolling on the road

AP Photo

Celtics look to continue rolling on the road

It seems all season we’ve talked about the Boston Celtics overcoming adversity, whether it be a bad injury to a key player or a blown assignment leading to a loss.

Nowhere is this more apparent than their play on the road this season which ranks among the best in the NBA.

The Celtics will look to continue on their road warrior-like ways tonight at New Orleans, a team that’s fighting for playoff position in the tighter-than-usual Western Conference.

In recent years, the terrain has been rough for teams from the East venturing into Western Conference territory.

For this year’s Celtics?

Not so much.

Boston comes into tonight’s game with a 17-7 record against Western Conference teams, tops among all teams in the East.

And while Boston has eight road games left this season, they are on pace to finish with one of the best road records in franchise history.

Currently 24-9 away from the TD Garden (tops in the East, third overall in the NBA), that’s a winning percentage of .727 which is the fourth-highest in franchise history.

Here are five under-the-radar story lines to keep an eye on when the Boston Celtics take on the New Orleans Pelicans tonight.


It’s a given that Al Horford will spend time defending Anthony Davis tonight. And while Davis will likely have a strong night scoring the ball, you can count on Horford making it extremely tough on him. When the two teams met on Jan. 16, Davis was 8-for-19 shooting for 16 points in 52 possessions when defended by Horford. For the game, Davis had 45 points on 16-for-34 shooting.


We’ve seen “Playoff" Rondo and “National TV" Rondo deliver some impressive performances in the past. What will we see from “Well-Rested” Rondo? The Pelicans gave the ex-Celtic the night off on Saturday as to not play him in back-to-back games. Of the two games, it made sense to sit him against the Rockets and have him ready to roll against a Boston Celtics team that will not have its full complement of players available.


Pelicans head coach Alvin Gentry had some choice words about the officiating in New Orleans’ 107-101 loss to Houston on Saturday that he clearly felt cost his team a better chance at winning. The only cost in play now is how big will the check be that he’ll pay the league for his comments about the officiating. His issue was that Anthony Davis doesn’t get enough calls based on the physical abuse he takes per game. Davis ranks fourth in the NBA in free throw attempts (7.8) per game, but only had four attempts against the Rockets. It’ll be worth watching whether the Pelicans, 16th in the league in free throw attempts (21.4) per game, will get to the line significantly more or less than their season average.


One of the keys to Boston’s improved play since returning to the floor since the all-star break, has been their ability to begin games with strong play. Boston has outscored their opponent in the first quarter each of the last eight games, and 10 of 11. In addition, Boston has been ahead at the half in each of their 10 games since the all-star break, which comes on the heels of trailing at the half in the seven games prior to the break.


Jayson Tatum has been one of the most impactful rookies in the NBA this season which will likely land him a spot on the NBA’s all-rookie first or second team. One of the strengths of Tatum has been his durability, evident by him being one of just two first-year players to appear in each of his team’s games played this season. He is joined by Memphis’ Dillon Brooks.