On April 20, 1986, Michael Jordan turned in one of the most legendary playoff performances in history, scoring an NBA-record 63 points in a double overtime loss to the Boston Celtics.
Current Celtics general manager Danny Ainge was a member of that Boston team and talked about that game on a recent episode of the Celtics Talk podcast with Brian Scalabrine.
“We knew he was a great player. He was rookie of the year the year before,” Ainge said. “Everybody knew Michael’s athleticism and talents. I think this was a coming out party... Maybe for Michael as, ‘Wow this guy is really special.'"
Jordan missed a majority of the 1986 season with a foot injury but was primed for a first round showdown with the NBA’s best team. The Celtics won 67 games that regular season and boasted a 40-1 record at home (an NBA record that was tied by the Spurs in 2015-16).
“Chicago had nothing to lose. Michael had missed 65 games during the season with a foot injury, and he was fresh,” Ainge continued. “Nobody expected them to win one game against the Boston Celtics that year.”
In Game 1 of that series, Jordan poured in 49 points in a 123-104 loss at the Boston Garden. But nobody could have seen what was coming in Game 2.
"We wanted to make Michael shoot a lot of jump shots,” Ainge said. “He wasn’t known as a great jump shooter, he was a good jump shooter. He lived getting to the free throw line and getting to the rim.”
The Celtics' gameplan played right into Jordan’s hands. He shot 22-for-41 from the field without attempting a 3-pointer in the game and made 19 of his 21 free throw attempts.
“He was pretty impressive, no doubt about it. I mean, 63 in a double overtime game. It was a 58 minute game. But he still had 54 in regulation,” Ainge said. “We were all very, very impressed with Michael... We had big aspirations that year. And that was a good little wake up call.”
If people didn’t know who Michael Jordan was before, they sure did after that game. Celtics Hall of Famer Larry Bird was quoted after the game saying: "He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan."
Jordan’s 63-point outing still stands as the highest-scoring individual performance in NBA playoff history. Even 34 years later, people are still talking about it.
“Michael was very, very special,” Ainge said. “We all knew it. We all knew it after that game. And 34 years later, he’s still being considered the best player of all time.”
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