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NBA – 1986 Finals – Boston Celtics VS Houston Rockets – Game 3


The year prior to this 1986 NBA Finals series with the Houston Rockets….the Celtics made the 1985 NBA Finals….but lost in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers…..which was a series that exposed some of Boston’s weaknesses….such as the lack of bench scoring….which was exploited after Kevin McHale moved to the starting lineup with Cedric Maxwell bothered by knee injuries. In addition, Larry Bird played through an elbow injury….which severely affected his shooting. In the offseason, president Red Auerbach decided to tweak the roster by trading Maxwell to the Los Angeles Clippers for oft-injured center Bill Walton. He also made a trade with the Indiana Pacers….acquiring the younger Jerry Sichting for an aging Quinn Buckner. These moves would pave the way for the Celtics’ greatest season yet.

Entering the 1985–86 season, the Celtics surged to a league-best 67–15 record, powered by an NBA record 40 victories at home. Their incomparable home record alone…which was since tied by the San Antonio Spurs in the 2015–2016 regular season….put the Celtics in the conversation among the NBA’s greatest teams in a single season.

In the playoffs, Boston needed just three games to defeat the Chicago Bulls in the first round….despite a playoff record 63 points by Michael Jordan in Game 2. When asked about Jordan’s performance in Boston’s 135-131 2OT victory….Boston’s coach K. C. Jones said, “I don’t have a word for today.”   In retrospect, this game is considered to be a classic clash of the NBA’s (arguably) greatest player, Jordan, and the NBA’s (arguably) greatest team, Bird’s ’86 Celtics.  In the second round, Boston eliminated the Atlanta Hawks in five games, with the clinching Game 5 a no-doubter as Boston outscored Atlanta 36–6 in the third quarter en route to a 132–99 victory. Then in the conference finals, Boston swept the Milwaukee Bucks in four games….which was a direct reversal of their second round meeting in the 1983 NBA Playoffs.

Following their previous Finals appearance in 1981….the Houston Rockets entered a brief rebuilding period….as long-time Rockets Calvin Murphy and Rudy Tomjanovich retired….while Mike Dunleavy, Sr., Bill Willoughby, Tom Henderson and Billy Paultz moved on to different teams….but the biggest move came during the 1982 offseason….when the Rockets traded Moses Malone to the 1983 champions Philadelphia 76ers. The loss of Malone sent the Rockets to a league-worst 14–68 record in the 1982–83 season….after which the Rockets were awarded the top pick of the 1983 NBA draft and selected Ralph Sampson….then after a 29-win season in 1984….the Rockets were once again rewarded with the top pick in the 1984 NBA draft….and they selected another center in Akeem “The Dream” Olajuwon….and when paired alongside Sampson….they were dubbed as the “Twin Towers”. Houston also added some valuable role players to complement the duo and holdovers Allen Leavell and Robert Reid, acquiring Rodney McCray, Lewis Lloyd, Craig Ehlo, Mitchell Wiggins and Jim Petersen.

Under third-year head coach Bill Fitch….who was the head coach of the 1980–81 Celtics championship team….as the Rockets posted a 51–31 record and won the Midwest Division title. In the first round, they swept the Sacramento Kings….then eliminated the Denver Nuggets in six games during the second round….and in the conference finals….they were matched up against the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers….to whom after losing Game 1….the Rockets stunned the Lakers by winning the final four games….which was highlighted by a series-clinching buzzer beating shot by Ralph Sampson in Game 5.

In Game 3, the Rockets rallied from eight points down in the fourth quarter before escaping to a much-needed two-point win at home….even after another third quarter meltdown….as Sampson and Olajuwon combined for 47 points and 30 rebounds….and Robert Reid added 20 points….while reserve guard Mitchell Wiggins tipped in off an Olajuwon miss late in the fourth to put the Rockets ahead for good. The Celtics only managed one more shot in their final two possessions….which was a missed 5-footer by Robert Parish….as Kevin McHale and Larry Bird both scored 28 points in the loss….but Bird was held to 3-for-12 shooting in the second half due to Reid’s defense.

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