In the midst of some historic home court dominance by the Golden State Warriors—40 straight home wins dating back to last season—and the San Antonio Spurs—currently on a 25 game home court winning streak— CSNNE columnist Rich Levine takes a look back at another preeminent team, the 1985-86 Boston Celtics, now in it’s 30th anniversary. More specifically, that team and a fateful night with a young Portland Trailblazers squad.
The Celtics won 40 of 41 home games (50 of 51, including the playoffs), and would go on to win the Larry O’Brien trophy, beating the Hakeem Olajuwon led Houston Rockets 4-2 in the series. That’s 40 out of 41. Let that sink in. In the thirty years since, the Blazers have had 19 SEASONS of less than 50 total wins. The first thing I thought of when I read that stat, how would you feel, as a Celtics fan, if that loss was the one game you went to as a kid? But I digress.
That lone loss, that solitary blemish on an amazing season, particularly at home, came on a December night to a young Blazers team. These weren't yet the dominant Blazers of the late '80s- no, this was a team that came into the match-up losing eight of their last twelve games and their last three straight. Clyde Drexler was not quite yet the all-star headlining "I wanna be like
Mike, Clyde!" campaigns. A rookie point guard from Wisconsin Stevens-Point, Terry Porter, came off the bench alongside second-year small forward Jerome Kersey for fifteen minutes a night for a combined fifteen points; neither yet the legends of Blazer lore. To make matters worse, their leading scorer, Kiki Vandeweghe, had been sent home with a leg injury, turning what was already going to be a difficult contest on paper to a preposterous match up.
Meanwhile, Larry Bird, in pursuit of his third MVP title hit the floor alongside Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish and Danny Ainge. In case you weren’t counting that’s four Hall of Famers in the starting lineup, and a fifth coming off the bench in former Blazer Bill Walton. So to call this the proverbial David and Goliath match is to underselling as much as Jim Cramer is to subtlety. Levine compares the match-up to Rocky IV, with the Blazers playing the underdog/everyman, Rocky Balboa, and the Celtics the role of the villain, Ivan Drago.
Although, just to make sure no one was mincing words Levine said this to make sure there was no misconstruing the match-up and the task the Blazers faced;
"On this night the role of Rocky was played by the Portland Trail Blazers, but don’t get too crazy because there’s only a loose connection. When Rocky went to Russia he was already a world champion. He was one of the most celebrated boxers of all time. Meanwhile in December 1985, the Trail Blazers were a mess. They arrived in Boston as losers of three straight and eight of their last 12 games. Their leading scorer (Kiki Vandeweghe) had already been sent home from the road trip with a leg injury.
These Blazers were like Rocky if he’d stayed up all night shooting vodka with Paulie"
Celtics, really good. Blazers, not so much. Okay? Got it. While Levine mentions early on in his piece how times have changed, it appears that the mentality and mindset of the Blazers franchise hasn’t exactly gone through an overhaul. Stop me know if you’ve heard this one before…Young, upstart Blazers team with minimal expectation comes out and plays better than anyone anticipates them to in a game they have no business winning. Sound familiar? If you said yes, you’d be half right. See, one does not simply beat the Boston Celtics at home. Not this Celtics team. So while the Blazers have a long standing reputation for being that team that "just won’t quit," that doesn’t really come into play when you’re talking about NBA royalty.
So how did they do it? Well Levine lays it out better than I ever could:
"They jumped out to an 8-1 lead. Then it was 18-7. With less than six minutes left in the half, Portland led by 18 (!) and there was no mystery to its success. The Blazers played better basketball. They tried harder. They were less selfish. They made fewer mistakes. They ran the Celtics up and down the court and beat them to every loose ball. They were simply a better basketball team than one of the best basketball teams of all time, and they weren’t intimidated for a second. Not even when Celtics came storming back."
Now, on most nights, Blazers fans young and old would applaud the effort against this basketball behemoth, and if Mike Barrett was around he might even let out a "here we go again" as the Celtics mounted their comeback. The Celtics did comeback, and even took the lead. Only, there were to be undone by a combination of Bird shooting a dreadful 6-for-29, 26 Celtic turnovers and Bill Walton playing so terribly he had said afterward, "I was a disgrace to the sport of basketball."
Portland was bolstered by the yet unbroken Sam Bowie contributing 18 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks with the bench duo of Kersey and Steve Colter contributing 22 points apiece.
The final scoreboard read Blazers 1, Celtics 0. Not really of course, it was 121-103 in the end. But the implied meaning rings true. In a league where juggernauts reign supreme, there remain exceptions that defy all logic and reasoning. These are the games and times that live on beyond a box score and in the hearts and minds of NBA fans. These are the strings that hold together and define the history of the game.
In case you were wondering, the Blazers still have remaining road games in Golden State, March 11th, where the Warriors could be going for their 47th straight home win (three more than the NBA record ’95-’96 Bulls 44 straight) and the San Antonio Spurs March 17th who could be going for their 34th straight at home. The great thing about history is every now and then it repeats itself.
For the rest of the story you can read Levine's piece here.
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