North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Double Overtimes Duel – ’86 vs ’09

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Okay, so yes, there were similarities. Both went to two overtimes, both featured the same two teams. There were even two great breakout performances.

But don’t kid yourself. Sunday’s two-overtime duel between the Celtics and the Bulls was nothing like their two-OT duel that was Michael Jordan’s coming out party in 1986.

Let’s set them up.

In ’86, the Bulls were facing a great Celtics team. They were not a great team and finished with a 30-52 record, albeit mostly because of a nagging foot injury for Jordan (indeed, it was their worst record in the Jordan era). But to beat the Celtics – who had lost exactly one home game all season and who had been to the last two NBA finals – would have been an upset of exceptional proportions.

Game two was the second time Jordan lit up twice times in that series, scoring 49 in game one and 63 in game two (he spend game three in foul trouble and finished with just 19), and basically carried his team as far as they got – namely, a three game sweep against a team that was just too good to handle.

In 2009, the Celtics were a team ripe to be upset. Kevin Garnett, the foundation of their defence and a vital part of their big three, was ruled out on the cusp of the postseason. In his absence, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen had to pick up some slack and reserve big men Glen Davis and Brian Scalabrine got many more minutes then usual.

On the other hand, the Bulls of 2009 were a team that came together at the right time, winning seven of their last ten games, with two of those losses by five points or less. Rookie Derrick Rose was the best of his class, averaging 17 points and six boards a game. One would be foolish to overlook Ben Gordon and John Salmon’s contributions too: together they led the team in minutes and points.

It was a 2-seed vs an 8-seed, but an upset wasn’t all that unlikely.

Let’s look at the teams.

2009’s Bulls team is a little more balanced. Yes, Rose had another great game – his third triple-double in four games – but he’s got a solid supporting cast. Gordon, who hit that ridiculous three to tie the game up late. Even Noah, who made some clutch plays down the stretch that helped tip the game.

Even the Celtics aren’t as powerful. The ’86 C’s were one of the great teams in recent memory, basically six hall of fame players deep: Bird, McHale, D.J., Ainge, Parish and Walton coming off the bench.

And while I’m not doubting that Ray Allen and Paul Pierce are great players, it would be foolish to put this Celtic team in the same breath as the ’86 team – especially without KG. The 85-86 Celtics lost one game at home and only three in the playoffs.

Not to sound flippant, but Glen Davis is not and never will be Robert Parish or Bill Walton and maybe not even Tom Kite.

Let’s look at the finishes.

Sure, Jordan was ice-cold in ’86, nailing free throws at the Garden with no time left. He was clutch, carrying the Bulls into extra time. But he only got to OT because of a stupid play by McHale, who left his man to try and make a block.

In overtime, Jordan launched a wide-open jumper that would have given the Bulls the lead with two seconds left… but it clanked out (Ditto for Bird, who hit the back of the rim on a long three). Then, in the second OT, the Celtics pulled away.

On Sunday, the Bulls lasted through two breakneck OT periods on top of a great 48. Salmons, hit four clutch free throws and blocked a potential game winner. Gordon hit a huge three to tie the game at 110. Allen hit a late three in regulation to send the game to OT. It was a bona-fide classic.

Yes, there were missed shots: Rose missed a game winner at the end of the fourth, Allen had a late shot blocked in OT. And the second OT wasn’t that competitive: if the game was a tug-of-war, it was when one side runs out of steam and falls slowly towards the mud. Still, I’d much rather watch that then ’86 any day – Jordan and Bird be damned.

So, which one is best?

If one had to choose between these two games – both excellent games, mind you – one would have to wildly different answers for wildly different reasons. ’86 was a coming out, the opening chapter to a legendary NBA career. ’09 was a great game that will likely be played on ESPN Classic (although had it been broadcast on TNT… maybe on NBA-TV in a couple years).

Of course, context means a lot, too. Had MJ lit up against Don Nelson’s Bucks, would we remember it as fondly ? If Larry Bird doesn’t say “that was God disguised as Michael Jordan”, do we even care? Maybe.

In this sense, it’s too early to say anything about Sunday’s game. Was it a coming-out for Rose? Or was it a spurt of greatness on national TV? Or will it be doomed to vague memory, like that great three-OT game in the 1993 Finals.

I hope not. Because if I had to choose which one to watch later tonight, I’d take ’09 in a heartbeat.

Written by M.

April 28, 2009 at 3:09 am

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