As a fan, we watch each game of the NBA playoffs with knowledge that we potentially have a front row seat to history. Last night was just that. Carmelo Anthony’s 42 points and 17 rebounds performance vindicated every fan who supported trading damn near the entire franchise to obtain his services and Melo carried the Knicks to a layup away from one of the more improbable victories in recent memory.
The more ironic (and forgotten) facet? It came within a few hours from landing on the exact day Michael Jordan blitzed the same Celtics franchise for his now mythical 63 points.
Last week, I made mention of a guy (we’ll call him Dave) who narrated the story of what it was like in Boston Garden that night a quarter century ago. You see, at the time, I happened to be only 79 days old, so my memory of the game stems from ESPN Classic footage, written accounts and my still-missing Come Fly With Me VHS tape. That was all the more reason this guy’s account sticks to my mental.
Going into the contest, Jordan had already torched the Celtics for 49 in Game 1. “Torched” being subjective mainly because the Bulls lost, but such a performance characterized what many saw him as during this part of his career – a stat stuffer who played merely for self-advancement. Years later this became known as his unquenchable desire to win, but whatever. Dave and all who packed into The Garden that night knew two things: they would win and “this Jordan kid” would do something spectacular.
Dave remembers the mood in the arena as festive, but equal parts hot as all hell. The Garden had no air conditioning system and people passing out and players needing oxygen tanks were regular occurrences. It was like playing in a sauna. The only person in the building not affected by the conditions was the one guy Celtics fans knew could beat them single-handedly. At the bar, Dave consumed a few drinks, spoke to people he knew, but ultimately came back to the story. Midway through the third quarter, everyone in the arena knew something memorable was taking place.
Topping 49 wasn’t going to be a problem. Some people even began the talk of 70 points. The only logical comparison was having a hot streak on a craps table when everything you call out is money. McHale couldn’t stay in front of him. Ainge clung on like a jilted ex-girlfriend who just doesn’t get the picture. Dennis Johnson gave a rousing effort. And when M.J. had that now timeless clip of him taking it through his legs with Bird looking in dismay, the history books were already writing themselves. Boston Garden was one of the most intimidating, if not the most, venue in all of the NBA. Yet, as Dave put it, here comes this kid who “really didn’t give a sh*t and looking back on it, that was the best part.”
For those who remember, Jordan stepped to the line at the end of regulation for a pair of free throws to send the game into overtime. As he would go on to do so many other instances in his career, he lived up to the moment, icing both. Every person in attendance let loose of a collective “WTF?” The rest of the story panned out with the second-year man out of North Carolina passing Elgin Baylor for most points scored in a single postseason game. Like Carmelo and the Knicks, however, Jordan and the Bulls lost the game. The Celtics eventually went on to beat the Houston Rockets 4-2. Everything was right in Beantown.
Until six months later when Bill Buckner became a Boston sports icon for all the wrong reasons.