It was the greatest game anyone has ever played in a losing effort. A 63-point performance in a double-overtime defeat to the Boston Celtics at the Garden. Michael Jordan was out to prove something on that night, and for whatever that may be, we are still feeling it. Was he out to prove to the world this was a sign of things to come regarding what he was going to do in this league? Yes. Was he looking to show that he had fully recovered from a broken foot that caused him to miss 64 games of the season? Yes. Was he trying to make a statement against the eventual World Champion Celtics who many consider to be the greatest team in NBA history? Check.
Michael was not even supposed to play in this game. The Bulls were concerned that he’d return and reinsure his foot and could be out for a few years and maybe never regain his form. But it was Jordan who insisted upon playing out the remainder of his second season which would turn out to be the only year he would incur any major injury. The Bulls were forced to work through the “minutes limitation” that eventually ended after the regular season as they advanced to the playoffs with a dismal 30-52 record. That’s right, a playoff team with a horrible record actually made it in.
The precursor to Jordan’s historic night was actually spectacular in its own right. Game 1 of the Bulls/Celtics series saw Michael play 43 minutes, making 18 of 36 shots, 13 of 15 from the line for 49 points against nine-time all-defensive team guard Dennis Johnson. Celtics backcourt mate Jerry Sichting offered this after the game:
"Dennis was a prideful defensive player," recalled Jerry Sichting, who would come off the bench and make what would be the winning shot in the second overtime. "He's in the shower after that Game 1 when Michael has 49. He's got the stat sheet stuck to the wall and he's staring at it. He's all soaped up and he says, 'The good news is we beat them. Michael is never going to have another game like that again."
Little did Johnson know that Jordan was just warming up. He had 64 missed games to make up for and the playoffs afforded him the platform to showcase what had been pent up for months. As Game 2 got underway, there was an ease about how Michael attacked the Celtics defense. It was remarkable how effortless he made things seem. Blowing past anyone who would step up to the challenge, Michael scored on jump shots, floaters, dunks, and anything else that would put the ball in the basket. It wasn’t until late in the overtimes that Boston made any serious efforts to trap and get the ball of of his hands. Jordan played 53 of the total 58 minutes but looked as if he could have gone another 50 if necessary. He was 22 of 41 from the field, 19 of 21 from the foul line, with 5 assists and 4 steals. To top it off, he did all of that with only 2 turnovers.
Scoring 63 points in the Boston Garden against the league’s best team on national television served as MJ’s official coming out party. The world now knew and respected what Chicago fans had been treated to over the first year during Michael’s rookie campaign. To this day the points are an NBA playoff record and look as if it will be safe for some time. The Bulls would go on to lose the series matchup in only three games as Michael finished Game 3 with a near triple-double, 19 points, 10 rebounds, and nine assists. Knowing what we know now about Jordan’s career, I suppose Larry Bird may have been right about what we saw on that night. Perhaps it was really “God disguised as Michael Jordan.” #RESPECT