A closer look at Michael Jordan's 63-point game

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Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of Michael Jordan’s 63-point game for the Chicago Bulls against the Boston Celtics in Game 2 of the 1986 Eastern Conference quarterfinals.

The 63 points scored by Jordan in that game remain the most scored in a single postseason game in NBA history, and he did so at the age of 23.

Said Larry Bird: “I think he's God disguised as Michael Jordan. He is the most awesome player in the NBA. Today in Boston Garden, on national TV, in the playoffs, he put on one of the greatest shows of all time. I couldn`t believe anybody could do that against the Boston Celtics.”

ESPN Stats & Information video tracked Jordan’s 63-point game to provide additional insight on the effort. What we found closely aligns with Bird’s analysis of the game…

Beyond the box score

Among the things Bird said:

“He was hitting outside shots, driving to the hole.”

Virtually all of Jordan’s offense against the Celtics came off the dribble. He was 12-of-22 on pull-up jumpers, 8-of-14 on drives to the basket and 2-of-5 on other shots.

“We had about everyone on the team guarding him.”

Jordan found himself matched up against Hall of Famer Dennis Johnson and All-Star Danny Ainge for most of the game. Jordan scored 42 of his 63 points against the duo.

Jordan attempted a field goal against seven different defenders in the game, including five Hall of Famers. The only player to guard him that he didn’t make a field goal against? Current Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle (0-of-1).

“He obviously was in a zone. He kept them in the game with big basket after big basket. We couldn't stop him.”

Jordan attempted 41 field goals against the Celtics and virtually all of them came with a hand in his face. Only three of his 41 shots were uncontested.

What Bird doesn’t mention though was that Jordan didn’t exactly put the same effort into the defensive end of the floor. If there is a knock on Jordan’s 63-point game, it’s his defense.

Jordan often leaked off his man defensively to help elsewhere, and the Celtics were able to beat this regularly to get open looks. Jordan’s primary assignments shot 12-of-19, and 11 of the 19 attempts were uncontested (8-of-11).

All-in-all, the Celtics scored 31 points when Jordan was the primary defender in the game, the most allowed by any player on either side.

Other notable numbers

The Bulls made the playoffs as a No. 8 seed with a 30-52 record, as Jordan only played 18 games. Luckily for them, 16 of the 23 teams in the league made the playoffs, including eight of the 11 Eastern Conference teams. For comparison’s sake, the Pelicans went 30-52 in their disappointing 2015-16 campaign.

The Celtics went 67-15 that season and went on to win the NBA title. That team featured five future Hall of Famers (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parish and Bill Walton). Hall of Famer George Gervin was on the Bulls, but was in his last season and played only five minutes in Game 2.

The Celtics won the game 135-131 in double overtime, and swept the series 3-0. The Celtics won the other two games by a combined 37 points.

Only two other Bulls scored double-figures in the game: Orlando Woolridge (24) and Charles Oakley (10). Six Celtics scored in double-figures, with Bird (36) and McHale (27) leading the way.

Jordan scored 54 points in regulation, adding five in the first OT and four in the second OT.

Jordan attempted 41 shots in the game and none were 3-pointers. The Bulls didn’t even attempt a 3-point field goal until late in the third quarter.

Jordan did pass the ball. He led the Bulls with six assists in the game.

Jordan also attempted 21 free throws, but none bigger than the ones at the end of regulation. He was fouled on a potential game-tying shot with virtually no time left, and hit both free throws to send the game to overtime.

Jordan scored 49 in Game 1 of the series and 19 in Game 3. It was only three games, but his 43.7 points per game is the highest average for a player in a single postseason.

Jordan wouldn’t score 63 in a game again until 1990, when he scored 69 against the Cavaliers. Jordan had one other game with that many points (64 vs. Magic in 1993).