8 All-Time Greatest Performances at the Old Boston Garden

Written By Dan Holmes on February 13, 2023
8 greatest performances of all time at the old Boston Garden, from play-ma.com

For decades, the Boston Garden was the home of sports greatness in New England.

The famous venue located above Boston’s North Station was a terrible place to play for opponents, but gave the Bruins and Celtics a ferocious home-court (ice) advantage.

From its opening in 1928 until it was closed in 1995, the Garden was the site of many amazing moments. It hosted 17 Stanley Cup Finals, 19 NBA Finals, four NBA All-Star Games, one NHL All-Star Game, and numerous concerts and even boxing title matches.

Sometimes there was so much action going on at 150 Causeway Street that you couldn’t keep track. In 1957, 1958, and 1974, the Garden hosted the Stanley Finals and NBA Finals at the same time.

Below we select the eight greatest performances at the old Boston Garden, a cramped, hot, creaky building that served as the backdrop for many of the most memorable feats in sports in the 20th Century.

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8. Michael Jordan Drops 63 in 1986 NBA Playoffs

April 20, 1986

In 1986, Michael Jordan was still just a kid who had played at North Carolina and shot the basketball with his tongue out. He had only played 100 regular season games (18 that year) when his Bulls snuck into the NBA Playoffs to face the Celtics. In Game 2 at the Garden, MJ gave a hint of what he would become in an epic performance.

Jordan weaved, jumped, and dunked his way past the Celtics for 63 points on 22-for-41 shooting from the floor. Oh, and he did that without attempting a 3-point shot. He was 19-for-21 from the free throw line.

It wasn’t enough. The Bulls blew a seven-point halftime lead and lost to Boston, 135-131. Larry Bird and Kevin McHale matched Jordan (63 points combined) to lead the veteran Celtics.

Two nights later in Chicago, Jordan was held to 19, and the Bulls were swept aside.

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Here are the eight greatest all-time performances at Boston Garden, from play-ma.com
Michael Jordan scored 63 points in a 135-131 double-overtime playoff loss to the Boston Celtics in the 1986 NBA Finals. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

7. James Brown Concert the Evening After Martin Luther King Jr. Was Assassinated

April 5, 1968

After the assasination of civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr., many athletes in American were shaken.

It was a terrible loss for equality in the country. Promoters of the concert by James Brown at Boston Garden scheduled for the next night were not sure they wanted to hold the event. There were signs of unrest in a city often known for racial strife.

But Brown insisted the show go on.

Brown was joined by mayor Kevin White, and both spoke to the crowd at the Garden that evening before the music played. Their words, and the fact that Brown’s performance underscored that efforts in civil rights must go on, proved pivotal in ensuring that no violence occurred in the city.

6. Bird’s Steal of Inbounds Pass Sinks Pistons in 1987 Conference Finals

May 26, 1987

In a heartbreaker for Detroit fans, Bird snatched a sloppy inbounds pass from Isiah Thomas, and passed it to Dennis Johnson for the deciding points in a stunning Game 5 win.

The victory swung the series 3-2 for the Celtics, and a few days later they eliminated the Pistons. 

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5. Lakers Celebrate on the Famous Parquet Floor for First Time

June 9, 1985

A distinctive feature of the Boston Garden was a hand-laid parquet floor of wooden tiles. On that floor, the Celtics clinched the NBA Finals nine times. Only once did an enemy team defeat the C’s in the Boston Garden in the Finals.

The biggest rival for the Celtics is and always has been the Lakers. The teams met in the NBA Finals 11 times when the Celtics played at the Garden. Eight times, Boston defeated LA. Of the three times LA vanquished the hated Celtics, only once did they celebrate the NBA title on the Garden floor.

The 1985 Lakers were one of the greatest teams ever, led by Magic Johnson, Kareem Andul-Jabbar, and James Worthy. In Game 6, Kareem poured in 29 points and Magic had a triple double to lead the Lakers to the title, which they celebrated in the cramped, humid visitors’ locker room at the Garden.

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4. Larry Legend’s Triple Double in Game 7 Against Knicks

May 13, 1984

How’s this for a stat line in a must-win Game 7 at home: 39 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists.

Bird did it all in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference Finals as Boston emerged victorious, 121-104, to advance to the NBA Finals, which they won over Houston.

8 greatest performances of all time at the old Boston Garden, from play-ma.com
Larry Bird during the 1984 NBA Finals. (AP Photo/Mike Kullen)

3. Bird’s Final Flight in the Garden

May 15, 1992

By the time the 1992 NBA Playoffs started, Bird’s aching back was leaving him out of the lineup much of the time.

But the legend had one last big moment in him.

Boston swept aside the Pacers in the first round, but Bird did not play. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, coach Chris Ford had Bird back for Game 4, but his veteran only managed 17 minutes, and scored four points.

A few nights later, sensing the twilight was near, Bird mustered 37 minutes in a must-win at the Garden in Game 6. Bird dished out 14 assists, scored 16, and even had six rebounds and a block. It was almost the Larry Legend of old.

The fans chanted “LAR-RY LAR-RY” almost every time their hero had the ball. The Celtics won to force a Game 7 in Cleveland, and that Game 6 was the final time Bird appeared as a player in the Garden.

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2. Bobby Orr’s OT Goal to Win 1970 Stanley Cup

May 10, 1970

Few athletes are as cherished in Massachusetts as Bobby Orr, who won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s MVP three times.

In Game 4 of the 1970 Stanley Cup Finals, Orr showed off his scoring touch when he scooped a shot into the goal in overtime to defeat the St. Louis Blues. His performance sent more than 14,000 fans into a frenzy in the biggest eruption for a game-winner in Bruins history at the Boston Garden.

8 greatest all-time performances at the old Boston Garden, from play-ma.com
In this May 10, 1970, file photo, Boston Bruins’ Bobby Orr flies through the air after scoring the winning goal in the NHL hockey Stanley Cup finals in Boston. (AP Photo/A.E. Maloof, File)

1. ‘Havlicek Stole the Ball!’ in 1965 Game 7

April 15, 1965

Famed Celtics radio broadcaster Johnny Most put his signature on an iconic sport moment when he uttered the phrase “Havlicek stole the ball!” repeatedly at the end of Game 7 of the 1965 NBA Finals.

With the Celtics clinging to a one-point lead with five seconds to go, the 76ers prepared to inbound the ball off a timeout. Guard Hal Greer was looking to pass the ball to Wilt Chamberlain, but instead Havlicek darted in front, leapt, and intercepted the basketball. It was the icer for yet another Boston title.

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Dan Holmes

Dan Holmes is a Staff Writer for Play MA with plenty of experience under his belt. Dan has written three books about sports and previously worked for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Major League Baseball. He also has extensive experience covering the launch of sports betting in other states, including Ohio and Maryland. Currently, Dan is residing in Michigan with his family.

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