McHale started his career off rough with a holdout his rookie year, but this was resolved. He was named to the All-Rookie first team as a rookie, even though he did not start. In the playoffs the Celtics swept the Chicago Bulls in the first round, but faced a 3-1 deficit in the Eastern Conference Finals versus the Philadelphia 76ers. Boston stunned the 76ers, winning the last three games of the series, including Game 6 on Philadelphia's home court. McHale helped save the Game 6 win by blocking Andrew Toney's shot and corralling the rebound with 16 seconds left in the game and the Celtics leading by a point. In the NBA Finals Boston defeated the Houston Rockets in six games to capture the club's fourteenth championship.
McHale's success began in 1984. He won the first of his 3 consecutive NBA 6th man of the year award, and helped the Celtics win their fifteenth title. He finally began to start for the Celtics in the 1984-85 season after an injury to Cedric Maxwell.
The 1985-1986 edition of the Boston Celtics is considered one of the greatest teams in NBA history.
The Celtics acquired former NBA Most Valuable Player Bill Walton in a trade from the Los Angeles Clippers in September 1985, and added the 211 cm (6 ft 11 in) center to its already-formidable frontline. Boston sent Cedric Maxwell to the Clippers to complete the trade, clearing the way for McHale to move into a full time starting role. McHale joined starters Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Dennis Johnson and Danny Ainge as the Celtics steamrolled the NBA with a league-best 67-15 record and captured the franchise's sixteenth NBA title.
The team set an NBA record by finishing with an 82-18 win-loss record (including playoffs), breaking the record of 81 victories by the 1971-72 Lakers. Boston also set the NBA mark for most home victories in one season, finishing 50-1 (including playoffs) in 48 games in the Boston Garden and three games in Hartford, Connecticut.
Boston won 41 of its first 50 games, including two victories over the Lakers. In a rout of the Clippers on December 30, 1985, McHale set his single-game high in rebounds with 18 (a mark he tied versus the Pistons in 1989).
An extremely durable player through the first five seasons of his career, McHale missed 14 games in early 1986 due to an injured Achilles tendon in his left ankle, but he was healthy when the playoffs began. Boston rolled through the Eastern Conference, winning 11 of 12 games versus Chicago, Atlanta and Milwaukee.
For the second time in five years the Celtics faced Houston in the NBA Finals, and the result was the same as in 1981, as Boston won the title in six games. McHale averaged 25.8 points per game in the finals to lead all scorers.
By his seventh pro season, McHale had rehearsed and refined his low-post moves and had become one of the NBA's most dominant offensive forces, out-leaping, out-spinning and out-maneuvering defender after defender in his "torture chamber". McHale was never better than the 1986-1987 season, when he set career highs in scoring (26.1) and rebounding (9.9). He also became the first player in NBA history to shoot sixty percent or better from the field (60.4%) and eighty percent or better from the free throw line (83.6%) in the same season. McHale was named to the All-NBA First Team and was named the NBA's best defensive player by the league's coaches.
Late in the 1987 regular season, McHale broke the navicular bone in his right foot. Ignoring doctors' advice that the injury could be career threatening, McHale continued to play. In the playoffs a hobbled McHale averaged 39 minutes per game and connected on 58 percent of his shots as Boston once again won the Eastern Conference title. Boston swept the Bulls in the first round for the second straight year and survived two seven-game series with the Bucks and Pistons. A tired and hurting Celtics team could not defend their championship, losing to the Lakers in six games in the NBA Finals.
Offseason surgery on his injured foot and ankle forced McHale to sit out the first month of the 1987-1988 season. He scored 22 points in 22 minutes of play in his return to the Celtics on December 1, 1987, versus Atlanta.
Later Pro Career
The 1989-90 season marked the last time McHale was healthy enough to play in all 82 games for the Celtics. Bird's return from his injuries moved McHale back into his role as Boston's sixth man. McHale became the first player in twenty years to finish in the NBA's top ten in field goal percentage (fifth) and free throw percentage (seventh) in the same season.
The season was one of discontent for Boston. Second-year point guard Brian Shaw left the team to play in Europe after a salary dispute. And Larry Bird was criticized by teammates, including McHale, for taking too many shots and trying to dominate games on his own. The disfunctional Celtics still had enough talent to win 52 games and finish second to Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference. Boston took the first two games of their playoff series with the Knicks, but the Knicks fought back and won the last three games of the series, eliminating the Celtics from the playoffs. Head coach Jimmy Rodgers was fired the following off season.
McHale considered retirement in the offseason after having another surgery performed on his right ankle, but he came back for the 1990-91 season. Boston paired young backcourt players Lewis, Dee Brown and Brian Shaw—back from his year in Europe—with Bird, McHale and Parish and hired Chris Ford, a longtime assistant coach and member of the Celtics' 1981 championship team, to be its head coach.
The season got off to a promising start as Boston sprinted to a 29-5 record, but the Celtics were soon slowed by injuries to McHale (ankle) and Bird (back). McHale missed 14 regular season games and Bird 22, as the Celtics limped to a 27-21 record over the last three months of the season. In the playoffs, Boston defeated the Indiana Pacers in five games in a hotly-contested first round matchup, but for the third time in four years the Celtics were eliminated by Detroit, this time in a six-game semi-final series.
McHale played in a career-low 56 games and Bird played in just 45, as each suffered through an injury-plagued 1991-92 season. Boston struggled for most of the regular season, but got hot as the playoffs approached, winning 15 of its last 16 games and finishing with 51 wins, the third-most in the Eastern Conference.
The Celtics swept the Pacers in the first round, but were defeated in seven games in the conference semi-finals by the younger, quicker Cleveland Cavaliers. Bird retired from the NBA three months later.
The 1992-1993 season was McHale's last in the NBA. Severely hampered by leg and back injuries, he averaged just 10.7 points per game and shot less than 50 percent from the floor (45.9%) for the only time in his career.
In the first round of the NBA playoffs against the Charlotte Hornets, the Celtics were stunned by the loss of Lewis, their leading scorer, who collapsed during Game 1 due to what eventually proved to be a fatal heart condition. McHale performed brilliantly in the series, averaging 19.6 points per game and shooting 58 percent from the field, including 30 points and 10 rebounds in Game 2, but Boston fell to the Hornets in four games.
McHale announced his retirement, without fanfare, while talking with reporters at the scorer's table after the Game 4 loss in Charlotte.
Post Playing Career
McHale was hired by the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1994 as the Assistant Manager. He was promoted to Vice President of player personel the following off season.
McHale's ability to run a Franchise has been questioned by many. He fired Coach Flip Saunders after the team's best season ever, likely to take over for himself until he proved he could not coach effectively.
McHale is also is responsible for the famous Joe Smith Fiasco, where he attempted to Sign then Free agent Joe Smith, but failed due to his lack of following the Correct procedure to sign a Free Agent. This caused the Wolves several First round draft picks, only to blow their first one in years on Nudi Ebi, who turned out to be a bust, especially when he passed on Dallas Mavericks sixth man, Jerry Stackhouse to draft him. McHale has traded 2 more first round draft picks away, 1 when trading Sam Cassell to the Clippers, and another one when trading Wally Sczerbiak to his old team, the Boston Celtics.
<stats> Player=Kevin McHale Sport=NBA </stats>