7.20.2008

Don't Get Larry Bird Mad

The look was a dark cloud arriving fast and sudden over a hump-backed mountain. To see it at close range was to know that some heavy weather was coming for the Houston Rockets.

One look. Larry Bird.

"Uh-oh," every single member of the Boston bench seemed to say in the middle of the third period of last night's 117-95 win over the Rockets that gave the Celtics a 2-0 lead in these NBA Finals. "Here we go. Uh-oh. Look out, Houston."

There was a foul on the Boston Garden court in front of the Celtics' bench. The rest of the players in the game had traveled to the other end of the floor or were in the process. Akeem Olajuwon, the Rockets' 6-foot-10-inch center, bent and tried to whack the ball away from Larry Bird. The whack hit Larry Bird's forearm instead of the ball. There was only one other figure in the area, referee Jess Kersey.

Jess Kersey, for some reason, did not make the call. Larry Bird turned and gave him the look.

"That's awful," the look said.

"That's disgusting," the look said.

"I'm mad," the look said.

The tenants of the Celtics' bench, who have seen that look in the past and know all that it entails, suddenly stood up to watch what would happen next. They might have jumped up after plays earlier in the game on this hot night in this hottest of buildings, but this time they jumped up before the play happened.

Larry is mad? Uh-oh? Larry gave the look? Watch out. Larry has the ball? Here we go.

"What will he do?" was the question. "There is no question that he will do something. The only question is what."

The answer took about three seconds. Still dribbling, he went directly up the middle of the court. He stopped at approximately the three-point line. He unleashed a straight-ahead pass that would have born the cliche "threading the needle" if the cliche hadn't already been born.

The ball went through every big body in the middle of the foul lane. The pass was a highway through some Bavarian forest. The highway ended at Celtics center Robert Parish's hands. He did not have to move. He only had to close his hand on the ball, reach up and deposit it in the basket.

The sweaty Garden crowd stood -- joining the Celtics' bench -- and blew out a cheer of cheers. Larry Bird turned to Jess Kersey and delivered a second look.

"Mess with me and that's what you get," this look said.

"If we did things right, we wouldn't have to go through all this," this look said.

"I'm still mad," this look finally said.

There are moments in many of the basketball games that Larry Bird plays when you know that he has taken charge, that the game is his and no one else's. There are moments when he becomes the only man on the floor to watch, no one else. There are moments when you know the other team is doomed forever and he is the reason.

This quite obviously was one of them.

"He just gets in his own little world out there," Celtics guard Jerry Sichting said. "He calls for the ball and he barks at guys if they aren't doing the right thing. He does something different every time. It's as if he wants to show the world he is the best, and he is the best."

On the next time down the floor, he went to the far corner of the court, rocked back and swished a three-pointer as easily as if he were picking a can of beans off the top shelf in the pantry. Take that, Jess Kersey. On the next time, he hit a 15-foot jumper, easy as you please. The next time, Akeem finally was called for a foul as Bird backed him toward the basket. Thanks, Jess Kersey. The crowd stood again.

The score here was 75-59, and at this point, the cheers swung between "Lar-Ree' and "M-V-P," and was there any doubt about where this game and this series were headed? Only where Larry Bird wanted it to head. Nowhere else.

"It was just one of those special nights," Celtics reserve center Bill Walton said. "His hands were everywhere. Steals. Rebounds. You felt great just to be a part of it."

"I think Larry was happy to win that MVP award on Wednesday," Celtics forward Kevin McHale said. "He showed how much he wanted it in that third quarter."

The statistics on this "special night," in what seems to be a never- ending string of special nights, showed he had 31 points on 12-for-19 shooting. He had 8 rebounds. He had 7 assists. He had 4 steals. He had 2 blocked shots. He hit 3 of 5 three-point shots. He outdanced Dancing Barry. He out-magiced Magic Johnson. He left the Rockets in a shambles.

"When he gets in that rhythm, there isn't anyone who can stop him," Houston coach Bill Fitch lamented. "I thought we stopped him in the third quarter, but then he got into one of his 'playing in his own back yard' situations where he is in his own world and it seems like he's out there alone. When he gets going like that, he is awesome."

What are the poor Rockets to do? They set their best defensive player on the guy, Rodney McCray, and Bird took Rodney here and there on the basketball map, everywhere but into the Springs Valley High School locker room. He faked people into the sky. He left people in the lurch. He threw in shots from foreign countries. He got mad -- yes, he did -- and he couldn't be stopped.

"What'd you think?" a Mr. K.C. Jones, coach of the Celtics and close observer of this man, was asked by a visitor from a faraway newspaper. "Was that extraordinary Larry tonight? Or was that routine Larry?"

"Well, just routine Larry," the coach said.

He was smiling, but the crazy part was that it wasn't a joke. Not if you watched this guy every day of the basketball year.

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