Larry & Magic's All-Star Battle Serves as Prelude to Game 3

Larry Wins All-Star Game MVP as East Beats West

Larry v. Magic: Game-by-Game Summary
Larry v. Magic: Game-by-Game Media Coverage

February 1, 1982

In the '60s, it was the preeminent rivalry in pro basketball. Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain. No one will forget the wars those two goliaths waged, and it didn't seem to matter whether it was a regular-season game, a playoff or an All-Star game. Now in the '80s, one has to suspect that the rivalry between the Celtics' Larry Bird and the Lakers' Magic Johnson is just beginning to warm up, perhaps to Russell-Chamberlain proportions. True, Bird is a forward and Johnson primarily plays guard, but their all-round skills are remarkably similar.

"We're the same type players," said Johnson, who came within inches of being a hero and instead wound up a loser as the East topped the West, 120-118, yesterday in the 32d annual NBA All-Star game. "We're big-game players. We both like the pressure. We both seem to play better under the pressure.

"We definitely have respect for one another. The things Larry can do are just unbelievable. He just beats everybody upstairs because he plays a smart game. We're much alike and we respect each other on and off the court." Bird walked away with the Most Valuable Player Award. His contributions for the East--19 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and a steal--speak for themselves. But Bird's success didn't for one minute diminish the respect he has for Johnson.

"I think he's a great player," said Bird. "We're very similar in the things we can do. We both like to move the ball up the court, shoot, rebound and get assists. I personally think he's a better passer than I am and is quicker. I'm a better shooter and I play more inside. I enjoyed watching him play in the game today. I try to study him and see what I can learn. He's a great player." In fact, had Johnson (16 points, 7 assists for the West) sunk a layup with three seconds left instead of missing, the game might have gone into overtime, and he might have wound up as the MVP.

But he accepted the outcome philosophically.

"I don't feel bad about what happened today," he said. "It's no trouble for me. If we tie, we tie. If not, look forward to next year. It's the season that counts, not an All-Star game. "Was I looking for a three-point play? You can't do that. You think about getting into position and shooting, and then you have to shoot. If you can get fouled, get fouled. My first thing was just to try to get to the basket. (The East's Michael Ray) Richardson made me pull up sooner than I wanted to. I wanted to take it to the basket a little bit further, but he came to help and I had to shoot out a little further than I wanted to. It almost went but hit the rim. That's just the way it goes."

There was a time when Johnson and Bird were less than kind in the things they said about each other on and off the court. Johnson's Michigan State team beat Bird and Indiana State for the NCAA championship in 1979, and Johnson took the Lakers to the NBA title in his rookie season. Bird brought the Celtics to the summit last year. Now they realize that their rivalry is becoming something very special. And with that realization has come mutual respect.

"I think it's toned down a lot," said Johnson of the cool feelings. "I think it's gotten where we can talk and be friends. Early on, it was really intense. But now it's changed. Somebody is going to win or lose, that's just the facts, and there is no need for us carrying that off the floor. We've become more friendly. "It doesn't matter to me if Bird got the MVP. I knew he was going to get it, either him or Julius (Erving). They both played a great game."


Lex said...

Bird's MVP Award was the second in a row for a Celtic, since Archibald won it last year. Parish has been in two All-Star games and has been a serious MVP candidate each time. The MVP voting: Bird 86, Parish 39, Gus Williams 18, Julius Erving 8, Richardson 5 and Kelly Tripucka 1. One must wonder what game the Tripucka voter was watching . . . Said Tripucka of his 15 minutes of playing time, "I was happy to be here, and anything at all above zero would have been all right with me."

Lex said...

It's common sense, really. Tom Heinsohn used to do it when he coached the East All-Stars in the '70s. When he really needed to get things done, he would insert Dave Cowens, John Havlicek and Jo Jo White in the game, along with, say, Dave DeBusschere and Walt Frazier. You can't beat common unit experience.

Bill Fitch did the same thing yesterday in the 1982 All-Star game. Of 30 points scored in the final quarter by the victorious East squad, 25 were produced by the Celtics' trio of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Tiny Archibald, including 12 by game MVP Bird. With Archibald at the throttle, the East scored key baskets by running a Celtic pick-down play for Bird. Explained Tiny, "With three of us in there, it was very obvious I was going to my guys. That's the side of the floor I'm going to, and the other two guys can stand on the other side holding hands."-

Lex said...

Hasn't it always been a logical assumption that, given good health and a sane coach who would give him the necessary playing time, Larry Bird would win the Most Valuable Player Award in an All-Star game?

It's elementary. Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly and Larry Bird's gotta produce in the clutch, whether it's an intrasquad scrimmage in October, an otherwise forgettable game with the Cavaliers in December, the seventh game of the NBA finals in June or, as in this case, the 32d NBA All-Star game. So it was that Bird came off the bench in the fourth period with a well-played, somewhat atypical All-Star game on the line and scored 12 points in the next five minutes, leading Bill Fitch's East squad to a 120-118 victory over Pat Riley's West club.

The game wasn't settled until the final two seconds, when Robert Parish, himself a legitimate MVP candidate with 21 points, hauled in his seventh rebound, a traffic retrieve of a missed drive by Magic Johnson, a shot which Magic would certainly try the next 100 times in a row, given the same situation. "No regrets," said Magic. "It was my shot. It's when you don't take your shot that you're frustrated."

Bird's dramatic reentry into the game occurred with 6:48 left and the smaller East team clinging to a 105-103 lead. He had played two other shifts, putting on a fine first-half show the first time and playing in a sloppy manner (twice losing the ball with behind-the-back dribbles) the second time. "I wanted to come back in exactly when I did," explained Bird. "I was a little disgusted with myself for the way I played the second time I was on. I wanted to go out and play good basketball."

Eighteen seconds after entering, Bird swished a 17-footer, a shot that came on a Celtics play called by Tiny Archibald and featuring a Parish pick. That was the first of four straight jumpers Bird canned in the next 3:21, and his final basket, a 13-foot leaner from the lane, gave the East a 118-114 lead with 2:39 remaining. He also made four free throws, including two resulting from a rebound foul called on Lonnie Shelton with 1:34 to play that again put the East up by four, 120-116.

A Norm Nixon jumper made it 120-118 with 1:15 left. Bird rebounded a missed Jack Sikma jumper with 39 seconds to play, and the East took a timeout nine seconds later, with Fitch calling a clear-out for Julius Erving when play resumed. That strategy fizzled, however, when Sikma stepped in and took a charge, giving the ball back to the West with 17 seconds remaining.

Lex said...

Gus Williams (22 points, 9 assists) missed a three-point attempt, with the rebound going out of bounds and the ball being awarded to the West with five seconds left. That's when Magic drove the lane and failed to convert.

The game had been crammed with the requisite number of slam dunks, twisting shots, gorilla rebounds and eye-popping passes that ought to be, and often aren't, present in an NBA All-Star game. Moreover, the teams played to win, reducing individual play to a minimum. Neither club would allow the other to gather too much momentum.

The second quarter demonstrated the competitive nature of thegame. First the West, sparked by Johnson (16 points, 7 assists) moved to a 43-34 lead with 9:44 left in the half. Before the Western backers began to nod their heads too sagely, the quintet of Bird, Erving, Parish, Archibald and rookie Kelly Tripucka launched an offensive that would produce a 24-6 spread in the next 6:11. "That was a key part of the ballgame," said Fitch. "It looked like it was going to be a long afternoon for the East, but this is where we saved ourselves."

It was 63-62, East, at the half, and 90-89, East, after three. With 8:21 left, a Parish-fueled spurt peaked with a 105-97 lead. Two minutes later, the West had closed to two points, and this is where Mr. Bird returned to take over the basketball game.

His achievement surprised none of his one-day teammates. "Bird," said Bob Lanier, "is somewhat like a gem that people keep polishing and rubbing until it gets more and more luminous. He's a blessing, a blessing to the league, because he's the ultimate kind of player, be it black or white, who is necessary for the survival of this league because of his approach to the game."

Need it be mentioned that Bird was the game's leading rebounder with 12, or that he twice retreated in those final six minutes to thwart fast-break sneakaways, including once when isolated one-on-one with the speedy Nixon? It was nothing more than the kind of performance Celtics fans have come to accept as the Bird norm.

OK, so Larry Bird has won his first All-Star game MVP. Bet that it won't be his last.

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