1983-84 Boston Celtics
Celtics 115, Blazers 106
There are nights when they sound like a mutual admiration society. Larry Bird talking about Robert Parish can only be embellished by Robert Parish talking about Larry Bird. But the truth is that when both men are working in concert, the Celtics are capable of playing their finest brand of basketball, and that was clearly the case in last night's 115-106 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers at Boston Garden. It was the Celtics' fourth straight victory, all at home, and set the stage for tomorrow's showdown with the Philadephia 76ers.
When you speak of this victory, it must begin with Bird, who put on one of those highlight film performances that resulted in a season high of 41 points and the most noise you'll hear from a sellout crowd of 14,890. Bird got 23 of his points in the second half to spark Boston from a 10- point deficit in the third quarter. He left no stone unturned, sinking a variety of shots (15 of 27), including a three pointer, adding 14 rebounds, a steal here and there, and enough floor burns to merit a new wax job for the ancient Garden floor.
But as great as Bird was, he is the first to tell you that he was only a tad better than Parish, who collected 34 points for the second time this year, hitting 14 of 16 shots. It was Parish who would set bone-jarring picks that allowed Bird to roam the court freely. In fact, it was Parish who carried the Celtics in the first half to 48-43 lead, scoring 21 points. But he was on the bench with five fouls when the Celtics fell behind, 69-59, and Bird made his run.
Bird led Boston on a spurt that pared the deficit to 83-82 and then the fun began. Parish came in to give Bird a one-minute rest early in the final period. Then, when Parish returned with 6:48 left, Bird immediately used two picks to hit a pair of jump shots that enabled Boston to push a one-point lead to 99-94, and Portland never got any closer than five points after that. "They were running plays for me," said Bird, eagerly willing to share the credit with his teammates, "and I knew I had Robert picking for me. I knew if I didn't have the open shot, I could drop it down to him. Things started going my way, and I kept shooting.
"A lot of people think you can come off a pick, get yourself together and make the basket. But it is the pick that makes the shot." Purists could revel in this two-man show. Sometimes it was a simple pick and roll. Other times, Parish found a wide-open Bird, who has learned never to stop looking for the ball when it goes inside to the big Celtic center. "Once you have a big man who can move like Robert," says Bird, "you've got to go to him and you also have got to use him to take the pressure off yourself. "He's the guy you have to get the ball to if you want to have success, because he's our big scorer down low. But once you give it to him, you've got to move, because you might get it back. One way I can repay him is to give him some easy baskets."
The Blazers got their big third-quarter lead with a 1-3-1 trap, principally because Gerald Henderson was in foul trouble. But as Parish pointed out, it is dangerous to depend on it too long with a Bird on the floor. "He can beat you in a lot of ways," said Parish, "not just scoring. He sets up teammates with his passing and rebounding, things like that. We wanted to make them pay the price inside. But Larry had the hot hand, so all we wanted to do was score, and he was doing a good job of that. "Our guards have geen shooting very well," Parish continued, "and teams can't double-team inside. Larry becomes a plus and, when he has his outside going, teams really have trouble."
The Trail Blazers played for three quarters like a team that will be heard from around playoff time. But most of them had to admit that they don't see many players like a Larry Bird, who can ignite a team. "We could pressure them and force turnovers and run the floor while the Celtics were missing," said Mychal Thompson. "But when a guy like Bird gets on one of those rolls, there is not much you can do." Blazer coach Jack Ramsay echoed the thoughts. His club had overcome a first half of defensive lapses, allowing the Celtics several times to sneak away for easy baskets. But he said there is little defense for a man who takes the game into his own hands.
"If you want to give the game ball to anyone," said Ramsay, "give it to Larry Bird. He makes everyone else better. He was almost a whole team tonight. He made everything happen. You get so concerned with him that other people get open, and he finds them." Bird said he appreciated the praise but didn't think his club played all that well. "We should have had them down by more at halftime," he said. "We had two opportunites to blow it open and never did get the momentum. "In the second half, we just fell apart for a time. It takes a total team effort when you get get down by 10, not just one or two individuals. We had a whole team pointed in one direction, and the defense was tougher down the stretch."