Bob Ryan Weighs in on Bird v. Nique


It's risky when discussing the Celtics and assorted happenings in the Garden to overrate events that have just taken place. But surely yesterday's Game 7 with Atlanta will take its place in the pantheon.

But let's not forget the Detroit 7 of a year ago, when the Celtics scored 36 points in the fourth quarter and the Pistons scored 34. And Milwaukee 7, when the Celtics had to come from 8 down in the final five minutes, wasn't bad, either.

There will always be a special place in everyone's heart for Philadelphia 7 in 1981. The Celtics were coming from a 3-1 deficit and had just won a dramatic Game 6 by 2 points in Philadelphia, but then found themselves down by 9 with five minutes left. The noise level at the end of that one may never be exceeded here.

Old-timers will vouch, and rightly so, for the very first Game 7, the extraordinary double-overtime conquest of the Hawks on April 13, 1957. Others swear nothing has ever been better than Syracuse 7 in 1959, a game in which the Celtics went from 16 down in the second quarter to 7 up in the fourth, to 3 down, to a 5-point victory.

But it's doubtful any of these games, as emotional as some of them were in context, were ever waged at a higher artistic level than the one we were all privileged to see yesterday. The Hawks came out and absolutely hit the Celtics with their best shot. The game had no dead spots -- none. It had subplots (Reggie Lewis, Antoine Carr). And in the fourth quarter it had the spectacle of Bird vs. Wilkins, two great athletes making all those long, lonely hours of practice pay off with demonstrations of basketball expertise the Garden fans and televiewers will never forget.

Had this been played against a vintage Philly team or against Los Angeles, people would be quicker to elevate it to its proper place. Like the extraordinary Phoenix Triple OT Game, it's a bit harder sell because people don't associate the Hawks with anything in particular.

But they should. The Hawks participated in one of the handful of great games that have ever been played in the nation's most celebrated basketball arena.

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