1984 NBA Finals Game 5
Larry v. Magic: Game-by-Game Summary
Larry v. Magic: Game-by-Game Media Coverage
The summer days of French Lick, Ind., came back to Larry Bird on Friday night. Hot days on macadam basketball courts.
The sun was beating down. The basketball was in his hands. The game was brought down, distilled, to its elemental nature. Stay all day. Play all the way. Bop till you drop.
This one was for the Michelob Light.
"Did the heat ever bother you?" Larry Bird was asked in the Celtics' locker room after their 121-103 rout of the Los Angeles Lakers in the steambath at Boston Garden.
"Nah," the Celtics' star replied. "I play in this stuff all the time back home. It's like this all summer."
You somehow could see him in the outdoor heat on the outdoor court. Doing exactly the same things. Hitting the same shots. Spinning and elbowing his way to the basket ("Foul? You're going to call a foul for that?"). Everyone else falling away, game by game, grabbing towels and sitting down next to a chain- link fence in a sweaty lump. One guy left. Still ready to play some more.
Larry Bird. Standing in the sun, the little waves of heat coming off the ground around him.
"I just wanted to get out there and play," Larry Bird said after his 34- point, 17-rebound night. "I never wanted to leave the game. I was tired at the half, but I came in here and we took cold showers,put on clean uniforms and I was ready to go again. I felt great.
"It was like we were starting a new game. I had to loosen up all over again."
What did he say when he went home at the end of last year, when the finish was those dismal four straight losses to the Milwaukee Bucks? He was going to dedicate himself to basketball. He was going to Indiana to play and play and be ready to play some more when he returned to Boston.
This was the far end of that dedication. He not only still was playing, he was bringing his teammates with him.
"I've never seen him as intense as he was tonight," Kevin McHale said Friday. "Never."
Make no mistake. If the Celtics finish their business this afternoon at the Fabulous Forum, finishing off the faster, smoother Lakers in this best-of- seven series, this is Larry Bird's title. He surely has had some help, but he has been the force behind the entire production.
He has set the never-give-up tone. When his actions didn't do the job, when the Lakers ran to their 2-1 advantage, he simply switched to words. He called his teammates "sissies" and men in need of "heart transplants." There has been a lot of talk about how tough the media was on this team when it was losing. Larry Bird was even tougher.
He has cajoled and kicked. Led by example and innuendo. When the 90- degree night arrived, he was able to kick up his effort even another notch. He even had the entire bench involved, the people who weren't playing.
Has there ever been a pro basketball bench that resembled the Celtics' bench on Friday night? There was M.L. Carr with that basket-woven fan he obtained from some guy in the stands, fanning the heat away from every starter's face. There were assistant coaches Chris Ford and Jimmy Rodgers, pounding backs, shouting encouragement as if this were the final game for the Suburban League title. There were the ballboys, running around with iced towels and cups and cups of drinks.
"For the first time since I've been here, the ballboys really did their jobs," Larry Bird said, noticing it all. "They really had those towels ready. They really were working."
The tunnel vision, the directedness of the 27-year-old man has been something special from the beginning of these playoffs. His bad games - when the shots haven't been falling - have been as good to watch as his good ones. Maybe even better.
He has fought the very percentages of life in those bad games. Everyone has a bad day, right? Everyone has those days when hammer invariably hits thumb, foot invariably trips over curbstone. Larry Bird has kept hammering and running. Forcing his luck. Making it change.
"In the overtime of the fourth game, he comes back to the bench and says, Get the ball to me and I'll drop it in,' " M.L. Carr said, talking about one of those fighting, forcing games. "Everybody goes back on the court. We get the ball to Larry. Whew. He just drops it in with 16 seconds left."
An example of his fine-tuning came after the second game in Boston, the series tied, one game apiece. To handle the long layoffs imposed by television between those games, Larry Bird had decided to do extra running after practice, thumping out laps around the Garden mezzanine while his teammates took showers and were interviewed. To do this, he was skipping the normal extra foul shooting he does.
He had missed some important foul shots during the first two games, the ball rolling off his fingers flat and dead.
"That's it," Larry Bird decided. "My foul shooting's hurting us. I'm going back to my normal routine. More foul shots after practice day."
"How many will you take?" he was asked.
"Somewhere between 100 and 150 every day," Larry Bird replied.
How many foul shots has he missed since then? One? Two? How many? He has battled his foul shooting back into step the way he has battled the other parts of his game, indeed, the rest of his team's game into step.
The more you look at Friday night's win, the better it becomes. There was Larry Bird, saddled with defensive whiz Michael Cooper for four games, taking Cooper now to every part of the court. Embarrassing Cooper every place he could be embarrassed. There were the rest of the Celtics, following Larry Bird's lead through the night, stronger and stronger. There were the Lakers. Lumps on the bench. Gasping for oxygen. Gone. Finished.
One more win today and Larry Bird will have done exactly what he said he wanted to do over a year ago. One more win.
"I'd like to get it finished," Larry Bird said Friday night. "I'd like to get it over with."
This one's for the Michelob Light.