Cooper Clips Birds' Wings
May 27, 1984
Larry Bird will be the first to tell you it's tough to fly when you have your wings clipped.
Boston's All-Star forward was upset about not being able to get his game off the ground during the Lakers' 115-109 victory in Game 1 of the NBA Championship Series on Sunday. Game 2 will be played Thursday night in Boston.
Bird scored 24 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, but he had only two field goals in the first half when the Lakers cruised to a 13-point lead. And he was shut out in the fourth quarter after helping the Celtics cut an 83-64 deficit to four points.
Afterward, the media beat a path to Michael Cooper's locker to ask the Lakers' versatile swingman how he was able to deny Bird the ball and cage him up for extended periods of time.
But Bird had his own theories.
''They played me pretty well,'' Bird said. ''They doubled me down low and made me pass the ball back out and it was tough to find an open man. I just didn't have anybody to pass it to. We just didn't rotate our offense.''
In many ways, Bird was a victim of Boston's surprisingly stagnant halfcourt offense. The Celtics shot just 43 percent and were a shadow of the powerful team that thundered to nine consecutive home playoff victories before they were brought back to earth by LA.
The Celtics looked like department store mannequins. They rarely moved without the ball, hardly ever cutting down the middle to the basket. Bird, smothered with attention, shot just 7-for-17.
''I missed four open jumpers in the first quarter,'' Bird said. ''All from about 15 feet. We took the ball down low and had some success, but, in the first quarter, we couldn't even make foul shots. We fell behind pretty quickly and our confidence was pretty much shot from the outside.''
Bird was reluctant to give Cooper all the credit for denying him the ball in scoring position.
''You can't rely on one guy,'' he said. ''If Michael Cooper played for Cleveland, it would be a lot easier shooting the ball, because Cleveland doesn't have the players. They don't have the 7-foot-4 guy (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) playing behind me and they don't have Magic Johnson coming down, trying to reach in and steal the ball away.''
Bird is the key to whatever chance the Celtics have of getting back into the thick of the series. He is a brilliant instinctive player who some say actually coaches the Celtics on the floor.
But Bird can only take the Celtics so far when suddenly erratic center Robert Parish plays only 27 minutes because of early foul trouble and Boston coach K.C. Jones tries to match skinnny 6-2 guard Gerald Henderson on the 6-9 Johnson.
The 37-year-old Abdul-Jabbar, playing as if he had discovered the fountain of youth, dramatically outplayed the 7-foot Parish, scoring 32 points and contributing eight rebounds. Johnson had 18 points and 15 assists, orchestrating the Lakers' frighteningly effective fastbreak.
''We like to run,'' Bird said. ''But there's no way we can run as good as they can. We're a good running game. But we're not as good as they are.''
An interesting admission, especially from the central figure of a team that is notorious for its fastbreak.
That the Lakers shot 73 percent in the first quarter and went on to score 115 points is all the more impressive when you consider that Los Angeles was coming off a grueling 99-97 victory over Phoenix in the Western Conference final Friday night and spent Saturday flying to Boston.
''Once you get your momentum going, it's tough to stop somebody,'' Bird said. ''They'd been playing right up to the time they'd come in. The only thing they could have had was a little jet lag from flying cross-country, but they overcame that and they showed they were true champions.''
Could the Celtics, who clinched the Eastern Conference title last Wednesday, have gotten too much rest?
''I don't like to get into all that stuff,'' Bird said. ''That's a bunch of baloney. They beat us. They beat us pretty good.''
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