You cannot measure a Renoir or state with certainty which is the best meal ever prepared. And you can't measure the greatness of a Larry Bird.
There is no "best" Bird performance. His truly
great games -- and this must qualify as an upper-echelon performance --
each have an individual texture and flavor. Nor is there any way to know
exactly what he's capable of on some future evening, not that you could
ever tell by numbers alone.
Last night's numbers were
good enough. Bird came up with 24 points, 18 rebounds and a season-high
13 assists. But those cold figures do not convey his effect on the game.
In the second half, he was Art Tatum, a virtuoso standing so far above
his sidemen that accompaniment was superfluous. Indeed, the Celtics were
at times a hindrance to Bird, whose performance directed them to a
91-74 victory over the Knicks.
In the final 19:43 of
the game, Bird scored 20 points. The Knicks, meanwhile, scored 24. As
always, the Knicks battled and scratched against a physically superior
foe, and with 7:43 left in the third quarter, they were ahead, 50-45, in
part because of Boston's horrifying carelessness with the basketball
(the Celtics would finish with 24 turnovers) and in part because New
York really is capable of playing excellent defense.
this point, Bird had taken three shots, and his only basket had come
via a Patrick Ewing goaltend in the first quarter. He had gone into the
locker room with seven assists (he was making New York pay for its
double-teaming) and 11 rebounds. Offensively, however, he had not really
"In the first half," explained K.C.
Jones, "he didn't have the ball much. I said, 'Hey, he should have the
ball. It's that simple. The way we were going, we were still back in the
air, still back in Hartford, still on the bus coming over here. We
needed to get moving."
And so they gave Larry the ball.
It was 50-47 when Dennis Johnson hit Bird with a bullet on a
right-to-left cut across the lane. Bird softly laid in a backhander
after taking the ball in the air. He was fouled. He sank the shot, and
the game was tied. For the final time.
He was ready.
Before the quarter was over, he spun into the lane for a scoop (52-50);
swished a fast break three-pointer (55-50); fed Greg Kite for a
pick-and-roll dunk (59-54); sank two free throws (61-54); stole an Ernie
Grunfeld entry pass and followed at the other end with a post-up
1958-style Bob Cousy scooper (63-56); and, for an appropriate finale,
threw in a step- back, ceiling-scraping, buzzer-beating fadeaway to make
it 65-56 after three.
He concentrated on passing in
the final period, during which the closest New York came was seven at
67-60 with 9:56 to go. Boston's response was a quick run of 8-1 that
concluded with a nice drive and pitch-back by Jerry Sichting to Robert
Parish, who sank a soft jumper to put Boston ahead by 14 (75-61) with
Parish (20 points, 11 rebounds) and
Bill Walton (15 points, 14 rebounds) vied for the Best Supporting honors
on an evening when the Celtics struggled for 2 1/2 periods against a
team which shot 35 percent for the game in its own building.
York had spotted the Celtics a 10-point (28-18) second-quarter lead
before submitting its most significant statement of the evening, that
being a run of 11-2 which pulled them within one at 30-29 with 5:14
remaining. There was parity for the rest of the half, and with 32
seconds left, New York surged ahead on a basket by dynamic Gerald
Wilkins. DJ and Wilkins matched free throws, and thus New York walked
off with a 40-39 halftime lead.
The Celtics putzed
around at the outset of the second half, first running off six straight
to go ahead, 45-44, and then ceding New York six straight to fall behind
by that 50-45 count.
The Celtics called time out and
promptly conjured up a 24-second violation. But Parish took Ewing to the
hole for two free throws for the first of what turned out to be 12
unanswered Celtics points, eight quickies by Bird and the final two on a
bizarre hoop by Walton, whose pass intended for Bird was batted into
the air by Bob Thornton and knocked into the basket (the second time
this has happened to Walton in two weeks).
From then on, it was an extended Bird solo.