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Sports Then and Now

NBA Flashback: Bird Overcomes Headache To Lift Celtics Over Pacers

Posted on January 23, 2010 by Joe Gill

Bird and Person battled in an epic and deciding Game Five in the '91 NBA Playoffs.

In the ’90-’91 season, the Celtics were still one of the top teams in the NBA. They finished with a 56-26 record under head coach Chris Ford and won the Atlantic division. However, everything wasn’t rosy for the Celtics especially with Larry Bird.

Age and injuries were catching up with the “Big Three”. Kevin McHale only played 68 games, Robert Parrish miraculously stayed healthy and only missed one game, and Larry Bird missed 22 games to due to a compressed nerve in his back. This would be the injury that would cause Larry Legend to retire after the following season.

Bird, at age 34, would still have a productive season. He averaged 38 minutes per game, 19.4 points (which led the team), 7.2 assists, and 7.6 boards. However, he was a far cry from the Larry Bird of old.

The Celtics faced the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs that season. Boston would split the first two games at the Garden before traveling to Indiana for Games 3 and 4. The Celtics would take Game 3 112-105, but they couldn’t close out the scrappy Pacers in Game 4. The series was tied 2-2 and set up a winner take all Game 5 back in Boston.

Larry Bird spent the night of May 4, 1991 in the hospital in traction due to his insufferable back pain. No one really thought Bird would be able to play in the deciding Game Five versus the upstart Pacers.

However, as people learned throughout Bird’s whole career, never count him out.

Larry Bird made the start to everyone’s disbelief.

Chuck Person and Reggie Miller gave the Celtics everything they could handle. Bird and the Celtics did everything in their power to stay close in the first half.

Then it happened.

Larry scrambled for a loose ball and fell awkwardly.

His head made a horrific THUD off the parquet floor that could be heard throughout the Boston Garden.

Bird's incredible return to the game after slamming his head, is what legends are made of.

He left the court and the Garden faithful were stunned. Boston was barely hanging on with Bird.

How could they win without him?

The second half started and there was no Bird. The Pacers, especially Chuck Person, took advantage of the opportunity at hand. Indiana grabbed the momentum and almost ran away with the game.

The operative word here is almost.

Almost everyone thought Larry Bird was done for the night.

Almost everyone but Larry Legend himself.

Bird came out of the Celtics locker room and onto the court in true Hollywood fashion. The crowd began to go ballistic. Momentum returned for Boston and he had #33 on his back.

Bird knew no one was going to feel bad for him, so why should he. There was a playoff game to win!

Bird re-energized his team with his spirited and incredible play. What welt on his head? What possible concussion? What bad back?

Coach Chris Ford said, “The Savior was back.”

The Indiana Pacers looked like they saw a ghost. That ghost was of Larry Bird past. Bird looked like he was back in his prime.

He terrorized and tortured Indiana. He drained three point shots over them. He drove in the lane with reckless abandon. He rebounded the ball away from them.

The Pacers were stunned. They had no answers to stop him. Indiana just had to sit back and marvel this historic performance by one, Larry Joe Bird.

The Celtics would ride the emotions and momentum of Bird’s return to secure the victory, 124-121. In 33 minutes played, Bird put up eye popping numbers by scoring 32 points, adding 9 boards and 7 assists. He matched Chuck Person’s 32 points in 10 less minutes played and with a parquet floor inflicted headache.

Larry Bird and the Celtics would lose to the Detroit Pistons in the second round, 4 games to 2. Bird would miss Game One of the series and prove to be ineffective for the remainder of the series due to his back pain which limited him significantly.

However, performances like the one on May 5, 1991 is why Larry Bird became known as “Larry Legend”.

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