Sunday afternoon in Boston, the Celtics and Pacers played an NBA playoff game so brutal that despite the star NBA talent on offer and six fewer seconds on every shot clock, the 84-74 final represented fewer points in 48 minutes than the Virginia Cavaliers and Texas Tech Red Raiders scored in 45 minutes of Virginia’s 85-77 overtime college national title victory.
As ugly games go, this was right out of the NBA’s Dark Ages between Michael Jordan‘s last game in Chicago in 1998 and the rise of guys like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and the rest of the legendary 2003 NBA draft class, a time so utterly devoid of fast-paced entertainment value that the Celtics once scored 66 points in a playoff game…and won.
But in the middle of all this, an icon for both teams — Larry Bird, the only man in NBA history to win MVP, Coach of the Year, and Executive of the Year, the first in Boston and the latter two with the Pacers — got more love than anyone on the basketball court playing in the actual game.
Larry Bird is the only person in NBA history to win the MVP, Coach of the Year and Executive of the Year award.
— BostonCelticsForever (@BostonCelts4eva) June 25, 2018
Larry Bird getting the loudest cheers of the day here at Celtics vs. Pacers Game 1 🏀
📍TD Garden, Legends Way pic.twitter.com/d8hvCFRhir
— Michaela Vernava (@MichaelaNESN) April 14, 2019
With the game tied at 45 apiece in the third quarter, the TD Garden Jumbotron showed Bird in his seat at the game…and the crowd went so wild, you’d have thought it was 1984 and you were at the old Boston Garden for the legendary Finals between the Celtics and Lakers.
“LARRY! LARRY! LARRY!” the crowd roared.
And maybe, just maybe, that might’ve been the spark that lit a fire under the Celtics’ rear ends.
After all, the Celtics were utterly putrid in the first half. They trailed 45-38 at the break after shooting 32.5 percent from the field, making just four of 17 3-point attempts, and committing nine turnovers to the Pacers’ five.
After Bird’s face showed up on the Jumbotron and the crowd got into it, the Celtics outscored Indiana 39-29. Not only did the Celtics wake up from 3-point land, hitting 54.5 percent of their long-range bombs (6-of-11) in the second half, but they held Indiana to an atrocious 2-of-19 shooting and 0-of-8 from three in the third quarter, another Indiana third-quarter collapse on national television entered the books as Pacers Twitter lost its collective mind.
Pacers got out scored 26-8 in the third quarter. pic.twitter.com/Dnyw5pQDR9
— Kory Waldron (@KWalHoops) April 14, 2019
The last time Larry Bird donned a Celtics uniform in a game was in 1992. A baby born on that day turns 27 on May 17. Fans younger than 40 have, at best, dim memories of Larry Legend at his true mid-’80s apex, unless they spend way too much time watching “Hardwood Classics” on NBA TV.
But that never stopped Boston fans from celebrating the past, since Tom Brady is the only member of Beantown’s Mount Rushmore who has played within the lifetime of most of the fans.
The other guys — Bird, the Bruins’ Bobby Orr, and the Red Sox’s Ted Williams — were way before most Bostonians’ time, yet they are all spoken of in reverent terms and, except for Williams, who died in 2002, cheered wildly whenever they make public appearances.
It was also a brilliant tactical move by the Celtics that might very well have demoralized their opponent.
After all, Bird had some legendary years in Indiana after his playing days were done.
It was Larry Legend on the sidelines coaching Reggie Miller to his only NBA Finals appearance.
It was Bird’s work in the front office that built the team that gave LeBron James’ Miami Heat teams all they could handle in the playoffs for three straight years in 2012-14.
But Larry Bird is Boston’s guy. He’s a Boston Celtic first and foremost.
That fact might just leave an even more bitter taste in the mouths of Pacers fans than putting up 74 points in a playoff game in 2019.
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