Boston Celtics: Larry Bird
BOSTON -- Boston Celtics guard Avery Bradley had two admissions after Tuesday's win over the Milwaukee Bucks: 1) He's never seen the famous Larry Bird behind-the-backboard shot and 2) his copycat version was pure luck.
When Jared Sullinger's off-balance jumper missed the rim midway through the first quarter, caroming high toward the baseline, Bradley swooped in to corral the ball while drifting out of bounds. With less than a second on the shot clock, Bradley alertly sent a high-arcing shot over the backside of the backboard and it splashed through the twine.
"Honestly, that was just a lucky shot," Bradley said. "I didn’t even know how much time was left. I just wanted to get the shot up. ... I heard my teammates yelling, so I just threw it up."
During a preseason game in Hartford in 1986, Bird lost control of the ball on the blocks and was forced to shoot the ball from almost directly behind the backboard (a slightly higher degree of difficulty).
But that didn't stop Bradley's teammates from making the obvious connection after splashing the shot usually reserved for a game of HORSE.
"Larry Bird," Sullinger said when asked if he'd seen anything like Bradley's bucket. "But that was pretty impressive."
I still cringe when I hear Johnny Most’s gravelly voice scream, “Now there’s a steal by Bird!” It’s been 25 years, but it still hurts.
Larry Bird’s steal of Isiah Thomas’ inbounds pass in 1987 is the ultimate buzzkill for a Detroit sports fan. I’ve seen it hundreds of times, and it still upsets me.
The Pistons had lost to the Celtics in the 1985 playoffs but had a chance to go up 3-2 in the 1987 Eastern Conference finals.
Isiah already was a great player in his own right. The six-time All-Star (and three-time All-NBA first-teamer) was in the prime of his career and had built a reputation for being clutch. In the 1984 playoffs, Zeke poured in a remarkable 16 points in 94 seconds of a game to force overtime against the Knicks.
With 5 seconds left, there he was, the team’s best player, on the most famous floor in the sport, with a chance to steal the game. He saw Bill Laimbeer -- his friend who co-captained the Bad Boys ship -- in the backcourt. One of the great passers in the history of the NBA, a man who had averaged 13.9 assists per game two years prior, threw a soft pass.
Bird not only made the steal, but threw a perfect pass to Dennis Johnson, who finished with the reverse.
Two and a half decades later, I can watch the “underneath to DJ, he lays it in” part. For many years, I couldn’t watch it. But with some perspective and time, that seminal play is not only one of the Zapruder film clips of the NBA, but also meaningful for what it stood for.
Sometimes, no matter what you do, somebody is going to be better than you.
BOSTON -- Celtics captain Paul Pierce leapfrogged Larry Bird to move into second place on the franchise's all-time scoring list during Tuesday night's tilt with the Charlotte Bobcats at TD Garden.
After looking like he was pressing a bit in the first half, Pierce buried a 3-pointer from the right wing with 10:23 to go in the third quarter to move past Bird. Play continued as the crowd serenaded Pierce with a long ovation, which continued as Jermaine O'Neal committed a shooting foul (and got tagged with a technical as well).
Finally, during the first full timeout following the milestone, Pierce was honored on the JumboTron with a video tribute and went to halfcourt to take a bow as the crowd roared again.
"Whenever you pass anybody in Boston, that means you’re old, No. 1," Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked before the game. "That’s the only way you can get there. You’ve had to play a long time because the history of this franchise and the numbers that are amassed. It’s just amazing -- his longevity and he’s been relatively injury free. He’s been so consistent throughout his career.
"Passing Larry Bird in anything is pretty impressive."
Pierce, who entered the game nine points shy of Bird's mark, got his first bucket of the game on a layup with less than three minutes to go in the first quarter, then added an and-1 drive later in the frame. Pierce produced a jumper midway through the second quarter, but simply couldn't get the record before intermission. He missed seven shots in the first half (3-of-10, 7 points), including all five attempts from beyond the arc.
Bird registered 21,791 points during his career. Pierce now sits 28th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (33rd if you include ABA scoring). He will soon leapfrog another former Celtic in Gary Payton (21,813) and is on the heels of San Antonio’s Tim Duncan (22,009) with eyes on the top 25.
Big Three brethren Ray Allen (24th) and Kevin Garnett (19th) are already in that club, as are Celtics legends Robert Parish (23,334 -- 18,245 of which came in Boston) and John Havlicek (26,395). The 34-year-old Pierce likely would need to maintain a high level of play for at least three more seasons beyond this one to have a chance at catching Hondo for the top spot on the Celtics’ all-time list.
[Hop HERE to read the full postgame story on Pierce's accomplishment].
Brendan Jackson of True Hoop affiliate, CelticsHub, starts with Pierce during a question about the league's most currently underrated small forwards:
Some consider Paul Pierce over the hill. Celtics fans think he's better than LeBron. The truth is that he's somewhere in between. Consistently underrated throughout his career, Pierce is still performing at a high level despite being nearly 34. He's top five in PER among similar small forwards and leads that group in true shooting percentage.
Jackson also stumps for Bird in a question about the best small forward of all-time.
When you think of the best NBA small forward of all time and your mind doesn't immediately go to Larry Bird, there must be some pretty hefty extenuating circumstances. Bird dominated the game in so many different areas: he scored, he rebounded, he defended, and most importantly he won: three NBA championships and three MVP awards by the age of 29.
Meanwhile, ESPN the Magazine's Chris Palmer puts together a look at the current top 5 small forwards in the league and ranks Pierce at No. 4.
"The Truth" is one of the most respected and cagiest veterans in the league. For all Pierce's skill, his biggest contributions could be in the intangibles department, specifically his devotion to team chemistry. He's one of the best leaders to wear Celtics green and, despite his All-Star pedigree, he excels in the dirty-work phases of the game like taking charges and setting picks. Pierce plays through injuries, coaches on the floor and encourages teammates to self-police in the locker room.
Oh, yeah: He can shoot, too. Pierce has consistently been a threat from behind the arc for years, but he loves to take full advantage of the decidedly unglamorous 6-to-10 foot jump shots that so many players simply don't have in their game. Paul has never dominated with raw athletic ability but has been effective by outsmarting defenders with quick cuts to the rim and disorienting up-and-unders. Around the basket he frees himself up with convincing pump fakes and expertly leans in to give the illusion that he's falling off-balance to get the call. His savvy in the lane is one reason Pierce has managed to stay relevant for so many years.
* Forsberg's thoughts: Nice to see both Bird and Pierce in the spotlight in today's 5-on-5 (even if someone suggested Scottie Pippen was a better overall player than Bird). As for Pierce, we'll hop on that "undervalued" band wagon. After taking a bit of a hometown discount last offseason while inking a four-year extension (this after opting out of the final year of his contract), Pierce put together another brilliant campaign, ranking in the 95th percentile (1.091 points per play) on offense and the 76th percentile (0.835 points per play) om defense. Considering the overall strength of that position league-wide, it's just further proof of how good Pierce is and how much we take his production for granted at times.
And on the 18th anniversary of his death, let us not forget another great Celtics small forward in Reggie Lewis.
Good to be back in Boston?
"Well it's always good to come back. I don't get out here as often as I like, but it's always good to get back out here. A lot of memories out here."
What does the Lifetime Achievement award mean to you?
"What is it? I've got a lot of life to live. I think it just recognizes the fact that over the course of the years that I had some success and I'm really grateful about it. Like I said, it's always good to get back to Boston and receiving an award is the icing on the cake."
Favorite memories playing for the Celtics?
"Well I can remember the first time I walked into the Garden, I wasn't very impressed because I had to sit in the stands. But once we started playing here I thought it was awesome. The history, and the fan support, being on some great teams, it's memories you'll never forget."
What do you think when you look up at the banners?
"Well I'll probably look up there and pay my respects to DJ [Dennis Johnson] and Reggie [Lewis], because I know how important it was to them to have their numbers in the rafters. DJ with the fine career he had and Reggie's was cut short, but just thinking of them."
Will this city always hold a special place for you?
"I don't know. I guess. I sure enjoyed my time out here. I grew up here. I got out of college and was driving out here, didn't know what to expect, but things turned out pretty good. I thought we had a good enough team maybe to win one to two more championships and we didn't do it, but we played hard, we played hurt, and we played to win."
Do next year's Celtics still have enough to make a run?
"Well they're still very talented. Any time you have a talented team -- There's probably four to five teams in this league that can possibly win a championship, and they're one of them."
"It's always good to come back," Bird said prior to the ceremony. "I don't get out here as often as I'd like, but it's always good to get back out here. A lot of memories here. I think (the award) just recognizes the fact that over the course of the years that I had some success and I'm grateful about it. Like I said, it's always good to get back to Boston and receiving an award is the icing on the cake."
Here's more from ESPN Boston's Greg Payne:
Bird, who's stay on stage was longer than that of the other honorees, reflected on his time in a Celtics uniform.
"I really feel bad because we just won three championships," Bird said. "We were better than that. (1987) was probably my proudest season because the guys were really banged up and we made it to the Finals and had a chance. Kevin (McHale) had a broken foot he was playing on, Robert (Parish) had bone spurs in both ankles, Danny (Ainge) had a hip injury or a back injury. I was the healthiest one. But that was a gutsy team."
When asked if he would have broken up the original Big Three of him, McHale and Parish sooner in an effort to rebuild, Bird shook his head.
"Absolutely not," Bird said. "That's what Boston stands for. Respect. If you give it all you've got, play as hard as you can, [the fans] will come out and support you. Not only for that game, for your whole career. I know, I lived it."
Click HERE to read the full story.
The 1986 Celtics lost only three postseason games, two of which came against the Rockets (the other against the Hawks in the Eastern Conference semifinals). Boston produced a three-game sweep of the Bulls in the first round, then took out the Bucks in four games in the conference finals.
Maybe our favorite thing about the 1986 Celtics: The salaries (see the snapshot from Basketball-Reference.com below). Bird made a team-high $1.8 million. The Celtics' 12-man roster as a whole earned a combined $12 million, or not even what Paul Pierce made last season ($13.9 million).
O'Neal had been asked if he had any allegiances to the Celtics as a kid, which launched him into story mode:
"Not at all. I was a Magic Johnson man. True story: I had a best friend in Georgia, this white guy named Mitch Rawls [note: forgive us if the spelling is incorrect]. He looked just like Larry Bird. He was Bird and I was Magic. We were best friends, but we'd fight every day. We'd have seven-game series every day and we used to fight. Then when I moved to Germany, his father got transferred with my father, so we just kept it going over there.
"I didn't like the Celtics because my best friend was Bird. He had the same little nose as Bird and the long hair. And I hated him, so I hated [the Celtics] guts. As I became a student of the game, I found out about this great team and all the great players, all the Hall of Famers. Then I met Larry Bird one day, coming out of college, and Larry Bird said I was going to be the best player in the world. I always thought that was a compliment from the great Larry Bird."
Asked about any particularly memorable moments from that childhood rivalry, O'Neal's eyes lit up.
"I remember one time, I pushed him out of bounds and he shot that [expletive] over the backboard, just like Bird did [in a 1986 preseason game against the Houston Rockets]. He shot it right over the [expletive] backboard and it went in. He's running around and so we got into a fight. I beat him up. It was intense. Mitch Rawls. Maybe he'll find this and give me a call."
Shaq's got plenty of free time now. Give him a call, Mitch.
[Mavericks coach Rick] Carlisle has gone to great lengths during Nowitzki's playoff surge to dismiss longstanding and increasingly frequent comparisons between the two, noting that Nowitzki is nearly three inches taller and plays mostly as a power forward, while Bird operated as a small forward for the bulk of his career.
Bird, though, acknowledged in a phone conversation Tuesday before Game 1 of the Finals that he does see "a lot of similarities."
"He's had a great run (in the playoffs), but I've always been very impressed with him," Bird said. "His work ethic, his loyalty to his country. It's really an honor for me to have people compare us.
"He rebounds. He plays at his own pace. He sort of controls the tempo on offense. It'd be nice to be 7 foot and when they run plays and switch (defenders) on him, it doesn't bother him at all. He can see over everybody.
"He's got the step-backs. He gets to the rim. The difficulty of some of the shots that he makes ... one thing about him is that he's always got great balance. His shot looks like he's falling away, but he's got a lot of balance when the shot goes up.
"I understand (the comparisons). I've always felt it's an honor when they compare anyone to me, because I haven't played ball for 20 years."
Check out the full article for more from Bird, including the fact that you might be able to take him in a game of H-O-R-S-E nowadays.
First Take debates whether it's fair to compare Dirk Nowitzki and Larry Bird (and before your blood pressure approaches dangerous levels while waiting for the video to load, the overwhelming consensus is that, no, it's not a fair comparison).
We all know the feeling of finding a modern version of buried treasure. It can be finding a $20 bill in a pair of jeans, a $100 bond that your grandparents bought at your birth, or one of those rare pieces of sports memorabilia in your basement that hasn't surfaced in years.
During a not-so-routine cleaning in my basement the other day, I had my own version of the glowing suitcase in "Pulp Fiction." The hard-plastic trunk was cracked, but in it, safe and sound, was the mother of all collectibles for a kid who grew up in the '80s: The 1980-81 Topps hoops card that features Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in their rookie seasons. To boot, it has the great Julius Erving between them.
Click HERE to read the full story.
"I just got a text message from Larry right as the game ended saying to congratulate Dirk and that he's always been a huge fan. They've had a chance to spend some time together. I'm sure he's going to text Dirk and I'm sure that will be very meaningful for Dirk." -- Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle
Click HERE to read the full story.
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