Celtics

Celtics

As we prepare to spend the next month or more in a vast sporting wasteland, all is not lost.

At least we've got Larry Bird videos.

Fans over 45 need no reminder of Bird's greatness, because they watched it in real time. Younger fans might wonder what all the fuss is about, since Bird didn't look particularly athletic and played in an NBA with very different rules that made for a very different game.

Bird's game, however, is timeless and would've translated to any era. Whether you watched nightly on Sportschannel in the '80s — why, hello, Mike Gorman! — or know Larry Legend only for his bad haircut, a trip down the rabbit hole can either be a nostalgic experience or a revelatory one.

YouTube is treasure trove for Bird content, and not just the obvious standout performances like his 60-point game vs. the Hawks or his playoff showdown with Dominique Wilkins in 1988.

Here, then, are 10 videos that run the gamut from the aforementioned greatest hits to some rare B sides that complete the picture of Bird at his best — confident, unselfish, fearless, one of a kind (with special thanks to Bird fanatic Ian Browne of MLB.com on a couple of the more obscure selections).

While we await the return of today's NBA, there are worse ways to spend your time.

1. Rookie breakout

Bird finished this 1980 contest vs. the San Diego Clippers with 36 points, then a career-high. The game gives you an idea of just how completely the NBA would change — with Bird leading the charge — over the course of his career.

 

You've got Rick Robey taking sweeeeeeeeping left-handed hooks and World Free gingerly dribbling into traffic. There's not a lot of movement off the ball.

Bird looks like he's playing a separate game, at a different speed. Offensive rebounding was always a sneaky strength, and he crashes the glass for putbacks with a vengeance. The highlight might be at the 1:50 mark, when he just rips the ball away from Bingo Smith and takes it the other way for a dunk.

It's either that or right at the very end, where he finds himself leading a 2-on-none with journeyman Eric Fernsten and rather than take the easy two and a shot at his first 40-point game, lays it down for the big man to score a rare basket.

2. The 1981 Finals

With all due respect to Cedric Maxwell, how the hell was Bird not the MVP of this series?

Based on this highlight reel of every point, rebound, and assist he recorded en route to his first title, Bird looks like the best player in the world. It's hard to believe this game was played only a year after the Kings one, because already the NBA is transitioning behind the dual influences of Bird in Boston and Magic Johnson in Los Angeles, faster paced and more wide open.

This series gave us the famous, "Follows his own shot!" highlight, at 1:55, of Bird missing a jumper from the right elbow and then sprinting directly to the spot of the long rebound on the baseline for the left-handed scoop. Slightly less iconic but still memorable is the steal, behind the back pass to Gerald Henderson, and fast-break reverse layup at 3:50.

This is a longer video -- almost 15 minutes -- but it's worth every second to see Bird score inside and out, with both hands, while igniting breaks with home run outlet passes.

3. Bird vs. The Boston Strangler

Every great team has its Kryptonite, and for the Celtics it was Andrew Toney.

The Sixers guard earned his nickname for just absolutely killing them in the early 80s before injuries robbed him of what could've been a Hall of Fame career. This night in 1982 was never really in doubt, with the Celtics building a 25-point lead before Tony went off to make it interesting in the fourth quarter en route to 38 points.

This game gives us Gil Santos and Bob Cousy on the call, with the Cooz referring to Julius Irving simply as, "J" all game. It also features a quintessentially Bird sequence on a night that sees him score 29 on 12-for-14 shooting. At about the five-minute mark, Kevin McHale swats the overmatched Steve Mix, who then pins him to the floor so McHale can't join the break the other way. Bird jumps to the defense of his younger teammate, and on an ensuing possession immediately feeds him the ball so McHale can put the burly, overmatched Mix in the torture chamber.

Notice the subtle way Bird points at McHale before the play even develops as if to say, "This one's coming to you, because he can't guard you." They then share a very enthusiastic high-five like, "Bleep that guy."

 

There's also a fallaway Bird hits at end of third quarter despite being blanketed. Whereas today's gunners nail step-backs like James Harden or shoot unguarded from two steps inside halfcourt like Trae Young, Bird demoralized defenses by scoring when smothered. Danny Ainge once told me that Bird was the greatest shooter he's ever seen with defenders draped all over him, and this shot is a good example.

4. The Blazers buzzer beater

Bird won back-to-back games at the buzzer in January of 1985, starting with this one against the Blazers that's a definite 10 for degree of difficulty. He effectively shoots it from behind the backboard, giving us one of Gorman's greatest calls, "Larry, fake, fallaway … hits it at the buzzer! All right!"

But there's so much more to this highlight reel than the game-winner. Bird finishes with 48 points, including a high-arcing 3-pointer over a pair of defenders at the 30-second mark that would look right at home leaving the fingertips of Luka Doncic in today's NBA.

The next night, the Celtics faced the Pistons at their home away from home in Hartford, and here's how that one ended:

5. The 60-point game

So much about this game was strange, starting with the fact that it was played in New Orleans against the Hawks, but also including the presence of legendary Yankees broadcaster John Sterling on play by play.

For Celtics fans of a certain age, it's impossible to watch this one without goosebumps, from the increasingly outrageous shots to the forget-it-we're-just-gonna-cheer-for-Larry-Bird antics of the Hawks bench.

It's kind of amazing that for a franchise as storied as the Celtics, no one has ever scored more than 60 in a game. John Havlicek never did it, Paul Pierce never did it, Jayson Tatum hasn't done it — yet.

Kevin McHale had set the previous record of 56 just nine days earlier, and Bird scolded him for not getting 60. Even 35 years later, this one speaks for itself.

My personal favorite is points Nos. 53-54, Bird catching kind of a desperate crosscourt pass from Dennis Johnson and drilling a leaner with his chest in the face of Dominique Wilkins. There's also the basket that didn't count in the final seconds, a 3-pointer in front of the Hawks bench that 1,000 percent deserved continuation and a chance at a four-point play.

6. The left-handed game

This one only reached mythic status well after Bird's career.

The 1985-86 Celtics are one of the greatest teams in NBA history, going 40-1 at home, 67-15 overall, and romping to their third and final title of the 80s. Bird delivered a number of monster performances on the West Coast in those years, the trips inevitably coinciding with winter vacation, which meant middle schoolers across New England could stay up and watch.

A bored Bird told teammates he planned to play this one left-handed, and the result seems impossible — 47 points, 20 with his off hand, as part of a 14-rebound, 11-assist triple-double. Jump to 3:55 for an example of him banking in a lefty floater for no other reason than he had promised.

 

The game was a classic in its own right. Bird nailed a (right-handed) jumper in the final six seconds of regulation to force overtime before sticking the game-winner in Jerome Kersey's face with three seconds left. This was Bird at the absolute height of his powers.

7. Bird at the buzzer (again and again and again)

Bird's last-second heroics are legendary, and one shot that many fans have undoubtedly seen is the wheeling one-footer off the inbounds from Ainge to beat the Bullets in double overtime in 1987. What fewer fans might remember is what Bird did the rest of the night.

He hit no fewer than four game-tying or go-ahead shots (including free throws) in the final seconds of regulation and OT. One was waved off because head coach K.C. Jones had called timeout, much to Bird's chagrin. He followed it with a buzzer-beating running 3-pointer around a double team to force OT. Two free throws gave the Celtics the lead with four seconds left in OT before the Bullets tied it. He then barely missed a fallaway with a second left before finally winning it in double-OT at the buzzer.

This video is also notable for the commentary of legendary radio play-by-play man Johnny Most, who loses his mind on each make. "We've seen a fantasy game, a dream game," he growls before Bird wins it. "It's good! It's good!"

8. Dueling Dominique

Brent Musberger gave us one of the most unforgettable descriptions of Bird late in this showdown with, "You are watching what greatness is all about."

With Bill Walton in street clothes and the rest of the lineup hobbled, it was really all on Bird to beat back the challenge from the explosive Wilkins in Game 7. He ended up making 9 of 10 shots in the fourth quarter for 20 points, including a lefty layup after slipping Wilkins in the final minute.

This video is most of the fourth quarter, and it's worth watching for the sheer back-and-forth drama. Wilkins delivers the game of his life with 47 points and it's not good enough, because Bird had an answer for everything.

9. Taking down Jordan

Before becoming a six-time champion and the greatest player of all-time, Michael Jordan was just another guy who couldn't beat Larry Bird.

Case in point: this 1989 mano-a-mano duel. This was the short-haired, stiff-backed Bird who had just missed all but six games of the 1988-89 season following double heel surgery.

No longer the fearless superstar who could throw himself all over the floor with reckless abandon, Bird still had guile and a killer instinct. This game includes what might be the longest hook shot of his career at about the 1:15 mark. But the standout moment is the fallaway Bird hits over the fearsome double team of Jordan and Scottie Pippen with three seconds left.

Jordan signals an irate timeout, while the home broadcaster castigates Pippen for playing behind Bird in the post and allowing him to catch the ball. "Your job is over, buddy," he says.

 

Bird would only grow slower, stiffer, and creakier as the final two and a half years of his career unfolded, but he could still deliver gems.

10. The last great game

Man, for a club the Celtics only played a couple of times a year, the Blazers sure ended up all over this list.

By 1992, Bird's greatness was limited to those rare days when his back didn't creak like the boulder blocking Lazarus's tomb. This March 1992 encounter with Clyde Drexler and Portland happened to be one of those days. We had no way of knowing that Bird would only play 13 more games before retiring, but for one glorious afternoon, he turned back the clock.

He finished with 49 points, 14 rebounds and 12 assists for his final triple-double. He also hit the awkward, wrong-footed, probably-would've-been-overturned-by-replay-today 3-pointer to force overtime. Bird digs deep into his bag of greatest tricks in the double-OT victory, knocking down unguardable fallaways, converting give-and-gos with Reggie Lewis, hitting stop-and-pops, and finishing with his left hand in traffic.

His final contribution — launching a touchdown pass to Rick Fox for the game-sealing layup after a Portland dunk — is the perfect way to end not only that game, but this story.