As much as analytics have evolved the way we think about basketball, a spreadsheet will never give you the complete picture. There will always be an element of the game that you can't understand looking at a spreadsheet. The ultimate proof is Larry Bird's most fantastic game.
The Celtics defeated the Houston Rockets 114-97 in Game 6 to win the NBA championship. The Celtics ran to 67 wins during the regular season, still one of the top marks in league history, but it would have meant nothing if it wasn't capped off with a title. You can ask the Warriors about that.
Their playoff journey started with them sweeping Jordan's Bulls, despite Michael's historic 63 points performance. The Celtics then beat the Hawks in five and made the Eastern Conference Finals to meet the Bucks. However, their ECF series was anticlimactic, as it resulted in another sweep, as they only lost once on their road to the Finals vs. the Rockets.
After comfortably winning the first two games of the series at Boston Garden, the Celtics traveled to Houston and were beaten by the Rockets in Game 3. The Rockets had defeated the favored Los Angeles Lakers twice at home during the Western Conference finals, and they were hopeful of a repeat performance in Game 4 on June 3. But Boston played well down the stretch in the fourth quarter and earned a 106-103 victory to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
Game 5, however, was a complete opposite, as the Rockets blew out the Celtics by 15. The one who let the C's down the most was Larry Bird, as he only scored 17, which wasn't nearly enough to compete with Houston. The Celtics were furious with their performance in game 5 and were ready to bounce back. Larry Bird led the charge and was prepared for his retaliation.
“They weren’t beating us here today. They hurt us the worst way they could in Game 5. They hurt our pride. It’s not often that 12 guys together have on their game face, but that’s what happened today.”
C's closed the series with a Game 6 rout to win their 16th championship in franchise history and cement their place as one of the greatest teams in NBA history. The Celtics never trailed, and there were no ties. The closest spread in the final 2 1/2 periods was 11. With 7:20 remaining, it was up to 30 at 97-67. The suffocating Boston defense held Houston to 35 percent shooting in the first three periods.
Bird finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 12 assists, and he was awarded the Sport magazine MVP award. And rightly so, significantly since Bird himself believed it was the peak of his performance.
“That was the only game I thought I was totally prepared for. As far as the focus was concerned, none better. Never. I should have quit right there.”
That was your typical it's-not-all-about-numbers performance. Sure, Bird did rack up a triple-double, but as you look at the box score, it wasn't a standout shooting display, as he converted .471 his field-goal attempts. Don't get me wrong, it was far from bad, but when you're talking about Larry Bird's most magnificent individual performance, you expect those percentages to be higher.
As I said, it wasn't solely about numbers. It was about his effort on both ends of the floor, especially on the defensive side. He was all over the floor, cutting passing lanes, double-teaming and getting back to his assignment, forcing turnovers left and right, and diving for every ball. He collected three steals and completely disrupted the Rockets' rhythm on the offensive end of the floor.
The moment that best describes Bird's effort that night is when he won the jump-ball against non-other than 6-11 Hakeem Olajuwon. If that's not the effort thing, I don't know what is.
Bird led his team to the perfect ending to an excellent year, as he had already won the NBA's regular-season MVP and was named the AP's Athlete of the Year across all sports. As he rounded it up with winning the NBA title and Finals MVP, it's safe to say that was the best year of his Hall-of-Fame career.
What a way to close it, with his best individual performance ever. Typical Larry Legend fashion.