The following clip shows the highlights from a classic shootout between Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. It took place on April 21, 1988
at the Boston Garden. Bird had 44 points (on 19-for-29 shooting) and 10 rebounds, Jordan had 39 (17-for-33) and 8 assists, and the Celtics beat the Bulls 126-119.
You know, a lot of people have forgotten -- or maybe never really knew -- just how good Larry Bird was back in the day. I think these same people assume that Bird, while generally a better rebounder and passer, couldn't keep up with Jordan in the scoring department. Wrong
. Unlike Jordan, Bird didn't care about winning the scoring title. And, with teamates like Kevin McHale and Robert Parish, he didn't have to.
Make no mistake, though: Bird could put the ball in the hoop. Casual fans only remember the Larry Bird of the early 90s. By that time, his back was injured so badly he was practically a cripple (and, indeed, he spent time in traction between games during the 1991 playoffs). Of course, he still averaged 20/9/7 a game during his final two seasons, which is pretty impressive considering that -- as M.L. Carr put it in Unfinished Business
-- he was playing without a back.
But it's interesting to look back at the Bird/Jordan duels of the 1986-87 and 1987-88 campaigns. Those were Bird's last two healthy years, and they were also the seasons that Jordan was at his most statistically dominant (37/5/4 in '87 and 35/5/5 in '88).
In 1986-87, Bird averaged 34 PPG (on 56 percent shooting) against the Bulls; Jordan averaged 29 PPG (on 42 percent shooting) against the Celtics. Bird outscored Jordan in four out of six games, and two of those times it wasn't even close: On March 27, 1987
Bird hit for 41 (17-29) compared to Jordan's 22 (9-23); on April 17, 1987
Bird netted 38 (17-29 again) and Jordan had only 17 (5-15).
In 1987-88, Bird averaged 34 PPG (on 59 percent shooting) against the Bulls (although he missed two of the games due to injury), while Jordan scorched the Celtics for 39 PPG (on 55 percent shooting), including one 50-point outburst. Bird outscored Jordan twice in the games they played against each other: 33 (14-21) to 26 (10-18) and 44 to 39 (as noted above). They had another great shootout on January 12, 1988
: Jordan won the scoring war 42 (19-35) to 38 (18-31), but the Celtics won the game 104-97, despite the fact that they had to start Dirk Minniefield
(who??) in place of the injured Dennis Johnson.
The point (no pun intended) of all this should be clear: When healthy, Bird could score with Jordan whenever he was inclined to do so. While many people just matter-of-factly declare Jordan as the GOAT, everyone should be aware that Larry Bird, healthy and in his prime, was as good as Jordan...even better in some areas (such as rebounding and passing). Although, admittedly, he was never as good of an individual defender as Jordan, but he wasn't quite as bad as everyone seems to think (again, most fans only remember the nearly immobile Bird from the end of his career).For the record:
The Celtics were 6-0 against the Bulls in 1986-87, and they were 3-3 against them in 1987-88. Of course, Bird missed two of the games in 87-88 (and Kevin McHale also missed one of those games); the C's were 3-1 with Bird in the lineup and 0-2 without him. Jordan finished second (to Magic Johnson) in MVP voting in 1987, while Bird finished third. Jordan won it (somewhat dubiously) in 1988, and Bird finished second.
Labels: classic duels, Larry Bird Michael Jordan, scoring