In the 1984-85 season the Atlanta Hawks played a series of games in New Orleans’ Lakefront Arena. It was an effort made by the team and league to try and grow the game in a market that no longer had an NBA team. The ploy didn’t really come off, aside from one magical night when the Boston Celtics came to town.
On March 3, 1985, Kevin McHale put up a ridiculous stat line of 56 points on 22-28 shooting to go with 16 rebounds in a Boston win over the Detroit Pistons. It broke the Celtics single game scoring record during what was a banner year for McHale. Nine days later, in New Orleans, Larry Bird broke that scoring record again with an outrageous display of shooting on his way to 60 points. We recently posted Bird’s player profile, ranking him #8 all-time on our greatest players list. When we post those we like to research the player by reading what we can and watching full games if they are available. This one was a no brainer.
For someone who watches loads of NBA games each year, it is striking to watch old games and remember how different coaches rotations were. Many times teams wouldn’t sub until very late in the first quarter or even until the second quarter. In this game, Ray Williams is Boston’s first sub of the game. To complicate things for the Celtics, ML Carr and Cedric Maxwell were out injured in this game, meaning even heavier minutes for their legendary frontcourt. Dominique Wilkins took some really bad shots in the second quarter, with a couple of them leading to easy Boston run outs. Atlanta did do a great job of attacking quickly and downhill though, earning trips to the foul line and generating paint points. Boston led 65-58 after a really fun first half.
Bird was great in the first half, but nothing totally unusual in terms of how he was scoring. That is the thing about Larry Bird, though, the sheer confidence he had in his own abilities is almost staggering. He was an efficient player that commanded double teams and was able to bury really difficult shots, which he started to do in the second half.
Antoine Carr had another big dunk early in the third as the game ebbed and flowed. Danny Ainge and his quick hands started to make things happen in the period as Bird hit a pair of turnaround jumpers to push his point total to 35. In a general sense, both of these teams attacked the glass much harder than modern NBA teams do. What was surprising though, was how quick guys were to just launch the ball back towards the rim after an offensive board. Another funny thing compared to today’s league, the Hawks commentators briefly talk about how Atlanta needs to stop taking threes. How many three’s did the Hawks take in this contest? Three! Can you imagine a team today only taking three three’s in a game?
Bird hit a crazy runner to end the third quarter and put the Celtics up 100-89 after three. This shot was the first sign of the Hawks bench starting to “celebrate” Bird’s heroics. The pace of the fourth quarter slowed, however, after a game that wasn’t physical at all early on, turned more physical. Scott Wedman hit a couple of shots to start the period but Bird (now with 44 points) checked back in for the Colorado man. Wilkins started to wake up for Atlanta, getting two dunks that cut the lead to just five. At this point I have to admit that Antoine Carr is just more skilled than I ever realized. Carr finished the game 6-7 from the field, 13 points, nine boards, three assists, three steals and two blocks. Shame on me for putting Carr in his bespectacled, Utah Jazz-era box.
Larry Bird scored his 50th point on a technical free throw as Boston had taken control by that point. The last two minutes of this game are almost played like an All-Star Game with the outcome in hand and the play loose. Bird hit a wild shot from the right corner to give him 54, and the Hawks bench reactions to that shot are hilarious. Boston then fouled to get the ball back for Bird, a little lame if I’m honest, but hey, it gave us the next moment. The most outrageous shot by Bird didn’t count due to a foul before the shot. The Hawks bench reaction is priceless, with guys literally falling on each other. Finally, Boston got the ball back and Bird hit a jumper at the buzzer to give him an even 60. Celtics win, 126-115. What a fun game.