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YouTube Gold: “Bird Steals The Ball!”

One of the greatest moments of an unbelievably great career

Boston Celtics Larry Bird, 1987 NBA Playoffs
UNITED STATES - MAY 21: Basketball: NBA Playoffs, Boston Celtics Larry Bird (33) victorious, hugging Dennis Johnson (3) after Johnson made game winning layup on Bird’s steal off inbound pass vs Detroit Pistons Isiah Thomas, Boston, MA 5/21/1987 
SetNumber: X34887 TK4

Since we just did the famous 1965 John Havlicek steal, it seems like it ought to be bookended with the 1987 Larry Bird steal.

The two iconic Celtics made very similar plays years apart.

In Havlicek’s case, he was cleaning up after a rare Bill Russell error in crunch time.

In Bird’s case...he was cleaning up after himself.

Detroit had managed to contain Bird in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals to some extent. Bird had gotten into foul trouble, carrying five, and had only scored two points in the fourth quarter.

With time nearly out and Boston up 107-106, Bird got a pass from Dennis Johnson and tried to juke Rick Mahorn. He drove left around the big man heading for the baskets but his shot was blocked and it went out of bounds off of Jerry Sichting (serious question: was Sichting the last former Purdue player to win an NBA title?)

Isaiah Thomas took the ball out and passed it in, but back toward’s Boston’s basket where Bill Laimbeer lurked.

Big mistake.

Bird rushed back and took the ball away from Laimbeer, then teetered on the baseline as Johnson, who Bird called his best-ever teammate, rushed in. Bird got him the ball, Johnson laid it in, and the Celtics were up 109-106 with :01 to go.

Two things we never really noticed or thought much about: first, given that Bird truly loathed Laimbeer, he must have relished cutting his heart out and stomping on it on the floor of the Boston Garden.

And second, the look on Bill Walton’s face as he tried to process what Bird had just done, is pretty amazing.

Incidentally, this is the entire game, so settle in for a classic.