On this day in Boston Celtics history, legendary forward Larry Bird stole the ball and passed it to point guard Dennis Johnson for the winning layup in a wild, 107-106, Game 5 victory over the Detroit Pistons in the East Conference finals of the 1987 NBA playoffs.
Detroit point guard Isiah Thomas had scored a late basket to put the Pistons up 106-105 with 17 seconds remaining. When Bird tried to respond with a layup on the next play, it was blocked. Detroit got the ball back, and the game seemed all but over with just five seconds remaining.
But, the Hick from French Lick picked off the inbounds pass and connected with Johnson for the win.
In 1999, a “Bill Russell Tribute” was held at the FleetCenter (today’s TD Garden) to honor the Celtics legend’s Hall of Fame career.
Guests included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Tom Brokaw, Jim Brown, Bob Cousy, Wilt Chamberlain, Johnny Mathis, then- NBA commissioner David Stern and Bill Walton among many others.
The event lasted more than two hours and even featured a videotaped greeting from then-President Bill Clinton.
“The one thing I don’t like about these (ceremonies) is they’re so serious,” said Russell via the Hartford Courant’s Alan Greenberg.
“When they introduce me, it sounds like my obituary. I’m not dead yet. But I know I’m getting old because I talk about what I’ve done, rather than what I’m going to do … I don’t compare myself to anyone, as far as who is the best player.”
“All I do is put up the rings,” he added.
It is also the anniversary of the Celtics eliminating their Atlantic Division rivals, the Philadelphia 76ers, in Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference finals.
The 85-75 triumph came via a strong performance by point guard Rajon Rondo, who put up 18 points, 10 rebounds, and as many assists. Kevin Garnett added 18 points and 13 boards.
Paul Pierce chipped in 15 points and 9 rebounds, and forward Brandon Bass scored 16 points as well.
“Last year is in the past,” Rondo said via the Associated Press. “This year we’re a totally different team. We feel we can beat Miami. We got to this point; there’s no doubt in my mind we can. We’ve got to go down there and take care of business.”
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