Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins combined for 36 points in the fourth quarter of an unbelievable Game 7 of the ’88 Eastern Conference Semis.
Every day for the remainder of the NBA Playoffs, TSF will profile a playoff game or series and an individual performance. Today we’ll take a look at the epic duel between the Boston Celtics Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins in Game 7 of the 1988 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
The Atlanta Hawks blew a golden opportunity to finish off the Boston Celtics in Game 6 the previous Friday in The Omni. Not only were the Hawks kicking themselves, but Larry Bird issued a grim prediction as the Celtics would host Game 7 in Boston Garden: “
They might as well forget it, they’ve got no chance…They had a chance to beat us and we all knew if we lost it meant vacation tomorrow.”
If the Hawks were rattled by the legend of Bird and the Game 7 mystique of the Boston Garden, they did an exceptional job of hiding it. Point guard Doc Rivers was stellar with 16 points, 5 rebounds and 18 assists. Randy Wittman scored 22 points on 11-13 shooting and center Kevin Willis was a rock in the middle with 10 points and 11 boards.
The Celtics came prepared to end the Hawks season. All five starters in scored in double figures — accounting for 110 of 118 points. Kevin McHale and Robert Parish combined for 47 points and 18 boards.
Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins were primary contributors throughout the series. Wilkins was averaging nearly 29 points per game. Nique’s offensive attack resembled a tornado — a twisting powerful phenomenon when witnessed from afar — leaving more than its share of wreckage when in full display. Larry Bird was good for more than 25 points per over six games. Bird didn’t have the athletic prowess of his counterpart, but could produce as much havoc when given minimal space as most players could with the entire floor at their disposal.
The Celtics held an 84-82 lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter when Bird and Wilkins engaged in a battle between two elite superstars rarely seen in a game with such high stakes. Both players stuck to their signature repertoires, for every Bird pump-faking fall away jumper, there was a pirouetting Wilkins double-clutch layup in the lane. Eight additional players occupied the floor, but for Bird and Wilkins, the arena might as well have been empty as each player emptied his basketball soul on the floor that afternoon.
Just when it seemed the Hawks had the Celtics bags packed for the summer, ghosts and leprechauns of seasons past were summoned. Bird took a pass and drove from the right side of the lane with power forward Cliff Levingston on his hip and flipped up an improbable left-handed floater over the outstretched arms of seven-foot center Tree Rollins for two of his team-high 34 points. It was the sort of magic which got the Boston Garden crowd going. Despite Wilkins’ 47-point effort filled with bank shots, dunks — including a rarely seen perimeter outburst from The Human Highlight Film — it was the Celtics moving on the Eastern Conference Finals with a 118-116 victory.