"No," said Thomas.
"Well, you're through now because it's my turn," said Bird. And it was. Bird took over the game, and the Celtics won 130-123.
It's someone who, though disciplined and studious in his approach to the game, lives for its spontaneity and freshness. "I think Larry gets bored out there sometimes," says teammate Danny Ainge. "I notice that he passes up these incredibly easy shots, and you can sense him thinking, 'Well, why don't I drive down the lane, get a few guys on me and see what happens?' " Bird confirms that. "It happens. I do get bored. Then I look for a way to make it interesting," he says.
He has been able to make it interesting for a variety of reasons, reasons that transcend whatever he lacks in natural quickness and jumping ability. "Trying to get a book on Larry Bird," says Pacer assistant Mel Daniels, "is like trying to get a harness on the wind. You come up with nothing." Here's why he's the best player in the game today and, quite possibly, the best ever:
Above all, it is Bird's ability to hit a shot under pressure that makes him great. Scott Wedman may beat him in H-O-R-S-E now and then, and Ainge took him for $35 in a game two weeks ago in Seattle, but turn on the TV lights and put 15,000 hostile fans in the seats and Bird has no peer. His winning 18-of-25 performance in the three-point field-goal contest on NBA All-Star Game weekend proved that. "When I found out Birdie could make 10 grand shooting baskets in one afternoon," said McHale, "I knew it was all over."
Bird does take—and miss—many low-percentage shots, horrible shots that would earn a lesser player pine time. But that is part of his game, part of his aura. He is constantly communicating the idea that he can do anything out there, and indeed, some of his off-balance uglies go in. "I'm like a gymnast," says Bird. "I'm into degree of difficulty."
PUMP FAKES AND STEP-BACKS
No one has as many moves to set up a shot as Bird. "Sometimes I fake myself out," he says. But that's rare. Says Wedman, "Larry makes the defensive man play him. After a while, his man doesn't know whether he's coming or going." Bird's quick release and set-shot motion make possible his moves—his actual shot looks just like his ball fake. "I think the key to his repertoire is his step-back move," says Clipper assistant Don Casey. "He opens the distance between himself and his defensive man very quickly. Then the defensive man steps up even more quickly to close it, gets off-balance, and Bird's around him." Indeed, when Bird goes into his assortment of fakes, he often leaves a trail of defenders who look like they're in a pogo-stick competition, as he did last week against the Warriors when he got Purvis Short, then Larry Smith up in the air before going around them both to score.
By unofficial count, seven of Bird's 21 field goals against Portland on Feb. 14 were shot with his left hand. Newell calls his ability in that area "phenomenal." San Antonio's David Greenwood, a former Bull, remembers a game in Chicago in which Bird was calling out his wrong-handed shots. " 'Left hand, left hand,' he kept yelling," said Greenwood. "And he hit everything, including a lefthander while going out of bounds." Bird does eat and write with his left hand, but so do many other athletes (teammate Bill Walton, for one) who don't have Bird's lefthanded athletic abilities. The simple truth is that he has worked long and hard developing a lefthanded shot, and the awful truth for opponents is that he's getting better at it.
Can there be any doubt that Bird is the best passing forward in history, better even than the creative Rick Barry? No, says Newell. "He's got to be one of the best passers of all time, including guards. You can't teach what he does." In an open-court fast break, Magic Johnson is still more effective, but in most other situations the nod goes to Bird. Lately, without the injured McHale in the Celtic lineup, Bird has been doing a lot of posting up down low, getting the ball and deliberately, very deliberately, drawing players over to himself before he zips the ball crosscourt to Dennis Johnson, Ainge, Wedman or Jerry Sichting for the open jumper. Or he'll try the exotic. Against the Warriors, possibly in one of his bored moments, he drove slowly to the corner and picked up a triple-team. The next thing Walton knew, the ball was coming to him from between Joe Barry Carroll's legs. "I'm not sure how I did that one myself," said Bird. Says Cousy, "I think we could both throw, not the unorthodox pass, but the unexpected pass."