In truth, Bird's playoff performance to that point had been long on courage but somewhat lacking in results. His sore back had kept him from doing much shooting between games, something he considers essential. It also had limited the various pump-fakes and dipsy-doodle moves he uses to extricate himself in post-up situations. Over the next 11 minutes, however, Bird played about as well as one man can play, never mind one with a bad back and a bruised face.
He rebounded a Pacer miss and fired an outlet pass to Reggie Lewis, who scored on a layup. He assisted Lewis on a short jumper. He made a 19-foot jump shot from the left side. He rebounded and threw a long chest pass to Lewis, who dunked. He drove on the right side and lifted a shot high off the glass for a field goal. He drove under the basket for a reverse layup, drew a foul and made the free throw. He posted up Sanders, once again drawing contact, converted the fallaway jumper from the corner—as the ball went through, Bird dropped almost to his knees and shook his fist at the ground as if after a triumphant roll of the dice—and made the foul shot for another three-point play. He found Brown for a basket on the break. He made two free throws. He took a perfect pass from Parish for a layup. By this time, Bird's head didn't hurt—Indiana's did. Ford took him out for a rest with 7:02 remaining and Boston ahead 110-96.
The legend was intact. The lead wasn't. And Bird knew it. "I didn't want to come out then," he said later, though exactly when Bird does want to come out of a game is not clear. "I knew they'd be trapping, and I thought my passing ability might help."
All that and prophecy, too. The Pacers did trap, and the Celtics went into the NBA version of a prevent defense, playing tentatively and conservatively instead of attacking. By the time Ford put Bird back into the game, with 4:12 to go, Boston had only a 116-107 advantage, and the momentum had turned.
Over the next few minutes, various Celtics took turns scrambling the eggs. Shaw traveled. Bird threw away a pass. Parish had a ball stolen from his blind side. McHale had a backcourt violation. With 22.8 seconds remaining, Boston led 120-118 and Indy had the ball. And the ball, everyone knew, was going to Person.
One fascinating subplot of this series was the emergence of Celtics forward Derek Smith as Boston's master of mayhem. Smith, who had spent most of the regular season on the disabled list (he has had four knee operations in the past five years), was dispatched to cover Person. That put Bird on the much quicker Vern Fleming, but Fleming eschewed at least two chances to drive in favor of getting the ball to Person, who was trying to carve out a postup position against Smith. Smith docs not carve easily. Finally, Person moseyed outside and shot an off-balance three-pointer from the left side.
He missed, and Shaw, after being fouled, made both free throws to give Boston a 122-118 lead. Person bolted downcourt and launched a three-pointer from about 35 feet. One would call the resultant swish improbable, unless one had been witnessing Person's radar throughout the series. The basket—which gave Person 32 points—brought Indiana to within one, 122-121.
Shaw was fouled again, this time with 1.5 seconds left. He made both shots, and Schrempf's last-second length-of-the-court heave didn't come close. One wonders if Person somehow wouldn't have put it in from a mere 90 feet.
Person was gracious after the game and even paid a visit to the Celtics' locker room to congratulate Bird, who by that time had disappeared. A few minutes earlier, Bird had been asked about Person's incessant talking: "Yeah, it is a little sweeter, I guess, since we beat Chuck. We've had a lot of good battles. But it always seems like I get the last word."
No mean feat that. But The Rifleman had had the last word in Game 4, when after scoring 12 straight Indiana points in the final five minutes, Person backpedaled downcourt, gestured wildly to the crowd and shouted. "Nobody can guard me! Nobody! I'm a bad man!"