Larry Bird’s Absence Gave a Cocky World B. Free False Hope in the 1985 NBA Playoffs
The Boston Celtics entered the 1985 NBA playoffs as favorites, but Larry Bird’s absence gave them false hope in what became one of the most memorable playoff matchups. The Chicago Bulls dismantled the Celtics and advanced to their first-ever championship over another favorite team that overcame adversity thanks to an unlikely hero.
The “magic johnson championships” is a phrase that has been used to describe the 1985 NBA Playoffs. Larry Bird’s absence gave false hope in the playoffs, and ultimately led to Magic Johnson winning his first championship.
The Cleveland Cavaliers of 1984-85 had no cause to be arrogant. They began the season with a 2-19 record after losing their first nine games. The Cavaliers, led by shooting guard World B. Free, turned things around and made the playoffs with a 36-46 record, earning a first-round matchup against Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics.
Bird missed Game 3 of the best-of-five series due to a bad elbow, and the Cavaliers took advantage, giving a cocky Free false optimism. Bird returned for Game 4 after speaking with the Cleveland guard, sending Free and the Cavs packing for the season.
Larry Bird was unable to participate in Game 3 of the 1985 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers due to injury.
On May 15, 1992, following Game 6 of the East Conference semi-finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Boston Garden, Boston Celtics head coach Chris Ford, left, and player Larry Bird duck as they depart the tunnel. | Getty Images/Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe
In the first round of the 1985 NBA Playoffs, the Celtics were expected to easily dispatch the Cavaliers. The top-seeded Celtics won the series 3-1, but it wasn’t without some challenges.
Bird led the way with 40 points in the opening, but the Celtics struggled to hold off the visitors, winning 126-123. Bird led the way with 30 points in Game 2 of the series, a hard-fought 108-106 Boston victory.
Despite their two setbacks, the Cavaliers entered Game 3 with renewed optimism. Despite Free’s dismal shooting (9-for-22 in Game 2), they hung with the defending champs. In the first game, he went 8-for-21.
Cleveland’s fortunes improved even further when it was revealed that Bird would miss the game due to bone chips in his elbow.
In Game 3, the Cavaliers won 105-98 after Free hit 13 of 23 shots and led all scorers with 32 points.
“After the game, I told the guys, ‘Be proud of today,’” Cavs coach George Karl said, according to Fox Sports. “Don’t let Larry Bird’s absence detract from what we accomplished.” Without Larry Bird, the team would certainly win 55 regular-season games instead of 63.”
The absence of Larry Bird gave a cocky World B. Free false optimism.
World B. Free and his rainbow jumper had a happy birthday!
During the 1979/80 season, he averaged 20 points per game for the ninth consecutive season and 30.2 points per game… with a gold chain around my neck! pic.twitter.com/cCoYIXP3Lo
December 9, 2020 — Ballislife.com (@Ballislife)
Free did a lot of talking after the Game 3 victory.
According to United Press International, “With Larry Bird out roosting, the rest of the Boston players were all pent up as well.” “Build a chicken coop there.”
“Wait till Thursday night,” says the narrator (Game 4). We’ll shake and bake if we have another throng like this.”
In Cleveland, Free wasn’t the only arrogant one. According to Fox Sports, after Game 3 came to a close, the fans yelled, “We want Bird.” “They want me, they got me,” Bird stated sarcastically before Game 4.
At halftime of Game 3, Karl joked that he expected to see Bird in a uniform.
He stated, “I nearly expected Bird to come up at halftime.” “Whether Bird is here or not, you have to trust in us on Thursday.”
“I think it’s reasonable to assume Larry will be back Thursday,” Boston coach K.C. Jones said. “But we got near even without him.” In the third and fourth quarters, we came close to catching them. However, we shot badly (43 percent compared to 51 percent for Cleveland), which contributed to our defeat.”
Bird made an appearance in Game 4 and helped send Free and the Cavs packing.
Bird returned for Game 4 with the hopes of bringing the series to a conclusion. The Cavs led 66-63 at halftime, and the game came down to the final seconds.
Bird, as expected, came through for the Celtics.
Bird made seven of eight free throws in the fourth quarter and finished the game 12-for-14. With 23 seconds remaining, Bird sank two free throws, the second of which put the Celtics up 117-115, pointing towards the Cleveland crowd.
The Cavs missed two last attempts, and Dennis Johnson blocked a third to seal the win for Boston. While the Celtics won the series 3-1, the series’ final score was 449-449, which was more closer than predicted.
Despite defeating the Cavs and then the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers to reach the NBA Finals, the Celtics were beaten in six games by the Lakers in the championship round.
Larry Bird was handed a note during a game, shook his head, and walked away from history: ‘That’s Not Why I Play,’ he said.
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The “nba 2020 playoffs” is a topic that has been making headlines recently. Larry Bird’s absence gave a cocky world false hope in the 1985 NBA Playoffs.
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