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Larry Bird's famous steal saved the Celtics in Game 5 of the 1987 Eastern semis.
Dick Raphael/NBAE/Getty Images

Bird's steal saves Celtics against Pistons


Posted Aug 24 2011 2:11PM

The defending champion Boston Celtics were down and almost out. Playing the young, tough-as-nails Detroit Pistons in the 1987 Eastern Conference Finals, the aging Celtics were in danger of losing Game 5, which would have given the Pistons a chance to clinch the series at home in Game 6.

With Boston down by a point and Detroit in possession of the ball in the closing seconds of the game, those famed Celtic leprechauns decided to make an appearance.

As Detroit's Isiah Thomas prepared to toss the ball inbounds from the sideline, Boston's Larry Bird looked away from his man and stole a glance at Thomas. He saw the Pistons' captain look toward center Bill Laimbeer in the low post an instant before releasing the ball. Bird reacted, cutting into the passing lane and stealing the ball before it could reach Laimbeer's hands.

His momentum looked like it would carry him out of bounds, but Bird somehow managed to gather his balance at the baseline and turn toward the court, where he spotted teammate Dennis Johnson beginning his cut from the foul line toward the basket. Bird whipped a crisp pass to DJ who laid it in with one second remaining for a 108-107 victory.

The steal was remarkable. Bird's instinct and ability to turn it into the winning basket only compounded the greatness of the play.

"Larry's mind takes an instant picture of the whole court," noted Bill Fitch, Bird's first coach with the Celtics. "He sees creative possibilities."

The Celtics went on to win the series in seven games and advance to the NBA Finals for the fourth year in a row, where they would surrender their title to the Los Angeles Lakers in six games.

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