Larry Bird

Larry Bird earned his second Finals MVP award after leading the Celtics past the Rockets in six games.

Larry Bird had won his second consecutive Most Valuable Player Award the previous year, but the loss to the Lakers in the Finals weighed heavily on his mind. In much the same way that Magic Johnson had been driven all during the previous season by the Lakers' failure in the 1984 Finals, Bird set out to find a way to lead the Celtics back to the top. He did so by finishing in the NBA's Top 10 in five categories: scoring (25.8 ppg), rebounding (9.8 rpg), steals (2.02), free throw percentage (.896) and three-point field goal percentage (.423).

The Celtics had also made an important addition with the acquisition of Bill Walton, who came from the Los Angeles Clippers in a trade for Cedric Maxwell. Walton, plagued by injuries for years, shocked NBA observers by playing a career-high 80 games as a valuable backup to Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. The contributions of Walton and fellow reserves Scott Wedman and Jerry Sichting alleviated some of the burden from the Celtics' starters, and propelled Boston to a franchise-best 67-15 record, including an astounding 40-1 home record. The Celtics swept Chicago, defeated Atlanta in five games, and swept Milwaukee to reach the Finals.

The Lakers had won 62 games, but were shocked in the Western Conference Finals in five games by the Houston Rockets, who under former Boston pilot Bill Fitch were employing a Twin Towers look with 7-4 Ralph Sampson and 7-0 Hakeem Olajuwon playing together. Houston had won the Midwest and won two Playoff series, but when the Lakers took Game 1 in the Western Finals, NBA fans got ready for another Boston-LA meeting in the Finals. But the Rockets surprised everyone by taking the next four straight games to advance to the Finals. Playing at the top of his game, Bird averaged 24.0 points, 9.7 rebounds, 9.5 assists and led Boston's double-teams of Olajuwon and Sampson as Boston took its 16th title in six games.

With Olajuwon and Sampson, the Rockets had brought a new wrinkle to the NBA. In the days of George Mikan, and later, with Wilt Chamberlain, Bill Russell, Nate Thurmond and Wiilis Reed, success in the league had been measured by how good your best big man was. Houston decided to take that formula a step further with their two uncommonly agile big players. But the Celtics, unlike most teams, had the answers with Parish, Walton and McHale, complemented by double-teams from Bird and Dennis Johnson. Although the Celtics received much praise for their unselfish, crisp-passing offense, it was their defense that brought down Houston.

"I don't remember the last time I was hounded by a team more than I was today," Sampson said after Game 6. "Every time I touched the ball, there were two and three guys around me. And that went for Hakeem, too."