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Larry Bird helped guide the 1984-85 Boston Celtics to a 63-19 regular-season record and a make a return trip to the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers. He also wrapped up his second consecutive MVP honor after putting up 28.7 points, 10.5 rebounds, and 6.6 assists. While Bird accepted his MVP trophy after his stellar season, members of the Boston Celtics staff showed signs of concern.

Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics took charge in the 1980s

Boston Celtics star Larry Bird (center), Celtics’ President Arnold “Red” Auerbach (left) and Celtics’ Head Coach K.C. Jones (right) clasp hands at a press conference at Boston Garden to announce Bird’s signing of a contract of over $15 million for seven years.

In just his second year in the NBA, Bird guided the Celtics to the first of five trips to the NBA Finals in the 1980s. After winning Rookie of the Year honors, Bird helped Boston to a league-best 62-20 record (tied with the Philadelphia 76ers and Milwaukee Bucks) in the 1980-81 season.

The Celtics outlasted the 76ers in seven games in the ’81 Eastern Conference Finals to advance to the championship round against the Houston Rockets. Bird won his first of three titles when the Celtics knocked off the Moses Malone-led Rockets in six games.

Boston returned to the Finals in 1984 when they rallied from an ugly start to stun the Lakers. Boston was badly outplayed in Game 1. The Celtics needed a desperation Gerald Henderson steal late in Game 2 that forced overtime and allowed the Celtics to pull out the win. After getting blown out in Game 3, Boston’s Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis, changing the momentum in Game 4 and helping Boston overcome a six-point deficit in the third quarter to tie the series.

The Celtics won the series in seven games, and the teams met up again in the 1985 NBA Finals. The Lakers got their revenge, winning in six games. Boston returned to the Finals the next two seasons, defeating the Rockets in ’86 and losing to the Lakers in ’87.

Bird led the charge during that stretch. He won three straight MVP from 1984-86.

Larry Bird accepted his second MVP award despite playing with bone chips in his elbow

Bird was the runaway winner for the MVP of the 1984-85 season, earning 73 of 78 first-place votes. He became the first non-center to win consecutive MVPs. While Bird dominated the regular season, he struggled a bit during the postseason.

As the season wore on, Bird developed bone chips in his right elbow. He played in pain through the playoffs, even sitting out Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers when the Cavs posted a 105-98 win. Bird returned in Game 4, scoring 34 points as the Celtics closed out the series.

The elbow clearly hindered Bird, who didn’t use it as an excuse for his shooting woes. During the regular season, Bird shot 52% from the floor. Since sitting out against the Cavs, Bird made just 43% of his shots.

“It locked up on me in Cleveland,” Bird said, per The Los Angeles Times. “But two or three days later, it felt better.

“It’s always stiff. But the question is how much extension I can get. If I can only get 70% to 80%, I’m in trouble. But if I can get 90% extension, it doesn’t bother me. The last couple of weeks, it’s felt really good. It hasn’t bothered me at all.”

The Boston Celtics coaching staff grew concerned over the injury

Even though Bird refused to let his sore elbow be an excuse for his shooting slump, the Celtics coaching staff thought otherwise. Head coach K.C. Jones just nodded his head in the affirmative when Bird said it was just poor shooting but knew the elbow was a problem.

“Sure, it’s the bone chips in the elbow and everything else that’s affecting his shooting,” Jones said. “I know the rhythm of his shot. I know it’s not there. But when I ask him about it, he says the shots just aren’t falling. I say OK. What else can I say?

“He won’t complain because he would see that as a sign of weakness.”

Assistant coach Chris Ford, a shooter during his playing days, said it was obvious the elbow was affecting Bird.

“Anybody who knows anything about shooting can detect it,” he said.

The staff grew concerned over the injury, knowing surgery would be a problem. Bird wanted no part of an operation.

“That’ll take 10 or 12 weeks of my summertime to recuperate,” Bird said. “I want to keep improving my game. If I lay around, I won’t improve.”

Nearly two weeks after Bird accepted his MVP trophy, Celtics GM Jan Volk said everyone decided on rest.

“We had a meeting, and it was agreed that Larry would rest his elbow and hope that it will be better that way,” Volk said.

The plan worked as Bird responded by winning his third straight MVP the following year.


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