Larry Bird Shooting Slump? Things Got Ugly for the Boston Celtics Star En Route to His First NBA Title in 1981
As a rookie, Larry Bird made an immediate impact with the Boston Celtics. He took a team that won 29 games the year before he got there to one that led the NBA with 61 victories. Bird was named Rookie of the Year, and the Celtics reached the Eastern Conference Finals.
In his second season, aided by a trade with the Golden State Warriors that brought back Robert Parish and Kevin McHale, Bird and the Celtics earned the first of their three championships of the decade. While Bird had another super season, he suffered through one of the worst shooting slumps of his career.
Even Larry Bird had his shooting slumps
There wasn’t a whole lot Larry Bird couldn’t do. Arguably the best passing forward in NBA history, Bird was also as clutch as they come and was a player who made his teammates better.
Early in his career, the three-point shot had little effect on his game, but he proved he could knock ’em down when necessary. Bird remains the only player to capture three straight NBA All-Star Three-Point Contests, winning the event in its first three years of existence. Bird did prove that even the best can go through ugly slumps.
Bird’s ugliest shooting slump of his career came in early January of his second NBA season. While the Celtics were hot on a West Coast trip, Bird suddenly got stone cold.
In 1981, the Celtics headed into a Jan. 1 game against the lowly San Diego Clippers riding an 11-game win streak. They pulled out an 88-85 victory despite Bird making just four of his 17 field-goal attempts. He misfired on his last nine shots of the game. The following night, things got much worse for the Celtics star.
Against the Golden State Warriors, Bird had the worst night of his career. He missed all nine of his shots and went scoreless for the only time in his 13-year career as Boston fell 121-106. Bird went 86 minutes and 34 seconds of game time without scoring from the floor in that two-game stretch.
Bird battled back and took things out on the Portland Trail Blazers
It was only a matter of time before Bird would get back on track, and he did so on Jan. 4 against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Bird found his groove, making 14 of 21 shots and finishing with 33 points. The Celtics got back into the win column and began a string of 13 straight victories to improve to 43-9.
The Celtics went on to finish with a record of 62-20 and earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Bird and the Celtics avenged their previous year’s loss to the Philadelphia 76ers in the conference finals. They squared off again in the ’81 conference finals, and the Celtics outlasted Philly in seven games.
The Celtics went on to face the Houston Rockets and knocked them off in six games for their first championship of the decade. Boston also added titles in 1984 and 1986.