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Editor’s note: “Distant Replay” is an occasional feature from The Athletic re-examining notable games from Boston sports history. Read more Distant Replays.

Game 5 of the 1991 first-round series against the Indiana Pacers might not be the most elegant or important game of the original Big 3 Celtics era. But this game has lived on in Celtics lore for one reason: Larry Bird’s incredible return from smashing his head on the parquet floor.

The 34-year-old Bird had missed 22 games that season due to a compressed nerve and ruptured disc in his back and the pain had gotten so bad that he spent the night before Game 5 in traction in the hospital. When Bird had back surgery after the season was over, the surgeon said, “I don’t see how he played with what he had.”

Nonetheless, Bird was out there in an elimination game, leading with his ground-bound wizardry even if he looked like he would shatter if he tried to land from a layup. He was just starting to find his rhythm when, at the 4:37 mark of the second quarter, he dove after a loose ball. Bird went for it with his right hand and tried to brace for impact, but the hand couldn’t break his fall. He landed on his stomach and violently smashed his head on the ground.

“When I hit the floor, I thought I broke my jaw, because I couldn’t move my mouth,” Bird told the Pacers website in a 2004 piece pairing his interview with that of Indiana’s Chuck Person. “I was in a lot of pain, but I could hear the crowd out there and I thought, ‘I can’t leave those guys out there all by themselves.”

Bird lay motionless as the Pacers ran the floor to draw a foul, but he soon got up and walked back to the locker room. It would turn out he broke his cheekbone and he was told his night should be over.

“The doctor told me I probably had a concussion and they didn’t think I should go out there with both the back and the damage I did to my brain,” Bird said. “I rattled it a little bit.”

When he later jogged back out to the court buttoning his white warm-up jacket halfway through the third quarter, the crowd went into a frenzy as Bird settled in a crouch in front of the bench. Coach Chris Ford called a timeout and the Garden erupted, greeting the check-in process with a feverish standing ovation the entire way through.

“I thought, ‘Well, here’s the second coming,’” Person later told the Pacers’ site. “He definitely played ungodly the rest of the way. For a guy who could’ve broken his neck or fractured a jaw or something, he really came out and performed at a level he’s accustomed to playing at.”

There was this special sense of relief, as much as it was a thrill. When Bird had run off into the locker room, everyone hoped he would return, and many probably expected it. But there remained this gnawing fear that Bird would never emerge from that tunnel and that was the last of one of the most beloved athletes Boston had ever seen.

“I kept hearing the crowd oohing and aahing, and I kept asking what the score was,” Bird said. “I had this massive headache on the right side of my head but finally I decided, ‘This could be your last game ever, so you’d better get out there and give it all you can.”

He checked in to what had become a high-paced fast-break game since his departure, with both teams knotted at 73. NBC color commentator Mike Fratello prudently warned that Bird was in for a tough moment, coming in cold from the locker room to an uptempo game that would be a great challenge for an elder statesman with a terrible back. Naturally, the ball was inbounded to Bird, the Pacers trapped him with their full-court press and he had to give the ball up. Indiana was going to make this as hard as possible for him.

So the Celtics immediately went to 37-year-old Robert Parish, who hit a gorgeous hook shot from the low post. Bird then took a wide-open 3 on the next possession and clanked it off the back rim, which prompted Person, nicknamed The Rifleman, to bury an off-balance heat-check 3 of his own and run back on defense holding his arms out and goading the crowd into a shower of boos. Parish answered back with a turnaround jumper in the post before Detlef Shrempf drove on Bird to draw the foul. The game was hitting a crescendo, and Bird looked like he might not be ready to take over.

Then he grabbed a rebound off a Reggie Miller miss, scanned the floor and floated a perfect full-court pass to a streaking Reggie Lewis for an easy lay-in. A few possessions later, Bird grabbed a rebound, brought the ball down the floor as the Pacers elected not to press and buried a 20-footer to prompt an Indiana timeout.

Coming out of the break, the Celtics stayed small, subbing Kevin McHale for Parish and sticking with Bird at the four to match up with Schrempf, the Pacers’ great sixth man. The Pacers would play in a box scheme, with their wings starting on the block and their bigs up high. Center LaSalle Thompson would come down to the block to set pindown screens to free Person or Miller, then float back out toward the perimeter to try to keep McHale away from the boards.

But Bird was somehow getting up in the air to win the battle on the glass and on the first play out of the timeout, he grabbed the rebound off a Miller miss and immediately launched another brilliant downfield pass to Lewis ahead of the break for the finish. On the next play, he blew by Shrempf and hit a floater just over LaSalle’s outstretched arm. He followed it up with a baseline spin out of the high post to draw an and-one on a reverse layup. A few plays later, he hit a fadeaway in the post and drew a foul, prompting Fratello to exclaim, “How many times does he drive that spike through your heart with shots like that?”

Bird was officially back and the Celtics were off and running. What had been a one-possession game for most of the third quarter opened up to a nine-point lead heading into the fourth. Bird scored 12 points over those six-plus minutes in the third.

It’s a good thing he returned because he ended up passing John Havlicek as the franchise’s all-time leading playoff scorer in the quarter. Had he remained in the locker room, the Celtics likely would have lost the game, the series and, perhaps, Bird to retirement. He ended up playing almost 12 straight minutes before Ford gave him a breather, going big by putting in McHale next to Parish against the Pacers’ small lineup. They had opened up a 110-96 lead with eight minutes remaining, so it was the right time to give Bird some rest.

As Bird lay on his stomach to stretch out, the Pacers started aggressively full-court trapping against the big Celtics lineup. It led to a sloppy first possession that ended with a Parish offensive foul, followed by a brilliant move by Pacers guard Michael Williams to score at the rim. Ford called a timeout after a few more buckets were exchanged, but decided to keep Bird on the bench for the time being and stay big against the Pacers’ small lineup. A minute later, Ford realized he had to bring in Bird and reunited the Big 3 on the floor for what could have been the last time.

The Pacers kept pressing and running, capitalizing on Celtics misses and forcing three straight turnovers. Schrempf hit a floating finger roll over Parish and Bird to make it a three-point game with 1:42 left and suddenly, Bird’s return seemed all for naught. The Celtics frontcourt was old and slow and the young Pacers were running all over them. Indiana’s pressure never abated, culminating in McHale catching the ball in the face of a trap as the Celtics tried to break the press up two with 23 seconds left and accidentally committing a backcourt violation.

The Pacers posted up Person, who had been on fire earlier in the game. Bird guarded Vern Fleming on the entry pass and shaded himself just in the right spot to take away the passing lane. As Fleming drove toward the middle to try to find an angle, Person surprised him and cut up to the 3-point line, presumably to drive the middle. But Person shocked everyone and turned around to launch a wild 3, bouncing off the rim into Celtics guard Brian Shaw’s hands.

“I didn’t want to go into overtime here,” Person said in the bowels of the Garden after the game. “So I went for it.”

The game would end 124-121 in Boston’s favor. The Celtics went on to play the Detroit Pistons, who knocked them out in six games. Bird played one more year before retirement. But the Pacers series drove home how the league was changing, and becoming inhospitable to older, slower players like Bird.

“The quickness they had to take us off the dribble, I know Kevin McHale and Robert were saying, ‘Maybe it’s time to quit because these young guys are starting to take over the league,” Bird recalled.

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Jared Weiss is a staff writer covering the Boston Celtics and NBA for The Athletic. He has covered the Celtics since 2011, co-founding CLNS Media Network while in college before covering the team for SB Nations CelticsBlog and USA Today. Before coming to The Athletic, Weiss spent a decade working for the government, primarily as a compliance bank regulator. Follow Jared on Twitter @ JaredWeissNBANational

Person, who had been on fire earlier in the game, was posted up by the Pacers. Bird stood watch over Vern Fleming at the entry pass, positioning himself to block the passing lane just so. Person startled Fleming by cutting to the 3-point line, presumably in an attempt to drive the middle, as he was trying to find an angle. Person, however, stunned everyone when he spun around and blasted a wild three that bounced off the rim and into the hands of Celtics guard Brian Shaw.

Bird recalled, “I know Kevin McHale and Robert were thinking, ‘Maybe it’s time to quit because these young guys are starting to take over the league,’ because of how quickly they took us off the dribble.”

Jared Weiss works as a staff writer for The Athletic, covering the NBA and the Boston Celtics. Since 2011, he has covered the Celtics for SB Nations CelticsBlog and USA Today. He co-founded CLNS Media Network while still in college. Weiss worked for the government for ten years prior to joining The Athletic, mostly as a compliance bank regulator. Follow Jared on Twitter @ JaredWeissNBANational.

The 37-year-old Robert Parish was the first player the Celtics looked to when he hit a beautiful hook shot from the low post. On the following possession, Bird took a wide-open three and clanked it off the back rim. This prompted Person, also known as The Rifleman, to bury an off-balance heat-check three of his own and run back on defense while extending his arms and inciting jeers from the crowd. Parish retaliated with a turnaround jumper in the post, and Detlef Shrempf then fouled Bird. The match was reaching a peak, and it appeared that Bird might not be prepared to assume control.

In a 2004 interview that paired his with Indiana’s Chuck Person, Bird said to the Pacers website, “When I hit the floor, I thought I broke my jaw, because I couldn’t move my mouth.” “Even though I was in excruciating pain, I couldn’t leave those guys out there by themselves because I could hear the crowd.” ”.

Why did Larry Bird drop out of Indiana?

Birds played for the Indiana Hoosiers under Bob Knight for just one month. Despite receiving a full scholarship, Bird chose to leave school in 1974 and return to his hometown of French Lick, where he briefly enrolled at Northwood Institute.

Bird tells us in Winning Time that he left school because he missed home and didn’t fit in with the Indianapolis city people. This is an accurate portrayal of Birds real-life experience.

Luckily for Celtics supporters and for Bird, he returned to basketball in 1976.

What really happened to Larry Bird’s father?

Winning Time is far from a documentary. It can be so wildly theatrical and exaggerated that it is at times blatantly ridiculous. Nevertheless, the third episode of Season 2 was a superb telling of Bird’s tragic and unique beginnings.

Birds parents, Georgia and Claude Joseph “Joe” Bird, lived in poverty for years in French Lick, Indiana. That inspired Larry Bird to pursue a career in basketball to improve their living situation. Georgia was a waitress who, as Bird has stated, sacrificed to provide for him and his siblings. She has yet to appear in Winning Time, but Joes story of struggling with alcoholism and depression was a central part of Sundays episode.

In the episode, Larry tells his father that he left Indiana University when he goes to see him in French Lick. Joe is upset by this news and feels that Larry is squandering his talent. Additionally, he informs Larry that life will be better without him.

Joe won’t appear in the episode again until February. 3, 1975, a tragic day for the Bird family. A year after Georgia and Joes divorce, Joe committed suicide. When Bird returns to Joe’s house after learning that something happened to his father in Winning Time, he discovers Joe lying down dead next to a gun. Joe Bird was 48 when he took his own life.

The shows depiction of Joe Birds suicide was mostly accurate. Its uncertain whether Joe ever actually told Larry hed be better without him, but he did call Georgia threatening suicide. Its also unclear how Bird really learned the news of his fathers death.

Bird hasnt often publicly discussed his fathers suicide. He did, however, open up about it in a 2015 interview with Indianapolis Monthly.

Bird remarked, “I kind of always felt like my dad gave up on himself and us kids.” “I still lived with my mother and two younger brothers.” That is how I have always looked at it, both then and now. I handled it pretty good, I think. ”.


Did Larry Bird have any weaknesses?

Consequently, he doesn’t have a weakness.” While it may be a bit hyperbolic to say that Larry’s game was without a weakness, he was certainly playing flawless ball between 1984 to 1986 when he won his three straight MVPs. At his peak, Bird was peerless, the best player on the court on any given night.

What is Larry Bird’s temperament?

Bird’s aggressive and domineering style of play on the court mirrors his personality as a challenger, often described as confident and unapologetic in his actions.