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Larry Legend's last stand: How 24 years ago today he authored one of the greatest triple-doubles in NBA history

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Near the end of his last season on March 15, 1992, an aging and ailing Bird scored 49 points (including a running triple at the end of regulation) to lead Boston to a double OT epic win over the NBA's second-best team

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Twenty-four seasons ago on March 15, 1992, a talented and deep Portland squad entered the Boston Garden with the league's second-best record at 46-18 for a nationally-televised broadcast Sunday contest against an aging version of the NBA's team of the 1980's.

The young and hungry TrailBlazers were en route to their second NBA Finals appearances in three seasons and featured seven players who averaged between 9.7 and 25 points a game, including former Celtic standout and Oregon native Danny Ainge.

On the other coast, a Boston team featuring perhaps the oldest frontline in NBA history was struggling toward the finish line with a 35-29 record when NBC came to the Boston Garden.

Bird had been accidentally undercut in practice by teammate Brian Shaw that season, and missed 37 games during his final trying campaign.

Despite being 35 and hampered by back problems, Larry Bird responded to the challenge of the young and physical Blazers by recording a monstrous triple-double of 49 points, 14 assists and 12 rebounds, leading Boston to a double overtime classic triumph that featured 300 combined points, 152-148.

It was probably the best regular season game of the entire NBA season.

Larry, whose passing was extra sharp that day, almost always seemed to save his best for the Blazers and Hawks. It was the 59th and last triple-double of his 13-year regular season career (he posted 10 playoff triple doubles for a total of 69).

The 49 points he netted still stands as the NBA record for most points by a player in a triple-double effort. Fairness forces me to point out that steals and blocked shots were not kept as official NBA statistics until the early 1970's, however.

Bird canned eight of 12 shots in the first half, sinking seven in a row at one point, to keep Boston within striking distance down just 62-58 at the half. The determined Celtics inched ahead 92-90 heading to the fourth period.

Larry continued his hot shooting with 16 fourth period points, but powerful Portland managed to pull ahead 119-113 with 57 seconds left. Bird drove baseline, was fouled and made two free throws to cut the deficit to four.

The bruising Blazers, well aware of Larry's clutch ability even at 35, were not going to take it easy on him, punishing his back with shoves and forearms at every opportunity.

Yet Larry Bird hadn't become the best player in the world by backing down from any challenge, and he surely wasn't going to now that the end was near, even if it was going to make his back worse.

But after the Blazers ran down the shot clock, they missed and grabbed a critical offensivve rebound to all but clinch the verdict.

Buck Williams was fouled and made one of two free throws with 20 ticks remaining. Even some of the Boston fans began to file out of the Garden as NBC play-by-play announcer Marv Albert started to read off the closing credits.

However, Larry Bird hadn't given up.

Summoning up wells of energy drawn from a hatred of losing, Bird drove hard to his right past the younger 6-6 Drexler, his future teammate that summer on the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. Showing off surprising quickness, Larry canned the layup to slice the deficit to 120-117.

The Celtics fouled Jerome Kersey, not known for his perimeter shooting and nicknamed Jerome "Crazy" for his occasionally wild style of play.

To that point Kersey had enjoyed a good game and was 3-3 from the foul line. But under pressure and with the crowd screaming loudly, Kersey missed both shots and Boston had one last chance to tie it with 7.2 seconds left.

Once again, the Celts went to Larry to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Bird caught a pass from Reggie Lewis 25 feet from the hoop on the left wing, guarded closely by All-Star Drexler, who was determined not to let a relatively immobile Bird get off a potential tying three-pointer.

But Larry spun, leaned into the younger and more lithe Drexler, willing his aching body past Clyde the Glide. He leaned forward and took off into the air behind the three-point line off one foot.

Just before his right foot came down a few feet inside the arc, he slung up a low, unconventional running triple try off his right shoulder past a lunging Drexler.

Amazingly, the line drive shot rattled in with two seconds left to tie the score as the Garden crowd went wild. Bird had simply out-guiled Drexler and willed in the most unorthodox of treys at the most crucial moment.

Larry gave the three-point good sign several times by bringing his right arm down in the "basket good" sign after the shot went through to make sure everyone knew it was a three. The referees weren't going to take the last in a long line of great Larry buzzer-beaters.

McHale, Lewis and Joe Kleine all congratulated Bird with high tens and hugs, but Larry never changed expression as he trudged, tired but proud, to the bench. Despite the protests of the Blazer coaches and players, led by former Celtic guard Ainge that Bird was on or over the line, the improbable three-pointer counted to force overtime.

"Anytime you have Bird on the floor, anything can happen," Drexler told The Boston Herald newspaper after the game.

TV replays showed Bird had presciently left the ground mere millimeters behind the three-point arc, and that after "bicycling" his legs through the air to keep his feet from coming down before he released the shot, he had released the triple right before his right foot hit the parquet floor for his 43rd point.

He would hit only six more three-pointers in his career at the Garden, and that tying shot was certainly one of the most memorable in his legendary NBA tenure.

Drexler then missed a long shot at the buzzer to force overtime at 122-122.

In the first OT, Bird buried a jumper but Portland edged ahead 132-128 with over a minute left. Bird then passed out of a double team to an open John Bagley, who swished a 17-footer off the textbook bounce pass feed from the master.

Terry Porter then missed from outside and Bird, the consummate defensive rebounding forward due to his anticipation, hands and positioning, grabbed the carom. At the other end, Larry stepped back against the rough defense of Mark Bryant and swished a 15-foot fallaway from the right wing to tie it at 132.

The fadeaway was number 33's shot of choice now with fatigue and a balky back limiting his repertoire. Yet he still had guile, skill, will and determination at his disposal.

After Portland made two foul shots to go back in front, a tiring Bird missed two corner treys in the same sequence and allowed himself a rare show of displeasure as the perfectionist trod back downcourt, frustrated at the misses.

Boston needed another miracle when Buck Williams was fouled after an offensive rebound with 4.4 ticks to go and Portland up two. Again, the leprechaun (or more likely, fatigue and bad shooting) saved the Celts as Buck bricked both shots, and Bird again rebounded. The Celtics quickly called timeout with 4.1 seconds left and advanced the ball to halfcourt.

All eyes were on Bird to try another tying shot at the end of the extra session with Boston down by two, but the Blazers were not going to allow Larry to get the ball.

He was draped by both Kersey and Drexler, so sharpshooting Celtic swingman Kevin Gamble threw the pass in bounds, and then slid behind the doubling Drexler to the open corner. He took a pass from John Bagley and drained a 19-foot right baseline jumper at the buzzer to force a second extra period.

For the second time, Boston had narrowly avoided defeat with a last-ditch shpt to tie the contest. The Blazers had to be wondering what they need do to stick the final stake in the heart of the Celtics.

With Portland demoralized after two miracle shots and all their missed free throws, the Celtics took the early lead in the second OT as the Blazers missed their first five shots. Bird hung in the air and hit Bagley for a layup and the lead. McHale fouled out with 22 points while trying to block a driving Kersey dunk, but the shaky Blazer missed both shots again.

Clutch Bagley found Ed Pinckney for a layup and then buried another 18-footer for a 140-136 lead. Larry buried his final basket of the day when he head faked, then knocked down a right wing 16-footer as Williams was falling at his feet for a six-point lead at the 1:57 juncture.

When Porter missed at the other end Bryant leaped to rebound the ball, but Bird stripped him of the ball as the bruising Blazer forward came down. On offense, Larry was double-teamed on the wing, so he zipped a leaping diagonal pass across his body over the two desperate Blazer defenders. The laser feed flew just beyond the fingertips of Williams right to Pinckney under the hoop for a reverse dunk and an eight-point bulge.

Portland and their non-plussed coach Rick Adelman called timeout and the fans began their favorite chant of "LAR-RY, LAR-RY" as the beaten Blazers slumped toward the bench, trying to figure how they had lost.

Larry guarded old friend Ainge down the stretch to keep him from hitting clutch treys, but Danny still shook loose for one 28-foot rainbow swisher over Pinckney - but only after Bird had hit rookie Rick Fox with a 75-foot baseball in-bounds pass for a breakaway dunk.

Portland rallied within a basket as 20 seconds remained, yet Boston held on to win the epic game, 152-148. Drexler ended up with 41 points, but in the end he couldn't overcome Bird and the bad late Blazer foul shooting.

Larry's 49-point effort, at age 35 and with a bad back, was the second-highest scoring total in the league to that time in the 1991-92 season - only a 52-point night by Dominique Wilkins exceeded it.

His last triple-double came in 54 grueling minutes, five more than any other player in the game, even though he was the second-oldest player on the floor.

Bird canned 19 of 35 field goal attempts, including two of eight beyond the arc. He nailed nine of 10 foul shots, grabbed 14 rebounds (all defensive), passed out a dozen assists and added one blocked shot to his four steals as well.

His last truly great game came exactly seven years and three days after his career-high 60-point outburst against Atlanta in New Orleans.

The oldest Celtic, the 38-years young Parish, scored 22 points with 10 boards in 39 minutes before fouling out. Reggie Lewis netted 23 points while McHale, at age 34, added 22 and Gamble tallied 14.

Boston overcame a 58-44 rebound deficit by shooting 55 percent from the field, and their crisp passing led to 38 assists on 55 baskets. The Celtics also canned 40 of 48 from the foul line, while Portland hit on just 37 of 52 charity stripers.

Drexler added 11 assists to his 41 points, while Terry Porter contributed 29 points and Kersey added 23 markers with 14 caroms. Ainge netted 19 points off the bench in just 18 minutes against his old pals.

The inspirational, much-needed victory snapped a three-game losing skid for the Celtics, and propelled them on to a 16-2 regular season finish. It also began a 13-game home win streak that ran through the early rounds of the 1992 playoffs.

After the wearying battle - and perhaps in part because of it - Bird's back began acting up again shortly thereafter.

His last NBA regular season game, perhaps fittingly, came in his beloved home state of Indiana against the Pacers on April 3, 1992.

Larry just missed a triple-double with 16 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds in 40 minutes. Another versatile blonde forward, Indiana's Detlef Schrempf, led the Pacers to a 101-97 win with 22 points, 18 rebounds and six assists.

With his back flaring up again, Bird then missed the final eight regular season games, all Boston victories. The Celtics went 15-1 down the stretch to become co-winners of the Atlantic Division title with Rick Pitino's New York Knicks at 51-31.

The epic win over Portland, who would go on to lose in the Finals 4-2 to Chicago, changed the season into a positive for Boston when they were floundering, and was fashioned largely on Bird's force of will.

In his final season, Bird played just 45 of 82 games and had to wear a Hannibal Lecter-type full body brace for hours a day after play or practice to limit his movement and pain. After the season, he took that brace out into the woods and shot it to bits.

But still, with the bad back that forced him to lay on his stomach in front of the Boston bench when he exited a game, and two repaired Achilles tendons - at age 35 - Bird put up numbers that 95 percent of the players in the NBA would have loved to, a testament to his immense skill, guile, competitiveness, heart, size and basketball IQ.

Larry averaged 20.2 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.8 assists and 37 minutes per game in his injury-plagued and shortened final season of 1991-92. He connected on 93 percent of his free throws and 47 percent of his field goal tries, and hit the bottom of the net on 41 percent from three-point land.

Pretty good numbers for almost anyone, let alone an injured 35 year old. Scottie Pippen, among others, would love to have posted those numbers in their prime.

It is extremely doubtful that LeBron James, with a bad back and two repaired Achilles and at 35, could even approach Bird's numbers. James relies far more on speed, strength and leaping ability (plus star calls) than Bird did.

When LeBron's body starts to almost inevitably break down, his decline will be swift. For as good and hoops-smart as he is, he doesn't possess nearly the skill set, mental and physical toughness, will and basketball IQ of Larry Legend. James has been a pampered, ballyhooed and protected star from high school on - the complete opposite of Bird.

All of Larry's traits and more were on full display 24 years ago today in his last hurrah monster triple-double against a top-flight team, won by Boston in an improbable double overtime thriller.


To contact author Cort Reynolds, you can email him at cdrada2433@yahoo.com.