Sports Nut

Larry Bird Still Can’t Coach

For the readers who objected to my Larry Bird article (mail in “The Fray” is now running about 500-to-1 against), I offer Game 4 as further proof that as a coach, Bird makes a great player.

End of regulation: The score is tied, Indiana has possession at halfcourt with 12 seconds to play. Any score or defensive foul likely wins it for the Pacers. Bird calls: a backdoor? A pick and roll? A setup for Reggie Miller or Rik Smits, his best offensive players? No, he calls the clear for Travis Best, the smallest player on the floor. Best dribbles down the clock while the four other Pacers do absolutely nothing—they stand and watch. The Lakers blow a switch, and Shaq, their center, ends up drawn away from the basket and guarding Best. This means that the Pacers’ tall players are now guarded by shorter men, an ideal mismatch for the Pacers. But does Best dish the ball off to one of the Indiana big men? No, he dribbles and dribbles and then launches a prayer at the buzzer, saying later that Bird told him not to give up the ball. A Boston Celtics-bred coach told a player not to give up the ball even if someone else was open????? Bird says of the play, “I thought he took a pretty good shot.” Best’s pretty good shot was an airball that missed everything by several feet.

End of the overtime: Pacers have possession at halfcourt with six seconds left, trailing by three. They’ve set up a three-point play for Miller, as they must in this situation. But wait! “The Lakers commit an idiotic dead-ball foul, which gives the Pacers a free throw while they retain possession.” Now they don’t need a three—a regular basket ties the game for a second overtime, and the Lakers will have to play without Shaq, who has just fouled out. Bird calls time to set up the new play. It’s got to be a fast drive down the middle for two, because in this situation Los Angeles will be terrified of giving a foul. But no, the play is a curl for Reggie for three—Indiana’s most hackneyed and predictable play—and he misses.

By calling for a trey attempt, Bird took a 39 percent chance (Indiana’s three-point-shot percentage on the season) of a win over a far better chance of a tie that extends the game with no Shaquille O’Neal on the floor. He did this knowing that if the shot missed, it would all but eliminate the Pacers, since no NBA team has ever recovered from a 3-1 position in the finals. An entire NBA championship gambled on an off-balance desperation three, when a high-percentage regular basket would have done just fine.

I rest my case. Either Bird can’t coach or that guy on the sidelines isn’t the actual Larry Bird. Maybe the actual Larry Bird has been kidnapped by aliens, and the guy on the sideline is an “Iranian defector” or an unemployed comic posing as a multimillionaire groom or some other kind of TV impostor.