Larry Bird (left) topped Kevin McHale’s (right) Boston Celtics’ franchise record for points in a game against the Hawks. 
Photo: STEPHAN SAVOIA/AP
Photo: STEPHAN SAVOIA/AP

The night Larry Bird went for 60 against the Hawks - in New Orleans

The Hawks played 12 home games in New Orleans during the 1984-85 season. Yet what people – including several Hawks players – remember most is the Larry Bird 60-point game.

Yes, one of the Hawks’ games in New Orleans was against the Boston Celtics, and Bird lit them up.

“Oh yeah, I remember that very well,” Dominique Wilkins, then in his third season, said recently. “I remember Kevin Willis and I were like ‘He can’t be that hot. He’s shooting 3’s with his left. He can’t be that hot. I had a super game. They don’t talk about that. He had 60. That’s what they remember.”

The 60-point game March 12, 1985 at the Lakefront Arena, remains the Celtics’ single-game scoring record. Bird went 22-of-36 from the field, including just 1-of-4 from 3-point range, and 15-of-16 from the free-throw line. He played 43 minutes and added seven rebounds and three assists. Bird, who scored his final basket at the buzzer, was mobbed by teammates after the performance.

Celtics’ lore makes the performance all the more special. Nine days earlier, on March 3, 1985, Kevin McHale set the team’s single-game scoring record with a 56-point performance against the Pistons. Bird, who own the previous mark of 53 points, set against the Pacers in 1983, vowed he would regain his record. He famously said of McHale, “He should have stayed in there. Should have gone for 60.”

Then Bird did it.

The Celtics’ record for most points in a half is 37 from Bird in that game against the Hawks. He scored 32 points over a 14-minute span in the second half. 

After scoring one basket near the Hawks’ bench, Bird fell into the lap of long-time trainer Joe O’Toole.

“After the game, we were in the locker room, and I said the to the guys, ‘He scored 60, but at least I knocked him down. I don’t know what you guys were doing,’” O’Toole joked recently. “In those days, if an opposing player fell into our bench, our team was going the other direction, I would hold that guy and say, ‘Are you OK? Can I look at you?’ He wanted to get up and run the other way and play defense. I’d want to check him out.”

Bird’s performance had Hawks players on the bench overtly reacting. After several baskets, players fell into each other, or to the floor, hiding their faces in towels, marveling at what they were witnessing.

Some of those players were fined several days later when coach Mike Fratello saw footage of the reactions.

“The way he was shooting the ball was like living in a video game. It couldn’t be real. But it was,” Wilkins told reporters after the game.

Wilkins led the Hawks in scoring with a team-high 36 points. He also had five rebounds and four steals. But Bird was the story.

Bird went on to win the second of his three consecutive NBA MVP awards that season. His epic performance against the Hawks, in New Orleans, was a part of that history.

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