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.