The 1991 NBA Playoffs will forever be remembered for the Chicago Bulls winning their first Championship. But what often is forgotten is the road traveled by many of its participants.
The opening round featured a matchup between the 2-seeded Boston Celtics and the 7-seeded Indiana Pacers. The Celtics won 56 games that season, started the year 40-13, and were side by side with the Bulls in the standings until Larry Bird’s back starting acting up and the green finished with a modest 16-13 record down the stretch.
The Indiana Pacers were making just their fourth Playoff appearance after joining the NBA in 1976. The fans in Market Square arena were hungry for some post-season success and the Pacers were confident they could battle the Celtics. Boston’s 90-91 team, when healthy, was a team that many thought had a chance to make a deep run.
After falling to the Knicks in shocking fashion the previous season in the opening round, Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish all came back strong despite fighting age and lingering injuries.
With the growth of Reggie Lewis as a force at 2-guard, Kevin Gamble, Brian Shaw and Dee Brown adding athleticism and youth, Celtics fans were again very excited about their team as the Garden remained a very tough place for visitors.
With Chuck Person, Reggie Miller, Detlef Schrempf (the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year) and the speedy Michael Williams, the Pacers presented some interesting match-ups. Person and Bird battled as if they had a personal vendetta. Miller and Lewis battled for five straight years in the East before Lewis’ tragic passing in 1993.
Following the Celtics winning Game 1 at home behind Lewis’ 28 points and a Bird
triple-double, the Pacers captured Game 2 in the Garden behind 39 points from Person, which included a Playoff record (at that time) 7 threes.
The teams then split a pair of heated nail-bitters in the raucous Market Square Arena before returning to Boston for a Sunday afternoon Game 5 classic. With a home crowd looking for vengeance from a year prior and a new enemy in Person, this had all the makings of a special afternoon in this win-or-go-home clash.
With Marv Albert and Mike Fratello on the call for NBC, the stage was set for drama, but what unfolded on the Garden parquet is something you could have never scripted.
This is Part 1 of The Ode to ’91…