May-22, 1988: The Bird-Dominique Duel

From 1984-1987, the Boston Celtics went 251-77 (.765) en route to four division titles, four conference championships and two NBA crowns.  In 1988, the Celtics went 57-25 (.695) for their fifth consecutive division title.

The Battle with the Hawks

In the opening round, they easily dispensed with Patrick Ewing’s New York Knicks to face the Atlanta Hawks led by “The Human Highlight Machine” Dominque Wilkins.  The 6-7 forward was second in the league in scoring with with 30.7 points per game, just ahead of the third-place Larry Bird who averaged 29.9 points per game.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Hawks rallied back to even it with an 18 and 9 point win at home.  The Hawks then stunned the Celtics in Game 5 in Boston, outscoring the Celtics 43-27 in the fourth quarter to win 112-104.  With a chance to clinch at home, Wilkins scored 35 and future Celtic coach Doc Rivers scored 32, but the Celtics held on to win 102-100.

Game 7

After three quarters the Celtics led 84-82.  Wilkins was having a career game and had outscored Bird 31-14.  The fourth quarter became a duel between the two great forwards, with Bird outscoring Wilkins 20-16 on 9 of 10 shooting and had a critical steal from Wilkins, as the Celtics held on for a 118-116 win.  As Bird spun away to sink the game clincher, announcer Brent Musburger declared “You are watching what greatness is all about.’

Players compared to a duel with two gunslinger, with McHale adding “the only way they could have stopped Larry down the stretch was to kill him.”

Epilogue

The Celtics dynasty would come to an end, as they would lose to the Detroit Pistons 4-2 in the Conference Finals.  They would not make it back to the Conference Finals until 2002 and they would not return to the NBA Finals until former Hawk guard Doc Rivers led them to the championship in 2008 – 20 years after “The Duel”.

This season would be Larry Bird’s last healthy season, as he would miss most of the next season and struggle with back pain until retiring after the 1992 season.

For Dominique Wilkens, this would be as close to the Conference Finals as he would get. The Hawks would not reach the Conference Finals until 2015 and they have not been to the Finals since moving from St. Louis.

Wilkens would surpass Larry Bird on the career-points leader board.

NBA Table
Rank Player PTS
1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar* 38387
13. Dominique Wilkins* 26668
32. Larry Bird* 21791
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/22/2017.
NBA Table
Rank Player PPG
1. Michael Jordan* 30.12
13. Dominique Wilkins* 24.83
16. Larry Bird* 24.29

DOMINIQUE WILKENS

Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/22/2017.
Per Game Table
Season Age Tm G GS MP FG FG% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK PTS
1982-83 23 ATL 82 82 32.9 7.3 .493 .682 2.8 3.1 5.8 1.6 1.0 0.8 17.5
1983-84 24 ATL 81 81 36.6 8.4 .479 .770 3.1 4.0 7.2 1.6 1.4 1.1 21.6
1984-85 25 ATL 81 81 37.3 10.5 .451 .806 2.8 4.1 6.9 2.5 1.7 0.7 27.4
1985-86 26 ATL 78 78 39.1 11.4 .468 .818 3.3 4.6 7.9 2.6 1.8 0.6 30.3
1986-87 27 ATL 79 79 37.6 10.5 .463 .818 2.7 3.6 6.3 3.3 1.5 0.6 29.0
1987-88 28 ATL 78 76 37.8 11.7 .464 .826 2.7 3.7 6.4 2.9 1.3 0.6 30.7
1988-89 29 ATL 80 80 37.5 10.2 .464 .844 3.2 3.7 6.9 2.6 1.5 0.7 26.2
1989-90 30 ATL 80 79 36.1 10.1 .484 .807 2.7 3.8 6.5 2.5 1.6 0.6 26.7
1990-91 31 ATL 81 81 38.0 9.5 .470 .829 3.2 5.8 9.0 3.3 1.5 0.8 25.9
1991-92 32 ATL 42 42 38.1 10.1 .464 .835 2.5 4.6 7.0 3.8 1.2 0.6 28.1
1992-93 33 ATL 71 70 37.3 10.4 .468 .828 2.6 4.2 6.8 3.2 1.0 0.4 29.9
1993-94 34 TOT 74 74 35.6 9.4 .440 .847 2.5 4.0 6.5 2.3 1.2 0.4 26.0
1993-94 34 ATL 49 49 34.4 8.8 .432 .854 2.4 3.8 6.2 2.3 1.3 0.4 24.4
1993-94 34 LAC 25 25 37.9 10.7 .453 .835 2.5 4.5 7.0 2.2 1.2 0.3 29.1
1994-95 35 BOS 77 64 31.5 6.4 .424 .782 2.0 3.2 5.2 2.2 0.8 0.2 17.8
1995-96 36 Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did
1996-97 37 SAS 63 26 30.9 6.3 .417 .803 2.7 3.7 6.4 1.9 0.6 0.5 18.2
1997-98 38 Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did Did
1998-99 39 ORL 27 2 9.3 1.9 .379 .690 1.1 1.5 2.6 0.6 0.1 0.0 5.0
Career 1074 995 35.5 9.3 .461 .811 2.7 3.9 6.7 2.5 1.3 0.6 24.8
12 seasons ATL 882 878 36.9 9.9 .467 .813 2.9 4.1 6.9 2.6 1.4 0.7 26.4
1 season BOS 77 64 31.5 6.4 .424 .782 2.0 3.2 5.2 2.2 0.8 0.2 17.8
1 season SAS 63 26 30.9 6.3 .417 .803 2.7 3.7 6.4 1.9 0.6 0.5 18.2
1 season ORL 27 2 9.3 1.9 .379 .690 1.1 1.5 2.6 0.6 0.1 0.0 5.0
1 season LAC 25 25 37.9 10.7 .453 .835 2.5 4.5 7.0 2.2 1.2 0.3 29.1
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/22/2017.

LARRY BIRD

Per Game Table
Season Age Tm G GS MP FG FG% FT% ORB DRB TRB AST STL BLK PTS
1979-80 23 BOS 82 82 36.0 8.5 .474 .836 2.6 7.8 10.4 4.5 1.7 0.6 21.3
1980-81 24 BOS 82 82 39.5 8.8 .478 .863 2.3 8.6 10.9 5.5 2.0 0.8 21.2
1981-82 25 BOS 77 58 38.0 9.2 .503 .863 2.6 8.3 10.9 5.8 1.9 0.9 22.9
1982-83 26 BOS 79 79 37.7 9.5 .504 .840 2.4 8.6 11.0 5.8 1.9 0.9 23.6
1983-84 27 BOS 79 77 38.3 9.6 .492 .888 2.3 7.8 10.1 6.6 1.8 0.9 24.2
1984-85 28 BOS 80 77 39.5 11.5 .522 .882 2.1 8.5 10.5 6.6 1.6 1.2 28.7
1985-86 29 BOS 82 81 38.0 9.7 .496 .896 2.3 7.5 9.8 6.8 2.0 0.6 25.8
1986-87 30 BOS 74 73 40.6 10.6 .525 .910 1.7 7.5 9.2 7.6 1.8 0.9 28.1
1987-88 31 BOS 76 75 39.0 11.6 .527 .916 1.4 7.8 9.3 6.1 1.6 0.8 29.9
1988-89 32 BOS 6 6 31.5 8.2 .471 .947 0.2 6.0 6.2 4.8 1.0 0.8 19.3
1989-90 33 BOS 75 75 39.3 9.6 .473 .930 1.2 8.3 9.5 7.5 1.4 0.8 24.3
1990-91 34 BOS 60 60 38.0 7.7 .454 .891 0.9 7.6 8.5 7.2 1.8 1.0 19.4
1991-92 35 BOS 45 45 36.9 7.8 .466 .926 1.0 8.6 9.6 6.8 0.9 0.7 20.2
Career 897 870 38.4 9.6 .496 .886 2.0 8.0 10.0 6.3 1.7 0.8 24.3
Provided by Basketball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/22/2017.
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