Boston Celtics

This Date in NBA History (May 26): Larry Bird's iconic steal in Game 5 of the Conference Finals vs. Detroit Pistons in 1987 and more

On May 26th in 1987, Larry Bird stole an inbound pass from Isiah Thomas and dished it to Dennis Johnson for a layup, which turned out to be the game-winner in Game 5 of the Conference Finals against the Detroit Pistons at the Boston Garden.

The layup gave the Celtics a 107-106 victory, the closest margin of any game in the series, and a 3-2 series lead.

Prior to this possession, a shot by Thomas gave the Pistons 106-105 lead with 17 seconds left. Coming out of a timeout, the Celtics looked to score through Bird, but his layup attempt was blocked and the ensuing fight for the ball resulted in the Pistons getting the ball back with five seconds remaining

That's when Bird came up with one of the greatest plays of his career:

If it wasn't for the steal, the Pistons were looking at a chance to wrap things up in Game 6 at home and advance to their first NBA Finals appearance in over 30 years.

In the previous four games of this series, the home team had won by an average margin of 16.5 points. So, winning this game on the road could have been huge for the Pistons. Instead, the Celtics prevailed in a hard-fought Game 7 and advanced to their fourth straight Finals, where they would lose in six games to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Despite the disappointment, the play turned out to be a defining moment for the Pistons.

The following year, in the 1988 playoffs, the Pistons would win not one but two games at the Boston Garden en route to a six-game Conference Finals series victory against the Celtics.

Other notable events from May 26th

  • In 1999, "The Bill Russell Tribute" is held at the FleetCenter in Boston in a ceremony to salute the Hall of Famer. The ceremony was hosted by entertainer Bill Cosby and featured a star-studded lineup of celebrities and sports legends.
  • In 1999, Toronto Raptors' Vince Carter was named Rookie of the Year. Receiving 95.8% of the votes, he averaged 18.3 points, 5.7 rebounds, 3.0 assists, 1.54 blocks, and 1.10 steals while shooting 45.0% from the field.

Game-winning buzzer-beater on May 26th

Robert Horry vs. Sacramento Kings in 2002

Notable playoff eliminations on May 26th

  • In 2015, the Cleveland Cavaliers book their ticket to the 2015 NBA Finals with a 118-88 Game 4 win over the Atlanta Hawks. This was the franchise's second Finals appearance and the first since 2007. This was LeBron James' sixth overall trip to a championship series and fifth straight - making him the first player since multiple players from the 1960s Boston Celtics to reach five straight NBA Finals.
  • In 2012, the Boston Celtics booked their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals with an 85-75 Game 7 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in the Conference Semifinals. This was the Celtics' third Conference Finals in the previous five years (2008, '10, '12).
  • In 2011, the Miami Heat sealed their spot in the NBA Finals with an 83-80 Game 5 win in the Conference Finals against the Chicago Bulls. It was the franchise's second-ever appearance in the championship series and the first since 2006. It was also LeBron James' second appearance in the Finals since 2007.

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