The greatest duels in sports become immortal when the stakes are highest. In the NBA, the most epic battles are well documented, from Russell versus Chamberlain to Bird versus Magic. But if there was only one that could be chosen based on a single game, the choice is simple.
Venture back to 1988, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. The venue, none other than the storied Boston Garden where two of the games biggest stars were set to square off. The Human Highlight Film, Dominique Wilkins, brought his A+ game; but on the other end, Larry Bird would equal it. While both Wilkins and Birds’ games were polar opposites in their playing styles, it made for classic showdown that would go down in history.
First, let’s set the scene. Leading into the final game, Boston won the first two contests, then the upstart Hawks took the next three including Game Five on the parquet. The Celtics would fight back and claim a 102-100 nail-biter in Atlanta. As Game 7 began, it was obvious from the outset that the sixteen banners that hung overhead did not intimidate the Hawks in the least bit as they held a two-point advantage heading into the final quarter. But what happened next seems to be straight out of a comic book.
Nique had dominated the matchup thus far, while Bird, who had 14 points, was having an average game by Larry Legend standards. When the lights became brightest and the series on the line in the final 12 minutes, Bird unveiled his full arsenal: the jumper, the drive, the floater, and even the prayer. However, Wilkins would match with the dunk, the spin, the jumper, and the bank. The back-and-forth mirrored what many would consider to be a prize fight.
Dominique was amazing, scoring 47 point on a ridiculous 19-23 shooting. A performance that would typically win your team that game, especially when 14 of those points come in the fourth quarter. But on this day it was Bird’s 34 points, 20 of which came in the fourth, that would have the Celtics eventually squeezing out a two-point win. The battle that took place is arguably the greatest scoring quarter of all time. And although there could only be one winner, hindsight shows both teams as victors on that day. Every player, coach, broadcaster, and fan in attendance knew they had just witnessed one of the greatest games in league history and individual performances they'd never forget.