Although the best offensive players in the league are on display, the National Basketball Association All-Star Game is becoming a showcase for passing and running plays.
In the decisive part of the East's 120-118 victory before a sellout crowd of 20,149 at the Meadowlands Arena, Boston Coach Bill Fitch used three of his Celtics to run several plays that left Larry Bird open.
"I looked to see if Tiny (Archibald) and Robert (Parish) were on the court," said Bird, the overwhelming choice as most valuable player. "We ran a couple of Celtics' plays. They worked two or three times in a row.
"During the game, we had some mixed plays we talked about at practice," he continued. "But when it got down to money time, the coach called a couple of Celtics plays."
Bird, following the same role he's played in leading the Celtics to a league-high 32 victories, took over in the stretch and scored 10 of his 19 points in the final 6 1/2 minutes.
There were four ties during that stretch, and the East's biggest lead was four points. With the East in front, 116-114, Bird sank a jumper from the foul circle, then, after George Gervin (12 points) made a 16-footer, Bird made his team's final two points on a pair of free throws.
"I wanted back in with six to seven minutes to play," Bird said. "I've been shooting well lately. In those situations, if I hit my first shot, I keep shooting. If I miss two, then I start looking to pass. Today I was hitting."
Playing in his third straight All-Star Game, Bird made seven of 12 shots and had a game-high 12 rebounds in 28 minutes.
"This was the best All-Star Game I've played in," the 6-foot-9 forward said. "We were all trying to get the ball to the open man. It's no fun if guys start going one on one, because then the others start standing around. I thought we did a good job of playing team basketball."
"On the Celtics, I play with a lot of good players, and I don't have to score a lot of points for us to win. That's why I can pass as much as I do. Some guys just don't have that opportunity."
Julius Erving, who contributed 16 points and eight rebounds in his sixth NBA All-Star Game, agreed with Bird.
"I think the guys get a kick out of making good passes," he said. "We were passing up shots we normally would take, especially in the first half. Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) missed a few shots early and then wasn't even looking to shoot. Now, in a regular-season game he's got to keep shooting, his teammates look to get him the ball, but in all-star games, there's no pressure to carry the load."
Whether it's the regular season or all-star time, when the game is on the line, the best play still is to get everyone out of the way and give Erving the ball.
It happened in Washington a few weeks ago, when he isolated on Greg Ballard and his basket won the game for Philadelphia. It happened today, but Erving was called for charging Jack Sikma with 17 seconds to play, and the West had a chance to send the game into overtime.
"We wanted to run as much time off the clock as possible, then give it to Doc," said Fitch. "Bird did a good job of decoying and helped pull two guys away from the basket. You don't have to be a genius to give the ball to Doc in a situation like that."
After the foul, the West called time and tried to set up a play to get the ball down low to either Abdul-Jabbar or Sikma. When things broke down, Gus Williams, the game's top scorer with 22 points, tried a three-point shot. The rebound bounced out of bounds off an East player, and the West had another chance with five seconds remaining.
"With only five seconds, you can't risk a turnover," said Coach Pat Riley. "We just wanted to get the ball to Magic and let him take it to the hoop. There was a lot of pressure on their defense not to foul him."
Johnson drove the middle and laid the ball up underhanded. It hit the rim, Parish got the rebound, and the East had its third straight victory and sixth in the last eight All-Star Games.