Sore-armed Larry Bird's 34 points included four foul shots in the last minute tonight to propel the Boston Celtics past the Cleveland Cavaliers, 117-115, and give Boston a 3-1 victory in the first round of the Atlantic Division eliminations.
Bird had missed the Celtics' loss to the Cavaliers here Tuesday because of bursitis and bone chips. But last night he made seven of eight foul shots in the final quarter. The last two, with 23 seconds to play, broke a 115-115 tie.
Cleveland missed three shots at winning or tying in the final seconds. John Bagley missed badly on a three-point attempt and Mark West failed on a tip-in. Dennis Johnson blocked World B. Free's three-point try as time ran out.
"I wasn't really hampered by the elbow at all," said Bird. "Once I got in the game, I think the excitement drove me over the limit."
He also led the Celtics with 14 rebounds and seven assists.
The Cavaliers had led, 66-63, at the half but fell behind, 94-89, as Robert Parish made eight points in the final 2:05 of the third period.
Johnson scored to open the final period, opening up a 96-89 Boston lead, its largest of the game.
Free then went on a 10-point spree, and Cleveland outscored Boston by 12-4 to go up, 101-98, with 7:44 to play, firing up the sellout Coliseum crowd of 20,900.
The Celtics hung close, though, and finally took the lead back at 115-113 on Bird's free throws with 51 seconds left.
Bird, who had angered Cleveland fans with a published remark that they "know next to nothing about basketball," scored 17 points in the first half to keep Boston close.
The defending champion Celtics will play Detroit in the best-of-seven second round starting Sunday.
Tonight, spectators greeted Bird with banners and derisive chants. One fan even displayed the all-star forward hanged in effigy.
"Whatever that means," Bird said. "I hope the fans learned a lesson -- you can't upset certain people."
Boston reserve M.L. Carr baited the crowd, picking up a courtside telephone and shouting, "I can't hear you!"
One fan yelled back: "They say 'M.L.' stands for 'Meaningless'!"
Retorted Carr: "What do you expect from people whose major paper costs only 20 cents," evidently a reference to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.