Boston Celtics

L-R: Former Boston Celtics forward Larry Bird, circa 1990; former Indiana Pacers forward Chuck Person, circa 1991. (Tim DeFrisco/Getty Images)

For two teams at opposite ends of the postseason spectrum, the end result of the opening round of the NBA Playoffs is pretty much a foregone conclusion. Sure, a 7-seed or 8-seed might steal a game here or there, but since 1984 – when the league expanded to a 16-team playoff format – just 10 squads with one of the bottom two seeds has advanced to the second round.

That’s 10 teams. In 37 years. Out of 148 matchups.

Back in 1991, the first round was a best of five series, and the Run-TMC Golden State Warriors had perfected the role of first round wrecking ball. Don Nelson’s crew had dispatched the second seeded Jazz three years prior. This time, David Robinson and the Spurs were the victim.

Meanwhile, the Boston Celtics were coming off their best season since their 1980s heyday. Their opening round opponent in the 1991 playoffs, the Indiana Pacers, had just two winning seasons and a single playoff victory in 15 years after coming over from the ABA. What seemed like a setup for the classic “Hello, goodbye” matchup would prove to be NBA drama at the highest level, with a talented, up-tempo club pushing a legendary franchise to its limit.

It’s hard to imagine a first round pairing being this exciting, particularly to fans of a Boston team that had collected three championships in the previous decade. But with the Pacers on the rise, the Celtics holding on for dear life and a bevy of talented players and personalities at the ready, the series had everything that makes you fall in love with the game of basketball.

And the winner-take-all Game 5 was the chef’s kiss on one of the greatest playoff series in NBA history.

Tale of the Tape

As the 80s rolled into the 90s, Boston’s “Big Three” of Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale was still intact, though heavily calcified.

“You never knew with Larry’s back; you never knew with McHale’s ankle,” remembers Kevin Gamble, a starter on the ’91 team who averaged 16 points per game on 59 percent shooting. “You’d go in the back room and see them getting worked on to get ready to play. Sometimes they made it on the court. Sometimes they didn’t.”

Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.

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