Today on NBA Tuesday, we look at the 1981 season, which saw the coronation of a new Boston Celtics “dynasty”—for lack of a better word. General Manager Red Auerbach fleeced the league again, in two different ways in the last few years, to put together an amazing team full of future Hall of Fame players, and this was the first NBA title for this group of Celtics players. Enjoy the read!
Remember also to check out the first miniseries entry on this year for context, because knowledge is power.
1981 NBA FINALS MVP: Cedric Maxwell, SF, Boston (original); Larry Bird, PF, Boston (revised)
The Celtics beat the Houston Rockets in 6 games to claim their first NBA championship since the 1976 season, which seemed like forever then in Boston years. The winners had a deep roster, with 5 players averaging double-digit scoring in the Finals—including MVP vote winner, small forward Cedric Maxwell, who led the team with 17.7 ppg. However, we don’t see Cornbread as the MVP here at all.
Power forward Larry Bird did more than Maxwell did: 15.3 ppg, 15.3 rpg, 7.0 apg, and 2.3 spg. He led the team in minutes played (42.8) by 5 mpg, and Bird topped the Celtics in rebounds, assists, and steals, too. What the voters were thinking here is not clear, as all Maxwell did was lead the team in scoring, but we can see with perfect clarity now, for sure. Bird was the man!
1981 NBA DPOY: Truck Robinson, PF, Phoenix
Bird also topped the league in Defensive Win Shares for the second season in a row, too, posting a 6.10 mark to lead the league. He was closely followed by Philadelphia 76ers SF Julius Erving (6.07), with Philly center Caldwell Jones (5.38) and Phoenix Suns PF Truck Robinson (5.27) in the neighborhood for consideration here. The two 76ers cancel each other out, though, so … is it Bird or Robinson?
Both Boston (62-20) and Phoenix (57-25) won their divisions with plenty of room to spare for postseason security, so with Robinson’s DWS mark being with 1.0 wins of Bird’s, it’s clear his defense had more value to a team that won 5 fewer games in the regular season. His D stats don’t jump off the page—9.6 rpg, 0.8 spg, 0.5 bpg—but the Suns needed every one of them to win the Pacific Division.
Check in every Tuesday for our NBA awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!