11.24.2009

Bird Clanging More than His Share of Bricks

1983-84 Boston Celtics
Knicks 117, Celtics 113
Record: 9-5
11/23/1983

If you've ever shot hoops out behind the barn with Uncle Ernie, you know what it feels like. You don't need NBA experience to understand The Big Chill. It can happen to anyone . . . anytime. A shooter goes through white-hot phases when he feels like he's tossing hard-boiled eggs into a silo, then suddenly wakes up one morning with Charles Bradley Disease.

The Big Chill has Larry Bird in a deep freeze right now. Somewhere between Denver and Salt Lake City, Bird temporarily lost his extraordinary shooting touch. Shots that ordinarily kiss the bottom of the twine have been rudely clanging off the back rim and there's not much he can do about it. A $1.8 million per year contract won't help at a time like this, and neither will advice from coaches, teammates or well-meaning talking heads.

Bird's shooting slump is news because it's rare, and it has had a dramatic impact on the sliding fortunes of the local live. With Bird shooting .528 from the floor, the Celtics rolled to a 9-1 start. Since Bird ducked into his ice water mansion, (25-76, .329) the Celtics have dropped four straight. Bird was playing for Indiana State the last time the Celtics lost five in a row (April '79).

Always a key man at crunch time, Bird did not score a single point in either overtime in New York Tuesday night. He finished 6-19 from the floor and said afterward, "I'm tired of this." Bird concedes that he's never had a professional shooting slump like this one. "As far as shooting bad, I'd say this is probably the worst," he says. "I've really had some good shots and I'm not making them.

"I don't really worry about it," he adds. "If I shoot a shot and miss, I always feel that the next one will go in. Right now I'm not hitting the shots I was hitting earlier." He has been hampered by a nagging cold and routine hip and elbow bruises, but refuses to make excuses. He expects to be asked about his slump and handles inquiries without indignation or emotion.

"I know I've got to talk about it when I'm not shooting well," he says. "It's no different than when people ask me about my shooting when I'm shooting real well. If it were someone else, people might not notice as much, but it's expected of me to hit those shots. I'm a pressure player." What about the rest of the Celtics? Is it possible they are relying too much on the shooting accuracy of one player? Cedric Maxwell admits, "The way we've been playing, I would say we've been depending too much on Larry's shot. If we're going to turn things around, we'll have to go to other avenues until Larry gets back on the track."

Coach K. C. Jones adds, "There's a large connection between Larry's shooting and our losing right now. He's our No. 1 outside shooter and he's not shooting well. That puts an extra burden on what we're trying to do, but if we were totally tied into Larry, we wouldn't be much of a team. We just have to find a hot man." Bird thinks he'll be the hot man tomorrow night when the Celtics entertain the Hawks (yesterday's Globe erroneously reported that the Celtics would play San Antonio tomorrow). Bird says, "Chances are, I'll probably have a great game. I love to shoot in the Garden. And once I am out of a slump, I usually come out pretty good."

MISC

The Knicks feel they have Boston's number. New York has won four of the last five games between the two teams and five of the last seven.In the four years before Hubie Brown took over, Boston owned an 18-4 advantage . . . Bird had 11 assists and rebounds to go along with his 16 points Tuesday. It was his second triple-double of the season . . . Celtic owners Don Gaston and Alan Cohen attended the Knick game as did actor Jack Nicholson and Mets rookie Darryl Strawberry . . . Quinn Buckner, who got into a little scuffle with Rory Sparrow, played only seven minutes and did not score . . . Kevin McHale picked up his fourth technical foul of the young season . . . The Celtics have played nine road games already, but will be home for two weeks. Jones ordered a 10 o'clock workout for this morning.

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