May 29, 1988
He says he feels as good as he ever has during the playoffs. He says he is getting closer to where he wants to be, to finding out why he has been more ordinary than extraordinary in the past three games. But time is growing short for the Celtics, and Larry Bird knows it.
The numbers in yesterday's 98-94 loss to the Pistons weren't bad: 18 points, 11 rebounds, 8 assists. But they were nothing near the kind of productiion the Celtics expect of Bird and Bird expects of himself. "I'm doing something wrong," said Bird, icing down his feet, the only part of his body that wasn't cold at the end of the game. Bird and the rest of the Celtic regulars watched the last 31 seconds from the bench as K.C. Jones made an early concession gesture. "I started out and hit a couple of shots early. But after that, I didn't have much rhythm."
Bird is running low on confidence these days as well. At least as low as Bird will let himself run. "My confidence is not as good as it was in the fourth quarter against Atlanta," he said. That Bird could go from megastar in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Hawks to falling star after three games against the Pistons is one of life's quirks that he cannot really understand.
Despite the speculation about his health, Bird maintains he is feeling fine. "Really," he said, "I feel fine. As good as I ever have during the playoffs. There's nothing wrong with me." In yesterday's game, Bird played in spurts. He started out with a fire in his belly, if not in his eye. As early as the opening tap, Bird was asking for the ball. And two quick jumpers boosted his spirits.
But then his offense, like that of the rest of the Celtics with the exception of Kevin McHale, floated off into some unknown reaches of the Silverdome. "The Pistons were switching off on me, so I was just dumping the ball in to Kevin," said Bird. McHale could not carry the offense alone. And when the Celtics made a fourth-quarter rush, cutting a 16-point Piston lead (90-74) to 6 with 7:44 left, it seemed the perfect time for Bird to readjust his cape.
But not this time. At least not offensively. Bird shot and missed and then shot and missed again, and suddenly No. 33 was almost invisible. "We had some chances," said Bird. "But then Danny (Ainge) missed a couple and I missed a couple." The frustrating thing is that Bird sees himself coming out of this slump, if one can call it a slump. "On Thursday (in Game 2), I was missing by a lot," said Bird. "Today it was just by a bit. I'm getting closer. But that's not much consolation."
With the Celtics trailing, 2-1, in this best-of-seven series, Bird realizes it is time to take some drastic measures. The Celtics cannot afford to leave Michigan down by two games. They have already lost the home-court edge. They are two games from losing the series. With very little more to lose, Bird says he will go on the offensive. "I'm going to be more aggressive in the next game," he said. "I'm going to drive more. I need to do more things."
Certainly Bird can do only so much. Although his shooting has been off, there has been nothing wrong with his rebounding, or his defense, or in the way he has handed off assists. He almost had a triple-double by halftime yesterday. But during a stretch in which the Celtics are suffering an offensive power outage, they cannot afford to have Bird as a set-up man for everyone else.
There were signs yesterday that Bird was ready to take a leading role again. "I saw the fire there," said Jones. "He put in his first three shots. After that, it seems the old thing took over again." K.C. is worried. So is Bird. "No matter who you're playing, when you're down, 2-1, you have to be concerned," Bird said.
But right now it is just concern. Nothing more. No panic -- yet. The Celtics can still turn things in their direction with a victory tomorrow. But in order to do that, they need Larry Bird.
All of him.