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A Non-Shooting Star : Because Bird’s Shots Aren’t Falling--He’s 17 of 42 From the Field in Last Two Games--Celtics Have Dropped Behind the Lakers

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

As a player, Chris Ford didn’t look for an analyst’s couch every time he missed a shot. He figured the only cure he needed for a shooting slump was another shot.

Now that he’s an assistant coach for the Boston Celtics, you can imagine what kind of advice he’s giving the gang that suddenly can’t shoot straight.

“Keep shooting,” he said Sunday after the Celtics missed 53 of 93 shots from the field in a 136-111 loss to the Lakers at the Forum.

Spoken like a true shooter, someone told him.

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Ford shrugged.

“You can’t make a shot until you attempt it,” he said.

Figuring that the lecture was completed, reporters began to walk away from him.

“Don’t worry,” Ford said. “Mr. Bird will take care of us.”

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It is those words, no doubt, that enabled the Celtic coaches, K.C. Jones, Jimmy Rodgers and Ford, to sleep comfortably Sunday night.

Larry Bird is the first one to admit he hasn’t been taking care of the Celtics, which, after all the analysis has been done, is the reason they haven’t been more competitive in back-to-back losses to the Lakers.

In those two games, Bird has taken 42 shots from the field and made 17. He was 8 for 21 Sunday, when he scored 20 points.

Wait until next game, the Celtics say.

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They have been saying that for the last three weeks. Ever since it was revealed that Bird has floating bone chips in his right elbow, later complicated by a jammed index finger on his right hand, his shooting has been, at best, erratic.

But the Celtics’ confidence in Bird has remained as unwavering as the confidence he has in himself.

“I don’t care if he’s missed 160 straight shots,” Boston’s M.L. Carr said. “He’s still the guy I want to have the ball in his hands.”

Those are Bird’s sentiments, exactly.

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“The outside shots were there,” he said Sunday. “I had the 15-footers. They weren’t going in, but I can’t turn down those shots.”

Still, Bird might prefer to joust with this slump in private.

Just as the focus is often on him when the Celtics win, so it is on those rare occasions when they lose.

Bird has said several times that the winner of this series will be determined not by him but by whether Danny Ainge or Byron Scott plays better.

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That’s a distinction Ainge can do without.

“I think Larry said that to take a little pressure off himself,” Ainge said.

Nevertheless, Bird’s analysis proved accurate in Game 1 last Monday at Boston Garden. Ainge made 7 of 9 shots in the first quarter, when he scored 15 points, and sent the Celtics on their way to a 148-114 victory.

In 11 quarters since the opening 12 minutes in Boston, Ainge has virtually disappeared from the Celtics’ offense.

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Of his last 27 shots, he has made 11. He was 2 for 8 Sunday.

The Celtics’ other starting guard, Dennis Johnson, who was 3 for 14 Sunday, has made only 15 of 46 in the series.

Another outside shooter, Scott Wedman, made 11 of 11 shots from the field in Game 1, including 4 of 4 from three-point range. Although he continues to make more shots than he misses, he has taken only 11 in the last two games.

These are the shooting stars who helped produce a championship series record in Game 1 by making 62 of 102 shots, a .608 percentage. In the last two games, the Celtics’ shooting percentage is .440.

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How much credit does the Lakers’ defense deserve?

Specifically, how much credit does Laker Coach Pat Riley deserve for the adjustment he made after Game 1, switching defensive assignments so that 6-9 Magic Johnson guards the 6-5 Ainge and the 6-5 Scott guards the 6-4 Johnson?

Not even Magic is sure.

“He’s still shooting his shots,” he said of Ainge. “They’re just not falling. I don’t know if it’s anything I’ve done differently. Maybe there’s a little more pressure on him.

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“Shooters can be bad, bad, bad and then, all of a sudden, oh so good. He could snap out of it in the next game and go crazy again. A shooter’s mentality is to keep shooting until he makes it.”

But until the Celtics’ begin sharpshooting again, the Lakers will continue to play a sagging defense that makes it difficult for Boston to get the high percentage shots from 7-0 1/2 Robert Parish and 6-10 Kevin McHale.

It’s virtually impossible to stop both of them. McHale scored 31 points Sunday. But after scoring 17 points in the first half, Parish was shut out in the second.

Bird said that in order to take the pressure off McHale and Parish, McHale has to begin looking less for his shot and more for the open men.

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Then, of course, the open men have to make their shots.

Bird said he will try to do his share.

“I’m not very happy with the way I’ve played,” he said. “The shot’s just not there. But I’m going to spend a lot of time in practice working on it. If you work hard, it’s going to pay off for you. I just hope it’s not July before it does.”

Someone reminded Bird that the Celtics were in a similar situation last year, losing Game 3 by 33 points at the Forum before coming back to win three of the next four games and the championship.

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After Game 3 last year, Bird said the Celtics played “like a bunch of sissies.”

Asked why he hadn’t similarly reprimanded the Celtics Sunday, Bird said: “That’s because I’m about the only one playing like one.”


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