This is the time that Larry Bird was expected to return from surgery to lead the Boston Celtics into the playoffs.
But there has been a snag in the rehabilitation program following the operation Nov. 19 on both Achilles tendons. Bird is limping and the struggling Celtics will probably have to get into postseason play without their best player and inspirational leader.
The Celtics moved a little closer to their goal Sunday at Boston by coming from behind for a 121-115 victory over Denver, also missing its best player--Fat Lever.
Boston trailed, 112-109, with 2:28 remaining against a team that was road-weary and had won only six of 30 games away from home. But old pros Robert Parish and Kevin McHale scored the points to put the Celtics ahead and Reggie Lewis and Jim Paxson finished off the Nuggets.
Denver Coach Doug Moe complained about poor bench play when he took his regulars out for a short rest after building a 13-point lead. But in truth, it was the failure of Alex English to shoot well that was the undoing.
English had 27 points, one fewer than Lewis, but, after getting 51 points in his previous game, he missed one easy short jumper after another. He was 12 for 27, but six of his baskets were layups. With Lever, the playmaker and top rebounder, ailing, they needed a hot shooting English.
Bird predicted he would be back by early March. He said he would fool the doctors. Last week it was decided he could engage in three hard workouts in four days. He came out of them with a swollen, very sore left foot. He will back off for a few days.
According to Peter May of the Hartford Courant, the Celtics aren’t considering it a major setback.
“But it would be fair to say that it has not progressed the way we hoped it would,” trainer Ed Lacerte told May. “We’re going to take a step back until the tendon calms down. We’re not ruling him out for the season.”
Although the Celtics are 30-30 and only three games ahead of Washington in the battle for the final playoff spot, there have been some pluses. Two youngsters who would not have played so much on a pennant-contending team, Lewis and Brian Shaw, have matured with regular action. They appear to be the backcourt combine for the next decade.
Also, the Celtics, even if they make the playoffs, will get a high draft choice for the first time in a long time. A year ago, although Bird was beginning to hurt, they were 41-19 after 60 games.
The Nuggets, also in a tough struggle for a playoff berth in the West, sent Lever home for examination of a knee injury. If he is out for any time, the Nuggets will be hard-pressed to make the playoffs.
Detroit 110, Washington 104--Isiah Thomas scored four of his 22 points in an 11-4 run in the fourth quarter at Auburn Hills, Mich., that finally subdued the stubborn Bullets.
The Pistons, the hottest team in the NBA, kept building a lead, but the Bullets kept fighting back. It was the 10th win in the last 11 games for the Pistons.
Bill Laimbeer had a big game against the Bullets, who lack only a good center to be a tough foe, getting 24 points and 16 rebounds.
Cleveland 123, Portland 110--The Cavaliers, temporarily at least, put an end to their skid on the road when Larry Nance had 16 points and 14 rebounds and Brad Daugherty had 23 points.
The Cavaliers, who had lost two in a row, were playing their fourth game on the road in six nights. The hard-earned win kep the Cavaliers a game ahead in the tight race in the Central Division.
The Cavaliers led by six points at halftime, fell behind, 66-64, in the third quarter, then put on a 12-5 spurt to take the lead for good. The lead jumped top 95-81 in the fourth quarter and breezed to the victory.
Sacramento 114, Charlotte 105--The addition of Wayman Tisdale and Danny Ainge have made the Kings better than an expansion team.
Tisdale had 28 points and Ainge had 15 points and 10 assists at Charlotte to lead the win over the expansion team.