Telegram to the mayor of Boston:
Honorable Raymond Flynn. Stop. Have located missing civic treasure. Stop. Larry Bird surfaced in Sacramento last Wednesday night. Stop. Impostor vanished after half with eight points. Stop. Real Bird showed up in time to save Celtics from unmentionable horror. Stop. Instead of losing to hometown Kings, Bird boosts Celtics to win in overtime. Stop. He was unstoppable. Please stop.
And so it goes for the resurrection of Larry Joe Bird, the once-and-sometimes-still best player in basketball. Stink-o first half (four for 13, eight points); Hall of Fame after intermission (10 for 18, 29 points, seven for seven at the free-throw line).
Now what’s all this business about Bird shooting too much? You guys in green still complaining? Hey, Jimmy Rodgers, has the squawking Bird got your attention?
Now who thinks Bird’s cranking too often? Only Danny Ainge, that’s who. With a back of ice strapped on his knee and wearing a mask of flushed frustration, Ainge took his best stab at humor following Boston’s Bird-fashioned 115-112 overtime win at Arco Arena on Wednesday night.
“I think his teammates were absolutely right,” Ainge said, wincing. “Larry shoots too much. I wish he would have passed off more tonight.”
Anything would have been better than what actually happened. Where was the shadow of a Bird who was winging along at 23.5 points per game? When minutes dwindled to seconds, where was the pretender who missed more often than he converted?
Gone. What the Kings caught a glimpse of was the genuine article. As he and only few others can do, Bird made magic. With the Kings playing gutty co-stars, Bird created one of those wonderful, taut little gems you sometimes run across in the relentless march of regular-season games that stretch from November to eternity.
He threw in three-point rainbows. He scored in traffic. Occasionally he seemed to materialize out of thin air; otherwise, how could he come so totally open? He grabbed rebounds. He found time to fire passes for assists Wayne Gretzky would have been proud to claim.
And, of course, he swished free throws.
Add it all up, and Bird recorded his fifth triple double of the season.
“Larry’s a great player,” said Reynolds. “He’ll cut your heart out. He cut ours out tonight.”
Funny, though. After having their hearts handed to them on a platter, the Kings merely examined them and pronounced them to be larger than they had imagined.
“This wasn’t a game we gave away,” Ainge said. “We got the shots we needed. We executed. We just got beat by a better team.”
To be honest, Wednesday night wasn’t going to make or break the Kings’ season. The making is in the future, in the hands of a revamped front office. The breaking is in the past.
What’s happening now can best be described as the sorting out. Yes, the Kings can play hard for 53--count ‘em--53 minutes with just eight players. But, no, they can’t be expected to win more than they lose that way.
All you have to do is glance over at their bench and note the 14 feet worth of center in civilian clothes to understand what most ails the Kings.
But for a healthy Ralph Sampson or Pervis Ellison (nice to see you back, incidentally), the Kings might turn the corner on some of these tighter games that are won on depth. That is, when somebody doesn’t give them the superstar treatment.
Instead, the Kings have lost nine straight dating back to Dec. 8, their longest skid since the Bicentennial.
So, what do the Kings have to say or themselves?
“It’s hard to be optimistic right now,” Ainge said, “but we have to be. I think things are going to start happening. If we can keep the same intensity level, and get healthy . . . “
He shrugged. Ainge has been around long enough to know those are two of the largest “ifs” in basketball.
And yet, his hope is shared among the hopeless. Forward Wayman Tisdale, pressed into 49 minutes of heavy labor against the taller, rangier Celtics frontcourt, also sees better things ahead. “As long as the learning continues, this will be good for us,” Tisdale said.
Good for them? Wow.
In his first visit to Sacramento, in 1986, Bird missed two pivotal free throws down the stretch and the Kings prevailed, 105-100. History would not repeat. Twice in the dying seconds of overtime the Kings sent Bird to the line, and he sank four freebies.
No, honest, says Reynolds, having coached for the last time against the Celtics. “We probably played our best basketball of the year the last five games, and yet we haven’t won,” Reynolds said.
OK, let’s look at it their way. The Kings played hard and were in it until Ainge’s desperation three-pointer banged off the glass as the overtime buzzer sounded. That’s encouraging. It took a vintage night by Bird to subdue them. And they didn’t melt under the Celtics’ heat down the stretch in the fourth quarter.
In fact, had Ainge gotten away with tipping a loose ball away from Robert Parish with four seconds left--as replays seemed to indicate he should have--we might be talking about that eye-opening Kings win.
That’s close. Real close. And until the real thing happens here, it’s something to cling to.