Boston has no backup center for Parish, unless one counts 6'10", 260-pound rookie Ramon Rivas, who at this point is nothing but six fouls in an extra-extra-large uniform, or Mark Acres, who had 11 minutes of playing time in the three games last week in which Bird wasn't in the lineup.
The Celtics are having difficulty adjusting to Rodgers's offense, too. He wants the Celtics to run more, albeit in a controlled fashion, even after opposition baskets, and to play a more aggressive half-court offense with slashing cuts to the basket But old habits die hard. Although a three-pointer by Johnson with one second left gave Boston a 107-104 victory over the Golden State Warriors on Nov. 16, the shot was symbolic of the Celtics inability to attack the Warriors' trapping defense. Instead, Boston had depended on individual heroics.
Believe it or not, the Celtics may face their biggest problems when Bird rejoins them. "There are always adjustments when a guy comes back," said Bird on Friday. "And I'm going to have to work my way back in slowly." In 1980-81 knee surgery sidelined another franchise player, Magic Johnson of the Lakers, for three months. The Lakers responded to his return to the lineup by self-destructing in the first round of the playoffs.
Adjustments or not, Bird's rehab won't end soon enough for Celtics fans. As he stood in street clothes on the periphery of a team huddle near the end of the game against Washington on Friday night, a spontaneous but familiar cheer swept through the Boston Garden: Larrr-EE! Larrr-EE! Bird waved his hand, and waved it again after the cheer grew into a standing ovation. He must have felt good, but he must have felt a little sad as well.
Which is how the rest of the Celtics feel. Amid all the talk of bone spurs and tendons and rehabilitation, a sense of hope and anticipation permeates the team. The veterans, particularly Parish and Johnson, neither of whom has been fully appreciated in Boston, now have a Birdless spotlight in which to perform, and the young players have their chance. That's the good part.
The sad part was expressed by McHale on Friday. "Let's face it, we can't win a championship without Larry," he said. "And we all know it."