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HUB OF EMOTION
Jack McCallum
December 11, 1989
Boston longs for the old powerhouse, but sad to say, Larry Bird & Co. are simply not the same
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December 11, 1989

Hub Of Emotion

Boston longs for the old powerhouse, but sad to say, Larry Bird & Co. are simply not the same

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No. Because even when Bird's shine-and-polish process is complete, one roadblock stands in the Celtics' path: a possible conflict between Bird and Rodgers over how the offense is to function.

In retrospect, it might have been easier on the Beantown faithful if Bird and the Celts had not gotten off to such a hope-inducing start. He scored 32 points in a season-opening win over Milwaukee, and the next night he beat Chicago with a late jumper, his 26th and 27th points of the game. In the fifth game of the season, a 117-106 win over Atlanta at Boston Garden, he scored 50 points, after which Hawk guard Doc Rivers said, "He's as good as he ever was."

But then things started to sour for both Bird and the Celts. Over the next nine games, Bird's field goal attempts fluctuated wildly. He went 10 for 26 and 9 for 26 in two losses to Indiana, one of them at Boston Garden, yet he didn't attempt 20 shots in any of the other seven games. He beat Philly on Nov. 14 with a last-second jumper from the baseline, but that was only his 11th shot of the game. During a Nov. 25 loss at Atlanta, he took only seven shots, five fewer than backup point guard Charles Smith, a rookie who can't shoot. Bird looked frustrated, and after the Pistons whipped the Celtics 103-86 on Nov. 18, he sounded frustrated too.

"[Rodgers] just wants the ball moving around the perimeter," said Bird, who finished with 22 points but didn't take a shot in the first 12 minutes. "If that's what he wants, I'll do it. If I only get nine shots a game, that's what I'll do. I'm a point forward right now."

Bird's use of the term "point forward" ignited a controversy in Boston. Coined by Don Nelson in Milwaukee when he used forward Paul Pressey on the perimeter a few years ago, point forward seemed to have a disparaging connotation, as if Bird were saying that Rodgers had turned him into mere window dressing in the Celtics' offense.

Did Bird mean it that way? Or was he just frustrated by a bad loss to a team he doesn't like very much? And in either case, what does he think of Rodgers's offense, which calls for more ball movement around the perimeter and less dependence upon the one-man magic of number 33.

"The last thing I wanted to do that night [in Detroit] was come in and talk about the game," Bird said last week. "We had committed a bunch of turnovers [28], and it was almost like losing a playoff game. 'Point forward' was just something I said. It was not directed toward anybody, certainly not toward Jimmy.

"I've always had good relationships with my coaches. Jimmy knows more basketball than I do. I respect him, and I will listen to him."

There's no reason to believe that Bird is blowing smoke. He does respect Rodgers's knowledge of the game. But it does not necessarily follow that he and Rodgers are on the same page where the Celtics' offense is concerned. It is Bird who brings up the way the Celtics' offense operated in the championship years of '84 and '86, and it is Bird who clearly implies that it could work now.

Bird emphasizes that Rodgers has never restricted his shooting. But Bird does feel encumbered by the mandate of moving the ball around and getting everyone involved. He would be more comfortable getting the ball down on the block, drawing the double-team, and then creating a scoring opportunity, just as he used to do.

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