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Bball
11-16-2006, 04:41 AM
Road show no treat for Bird
By Mark Murphy/ The NBA
Boston Herald Sports Reporter
Thursday, November 16, 2006 - Updated: 03:03 AM EST

Larry Bird has never been comfortable with the way Celtics fans fawn all over him.

The legendary “Larry, Larry” chant now comes across like a slobbering wet kiss from a needy Saint Bernard once the masses spot the star who is, quite arguably, the most popular player in the history of a franchise with so many special alumni.

So there was no escaping the love last night.

When he was caught on the TD Banknorth Garden’s new high-definition video board during the third quarter, the Pacers president of basketball operations looked like he wanted to climb under his aisle seat once the noise started.

But nipping this affection in the bud was a wiser choice. Bird waved, and when the Garden crowd begged for more, he stood and waved.

“It’s embarrassing, you know that,” he later said.

That’s especially true when his Pacers - as happened during last night’s 114-88 loss to the Celtics - are limping through their worst game of the early season.

You think the Celtics have had problems during their 2-6 start? After Bird and Pacers CEO Donnie Walsh signed free agent (and one-time Indiana draft pick) Al Harrington during the summer, the Pacers were expected to firm up as a solid, lower-tier playoff team.

But the 4-4 team that left Boston last night wasn’t anywhere close to the blueprint.

Informed of Danny Ainge’s position on the hot seat with this season’s Celtics, Bird practically snorted in response.

“Look, I’m taking some heat, too, so we’re in the same boat,” he said.

The operative question in Indianapolis is what else can possibly go wrong.

After surviving a year of fallout from The Brawl, the overall madness of the Ron Artest era, two seasons in which the Pacers lost more time to injuries than any other team in the league, and even Stephen Jackson’s adventure with a handgun in the parking lot of an Indiana strip club last month, a competitive team was somehow expected to emerge.

The team that started last night’s game had 15 relatively healthy players, a cause to celebrate.

But there was Jermaine O’Neal after the game, walking solemnly into the coaches’ room, where Bird, Walsh and coach Rick Carlisle were glumly huddled. Raised voices could be heard through the door, and 15 minutes later O’Neal walked back out, his expression still fit for a funeral.

“It’s sort of sad that we came out and played like we did,” said Bird, who has decided to travel with the team more this season in the hope of getting to know his players better. “I think Rick has got to find the right combination, so we can function when three of our starters, like (Danny) Granger and (Jamaal) Tinsley and Jackson tonight, aren’t playing well.

“Sarunas (Jasikevicius) is the first one off the bench, and he didn’t play well,” he said. “So really four out of the first six guys are not playing that well. Paul (Pierce) and (Wally) Szczerbiak were hitting shots, and they were getting better ball movement with . . .”

Bird suddenly stopped in mid-sentence.

“Hey, I feel like a coach here,” he said of a job he clearly doesn’t want to fill again anytime soon.

Of course, that’s exactly how Bird is going to feel if he continues making these road trips.

As his old friend Ainge, a frequent traveler, can readily tell him, getting to know one’s team is painful.

http://celtics.bostonherald.com/celtics/view.bg?articleid=167575