Tiny Archibald is talking basketball. He hits on the psychology of the game, he lectures on the habits of his Celtics teammates, he delves into the careers of players from Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx.

Archibald has just finished playing an intense 48 minutes against the Bullets on an evening that started with vomiting moments before the game.

With all his stomach problems, Archibald handed out 17 assists last night in what Coach Bill Fitch called "Tiny's best quarterbacking game of the season."

You could almost believe that this hasn't been a dream season for Nate Archibald. It has. After being written off to injuries the past three seasons, Archibald is having his happiest season as a pro.

Through it all, Archibald appears 17 years old. His face maintains a look of concentration. He looks tired.

"Are you kidding?" he says when asked if he as up for 48 minutes last night.

Fitch decided to play Archibald the whole way just after he became ill.

"If you ever take a guy out who's been sick, the chills just take over," says Fitch. "You just got to make the guy keep running and sweating."

Fitch knows basketball players. In eight months, he's gotten deeply into the psychology of Nate Archibald. In his days as coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Fitch never had any particular dreams of having Achibald on his squad.

"I never even considered having him," Fitch said. "You usually make your own team quarterback. Tiny is an exception. He's a retread. Everyone was ready to put him in the junkyard. But the Celtics didn't. Tiny's lucky. And so are we."

Nobody ever had to explore the psychology of Archibald. He's been on losing teams throughout his career. He's been on teams like the Cincinnati Royals where he was given free reign to do whatever came to mind. In the 1972-73 season, he was a machine scoring 34 points and dealing off 11 assists a game.

Wind him up and let him go.

Fitch only winds him up.

"Tiny proved a lot to himself tonight," said Fitch. "He proved that with mental toughness, nothing can stop him . . . sickness, injuries, nothing. He's too good.

"Tiny's a worrier to the point of it being a confidence thing. He'll go into games worried. And on this team, he has a lot of responsibility. A lot of times I call a play from the bench and he doesn't run it and he catches a lot of hell," added Fitch.

Unlike other years, Tiny has to pace off to players with reputations . . . Larry Bird, Cedric Maxwell, Dave Cowens and now, Pete Maravich.

"You have to know what all these guys do," says Archibald. "I mean, if I penetrate and look to pass, I'm not going to throw the ball 20-feet out to Cedric. He's not a great shooter. Pete is a great shooter. But everyone on this team has a role. They can't live on reputations."

"I know how Nate's going to play," said Bird. "I know he's going to give the ball up. I mean, Nate knows he's the whole show on this team. I feel he won the game for us tonight even though Pete hit the big shots. He wouldn't have scored all those points if not for Nate . . . and I acknowledged that to Nate."

Archibald is pleased to hear Bird's analysis. But it's not unexpected.

"Larry's got a great game," says Archibald. "He passes so well it's a matter of everyone getting to know him. Sometimes guys don't cut when Larry could give them layups. Especially now. At this time of the season you just get that jet leg and wait for everyone else to score."

Archibald is dressed. His 165-pounds don't want to get up. He's not exactly dying to play basketball in New York tonight.

"Hey, what did the Knicks do tonight?" says Archibald. "They beat Cleveland in Cleveland?"

He shakes his head. He thinks about having to go 48 minutes again against another team fighting for it's life. He signs and then starts talking basketball on the way out of the Capital Centre.