Most of his teammates didn't know he had announced he would retire at the end of the season until just before last night's game against the Boston Celtics at Capital Centre.

Even Wes Unseld was low-keying it, saying all he was thinking about was the Celtics. He struggled for 33 minutes in vain as the Bullets were buried, 112-91, before 18,143 fans, who gave him a long ovation before the game.

He lumbered about on his two bad knees, scoring only two points, but getting 10 rebounds.

It was this kind of game that helped Unseld make up his mind to quit after 13 seasons. The formal announcement will be made at a news conference today.

The Bullets got off to a good start and led, 74-70, late in the third period and then died, being outscored 23-4 in one stretch.

Larry Bird led a balanced Celtic attack that featured some incredible fast-break baskets as the Celtics gave the Bullets a lesson in teamwork and ball handling.

Bird finished with 25 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists and three steals.

The Bullets' defeat was their fourth in a row, but they had already given up on catching the Chicago Bulls and getting to the playoffs.

Boston's victory moved the Celtics (58-17) a half-game ahead of Philadelphia (58-18) in the race for the best record in the National Basketball Association. The 76ers lost to New Jersey in overtime last night.

The fact that the Bullets won't have Unseld after this season is just starting to sink in.

"Wes has been a great player for so long," said Bullet Coach Gene Shue. "He's the type of player that would be a great example for all pro players.

"Coming into the league, he didn't have a whole lot of ability, yet he became one of the most effective players there ever was. He's gotten the absolute most out of what he has. I call him a perfect pro because you know exactly what he will do every night.

"He will be sorely missed by the Washington Bullets and by myself," Shue added. "I have a great deal of respect for Wes. It's a simple game when you just go out and do your job and that's the type of player Wes was. He always went out and did his job.

"Looking at this team now, as it is, we don't have a player who supplies what Wes does. It will be very, very difficult to replace him."

Guard Kevin Porter said he could look into Unseld's eyes sometimes and see how badly he wanted to play, "but he just wasn't able to sometimes because of his physical problems.

"He's had a great career and he's secure, though. I respect him as much as I do any person I've ever been around."

Unseld spent most of the fourth period at the end of the Bullet bench, watching without any visible emotion as the Celtics ran circles around the team that he led to the playoffs for 12 straight seasons.

The Bullets made only four of 20 shots in the fourth quarter as the Celtics outscored them, 34-15.

Robert Parish supported Bird with 18 points and Chis Ford added 17. Elvin Hayes was high for the Bullets with 19 points and Kevin Grevey and Greg Ballard had 14 each.

If there was a bright spot for the Bullets last night it was the play of Andre McCarter. Porter got into early foul trouble so McCarter played 27 minutes and had nine points and three assists and did not commit a turnover. 2But McCarter's play wasn't nearly enough to remedy the Bullet ills.

"When the game was on the line, they (the Celtics) took it by playing aggressive defense," Shue said. "We stayed with them for three quarters, but when they started playing that aggressive defense we couldn't do anything about it."