"We can run at (Larry) Bird," Kevin Grevey was saying, "distract him. Greg Ballard has made Bird want to get this series over with. And (Cedric) Maxwell we can bump. Fact is, we can take just about anything the Celtics throw at us."

Grevey paused. Probably, he had another vision of the oddest-looking center ever to dominate a game offensively, all those arms and legs flapping when he gets the ball low on the left side of the basket, turning and wristing a shot that seems close to kissing clouds before plopping through the net.

"Only guy we can't stop," he said, "is Robert Parish."


"Just drained," said Rick Mahorn, who tried. Most every big Bullet has had a crack at the Celtic who resembles a bird more than Bird. But he's bigger than all of them, and jumps higher. When he's inspired, basketball is not an equal opportunity game. Against the Bullets, only Parish determines whether Parish fails to score.

Coax and hope is Washington's only chance. Legally.

"Maybe a zone," Grevey offered.

"Get another 7-footer," said Ballard. "Caldwell Jones."

He's occupied at the moment. And Washington resident Red Auerbach probably would recognize Patrick Ewing if the Bullets plucked him out of the Georgetown library and slipped him into uniform.

Parish made yesterday exasperating for the Bullets and however many bandwagon leapers came in out of the sun to watch Game 4 of the NBA's Eastern Conference semifinal playoffs in Capital Centre. He and Kevin McHale, who also seems about as awkward as he is effective.

Offensively, the Celtics gave the impression they'd just as soon be sunning themselves a good deal of the game, that the Bullets were plucky and feisty but essentially pests who could be swatted away simply by working the ball to Parish and getting out of his way.

"I don't know if we can play harder or better defense than the last two days," Grevey admitted, "and they've still outscored us. With hustle, determination and desire, you can play defense; that doesn't always get it done on offense."

Every time Parish catches a pass the Washington bench screams to the officials that he takes more steps without dribbling than Dr. Naismith had in mind. Three, maybe four in all during that early shuffle to prepare for launch. Can't these guys count? Or see? Maybe it would help if the Bullets hired Edward Bennett Williams to sit next to Gene Shue and plead their case.

"When he gets it over his head and shoots it so high, it's hard to go up and block it," said Mahorn. "He's a 7-footer."

Mahorn is 6-8.

"You try and force him to his weakness," he said, "but that's hard to do."

Weakness? Parish had 25 points and 13 rebounds Saturday; yesterday, he was better, 11 for 19 from the field, with 28 points and 15 rebounds when he fouled out 39 seconds before overtime.

The Bullets could try to double-team Parish. But some other Celtic, M.L. Carr or McHale, or possibly even Charles Bradley if that were necessary, would find a way to win. With the Bullets and Celtics, an otherwise magnificent Spencer Haywood seems destined to miss the final shot of regulation of an absolutely vital game.

The Bullets tug at your heart; the Celtics stagger your mind.

Washington's dressing room was almost empty after the 103-99 overtime loss when Shue walked toward Ballard.

"Your defense on Bird has been magnificent," he said. "Just great."

"Been trying, coach," Ballard said. "Been trying." They all have.

"What you do with Bird," Ballard said, "is play him like a guard, overplay him, keep him from getting the ball. (Robert) Reid has been successful that way, so has (Michael) Cooper. I do the same things, try to keep his mind off scoring."

But at a price. Bird has had dreadful stats and foul problems these four games against Washington; he still has been very valuable, by getting Ballard tuckered, too tired playing defense to regularly score.

Until yesterday, Ballard's playoff scoring average was eight points below his regular-season production. Boston can afford a scoring dropoff from Bird more than Washington can afford one from Ballard. So Bird helps immensely simply by being Bird.

Before going seven for 13 yesterday, Ballard had shot 32 percent from the field in five playoff games.

"I've played defense all season, but not with this intensity," he said. "They've looked to me for offense mostly (during the regular season). The (defensive) intensity has taken so much energy. I've had to play defense and offense. And my legs just now are getting adjusted. The off-day tomorrow (from practice) will help a lot.

"Maxwell's a good defensive player, but my shots have been there. When I was missing, going one for 12, I had my shots. I just didn't have my legs."