The spectacular weather today in southern California was like so many other days: sunny and bright. It is for that reason that, despite what most think, the Boston Celtics' Cedric Maxwell believes his team has a decided advantage over the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA championship series.

"Everything is just too smooth and the way teams play basketball is just like the weather, mild," he said. "When you think about the Pittsburgh Steelers what do you think about? Rain and sleet and nasty weather. That's why they were so mean."

Game 3 of the best-of-seven series between Boston and Los Angeles will begin today at 3:30 p.m. EDT (WDVM-TV-9). In forging a 1-1 tie with a 109-102 victory last Thursday at Boston Garden, the Lakers belied their laid-back image, readily trading pushes and shoves with the Celtics.

"Yeah, they tried to do that, but I don't know how much it worked," said Boston forward Larry Bird, who suffered a bloodied nose in that game when he was elbowed in the first period.

Over the course of the game, in fact, Bird was introduced to the Garden's parquet floor a number of times, as was center Robert Parish. Parish was hurled down after becoming entangled with the Lakers' Mitch Kupchak, suffering a contusion on his right buttock in the process.

Parish is expected to be close to 100 percent for Game 3 at the Forum. The Celtics are now regarded by almost everyone except Maxwell as the underdogs in the series, despite the best regular season record in the league and a convincing 148-114 victory in Game 1.

That's because, in a change of format by the NBA, both the fourth and fifth games of the series will be played here. For the series to return to Boston for the final two games, the Celtics would have to win at least one of the three here.

"We knew this was a very important game for us, having to play three out there," Bird said. "We lost one game and now they can clinch it out there so there's no question we have our backs to the wall."

In Game 2, he showed signs of being able to take control of the action, scoring 22 of his team-high 30 points in the second half as he helped rally the Celtics from an 18-point halftime deficit to within four in the final two minutes.

"Somebody had to get us going," he said. "I decided I would try to force the issue."

Assisting in the Boston rush was guard Danny Ainge, the player Bird sees as the key to the series. After scoring 15 points in the first quarter of the opener, Ainge made his teammate appear correct. In Game 2, however, the four-year veteran started slowly, scoring four points in the first half.

In the third quarter, though, he scored nine of his total 15. Both games have indicated he is able to score a lot of points in a hurry, something that the Celtics are in need of, despite the presence of such all-stars as Bird, Parish, Kevin McHale and Dennis Johnson.

"I can only just go out and try to do my job," Ainge said. "It's not to put the ball in the hole or get the big points or rebounds. I'm really just a guy who's out there."

That wasn't the case at Brigham Young University, where he played best when he had to. In the NCAA tournament against UCLA, he scored 37 points. In the same tournament, he helped defeat Notre Dame by dribbling the length of the court for a layup in the final five seconds.

Such exploits led to instant notoriety but it wasn't to be recaptured until he left the Toronto Blue Jays of baseball's American League, where he struggled as an infielder, and headed for Boston. After a lengthy trial and out of court settlement, he joined the Celtics but struggled to justify their ardent desire for him.

Until recently, the only consensus regarding him was that he was full of scowls and pouts whenever something didn't go his way.

"I used to hate to play against him," said guard Ray Williams, who joined the Celtics late this season.

"All he used to do was hang around you, grabbing and pulling at you. Now I can just lean back and say, 'Go get 'em, Gnat.' "

In the team's semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers, Ainge pestered point guard Maurice Cheeks, twice impeding possible fast break layups by simply grabbing him by the waist and not letting go. After the second time, in the fifth and final game of the series, both men complained bitterly about the play, Cheeks claiming he had been fouled intentionally.

"I thought I'd made a pretty good play," Ainge said. "Maurice didn't like it, but I told him I do that to my brothers all the time when we play and that I'd keep doing it to him.

"If my wife was going in for a layup, I'd grab her, too."