The coach known as K.C. Quiet has been anything but during the last 72 hours. Turn a microphone and camera his way, flick on the lights and from the mildest of men comes:

"How the Lakers spell physical is d-i-r-t-y."

The Celtics coach goes on:

"Quinn (Buckner) was taking a charge (late in Game 3 of the NBA championship series Sunday) and he gets kicked in the head, by (Larry) Spriggs.

"On the films, I also saw a Laker sneaker kick at the face of Danny (Ainge) when he was on the floor with (Kurt) Rambis.

"That's not basketball."

And if the Celtics fail to retaliate in Game 4 tonight?

"We might as well pack our bags and go home."

As the song goes, and he likely has done it justice in that appealing baritone, K.C. Quiet would climb every mountain to win.

His sport's ultimate scrapper now is slipping out of the privacy he cherishes, because he hopes it will help his team stagger off the ropes against the formerly languid Lakers.

The Celtics crying foul is close to ludicrous, like Jack Kent Cooke saying he needs food stamps to struggle through the summer. In the history of the NBA, nobody has placed elbows harder or more deftly in opponents' ribs than the Celtics. Or thrown harder hips. Or thrived more on intimidation.

All of a sudden, K.C. Quiet is trying to splash some quick-drying whitewash on a familiar portrait and repaint the Celtics as cherubs, innocents getting maimed by Visigoths in purple and gold skivvies.

He was in midsermon near noon, talking forcefully though not loudly to a knot of mildly startled newspaper reporters when a local television crew arrived for a quick bite:

Could it be, Our Man On The Scene wondered, that the media has hyped the ugliness of this series beyond reality?

It could not.

The Lakers are playing dirty basketball, K.C. Quiet repeated.

If the officials for Game 4 cannot read, he is hoping they at least can hear -- and benefit from his wise and generous counsel.

Although it is most unusual for him, K.C. Quiet is all but reading from the standard playoff script: when the guards and forwards keep missing from outside, the coach is supposed to fire away with his mouth.

The bird Larry Bird has most closely resembled the last two games is a penguin. Hampered by a bum elbow and nudged a wee bit out of even his exceptional range by James Worthy, Bird has made just 17 of his last 42 shots.

Even worse, Dennis Johnson is nine for 32 the last two games. Danny Ainge was two for eight Sunday, so uncertain so often that Magic Johnson could leave him unattended and help keep Robert Parish scoreless and reboundless the second half.

In public, K.C. Quiet rants. In private, he seethes.

"He was almost too quiet (as the team watched films of the 25-point Lakers victory)," Buckner said. "He's totally (upset) now.

"He doesn't rant and rave; his silence says more than if he'd jump up and down and beat on something."

During an extraordinary career that included two NCAA titles, an Olympic gold medal and at least 10 NBA championships, K.C. Quiet has commanded respect but not attention. He gives players exceptional freedom, knowing it is their game after all. More subtly, their input gives him one more motivational tool.

"There was a two-game stretch (during the regular season) when Larry made the winning basket in the last seconds," Cedric Maxwell recalled. "The players had more to do with diagramming those plays than K.C. did.

"He feels if there's a better way way than his, do it."

Bird was more expansive: "In a game against Portland, I was coming down court, one on three. K.C. was hollering: 'Set up, set up.' I knew I had to shoot to make him mad."

Dumb as it seemed, Bird sensed that a daring basket was the sort of shot the team needed just then. He sighted on the run, and pulled the trigger.

"I didn't even look at the shot," Bird said. "I just turned around to him and said: 'Too late, coach.' He just shrugged. He didn't say anything. He didn't say that I embarrassed him or tried to show him up or anything like that.

"I've never had a coach like K.C. With all the championships he's won as a player and a coach, it would be easy for him to have an ego bigger than the players. But he knows that would blow it."

Yeah, Bird buried the shot.

Supremely confident, K.C. Quiet volunteered that he got locked in his own dressing room at halftime Sunday. Flailing at the door finally fetched freedom.

"I was shouting: 'Hey, I'm the coach of this team,' " he said with a laugh. "Maybe it was a mistake to come out of there."

There's no mistaking his will to win. Down three games to none to Golden State as coach of the Bullets in the '75 finals, he allowed Mike Riordan to all but mug Rick Barry in the opening minutes. That also failed.

In offseasons past, K.C. Quiet almost always could be seen at numerous team and charitable events. His schedule will be limited this summer.

"Goin' to Hawaii and takin' it easy," he said, smiling and stretching, as though already there. He was in the courtyard of the team's hotel. In a few minutes, he was walking away, off to his thoughts about his team. He emerged later as controversial and pugnacious. Out of his usual comfort zone, but totally in character.