BOSTON, JUNE 10 -- Larry Bird wasn't up to playing mind games or giving spunky speeches today. Bird is a realist. And with his Boston Celtics one game from elimination in the NBA championship series, he had some rather pessimistic things to say about his team's chances of successfully defending its title.

Even if the Celtics were to beat the Los Angeles Lakers Thursday night at Boston Garden in Game 5 (WUSA-TV-9, 9 p.m.), Boston would then have to go west and win two games at the Forum. "This is professional sports and we have a team which never quits," Bird said today before practice at the Garden. "I never think a team can beat us three times in a row, and I'm sure the Lakers have to feel the same way.

"Realistically, the way we've been playing on the road {six straight playoff losses}, unless we play a whole lot better, there's not much chance of that {winning three straight to take the series}.

"I wanted to win all three games here in Boston {Games 3, 4 and 5} because I know we could win one game out there," he said. "But winning two out there, I just don't know how mentally tough we are as a team {on the road} right now . . . If we had gotten that game {Tuesday night's 107-106 loss to the Lakers}, it'd be a whole different series. But now, our chances of winning the thing are tough and everybody knows it. I know that when I'm up, 3-1, I know it's over with."

Having made those rather blunt comments, Bird was asked if the Celtics would just "pack it in" if the Lakers came out and jumped to a 10-point lead on Thursday. Bird stared and bristled at the suggestion.

"We're not that type of individuals," he said. "If we were going to pack it in, we would have done that against Milwaukee or against Detroit. Kevin {McHale} could have gone home to have surgery on his foot by now. We could have just said, 'The heck with it, let's come back strong next year.' This is the finals. We don't come this far to pack it in."

Coach K.C. Jones, asked basically the same question, said, "We better be motivated in the finals. We came back from 3-1 down to beat Philadelphia . . . I'll say my little part, but they'll do most of it. These are self-starters on this club. We came from eight down to beat Milwaukee in Game 7, and we came from behind with five seconds left to beat Detroit in Game 5. That's why we can call ourselves champions."

Of course, the tone of today's analyses would have been completely different had Bird's jumper with one second to play Thursday gone in, or had the Celtics grabbed the rebound of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's missed free throw with seven seconds left.

It all left the Celtics in as nasty a mood as they've been in for a long, long time. Many of the Boston players, perhaps taking their cue from Jones, also decided to rip referee Earl Strom after the game.

Celtics boss Red Auerbach came down from the stands to scream at Strom after the horn had sounded. Jones said Strom worked the game as if he were wearing "a Laker uniform." Jones, who will likely be fined by the league for his remarks, today refused to elaborate on what he said after the loss. Auerbach and Strom were not available to comment.

It was ironic to hear the Celtics complaining about officiating at Boston Garden. Historically, visiting teams have headed for their buses shaking their heads over calls.

Bird, however, was not one of the Celtics blaming Strom for his team's defeat. "I'm very surprised," he said, "that we lost that game {after leading by 16 points with 17 minutes to play}. We've lost here before, but not like that; to just let it go. That's why it hurts a lot more."

Bird said he would still like to be the one to take the final shot. "The biggest game of the year, two seconds left, I'll take it every time," Bird said. "I've played a lot of ball; that's why I come out here and shoot the extra 30 or 45 shots. I got a good shot off and that's all I can ask for . . . I'd rather be playing the Clippers or Knicks right now, though."

While the Celtics spent today playing the agonizing game of "What if?" the Lakers talked about finishing it up in Boston and returning to Los Angeles with the team's fourth championship in the Magic Johnson years.

"I'd rather win this as soon as we could, not wait to win it at home," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Of course we're going to go for it. But the Celtics didn't get these banners at Woolworth's; they're tough here."

Abdul-Jabbar was still irritated with himself because he thought he had a "bad night," including a missed free throw with eight seconds left that would have been disastrous for Los Angeles had the Celtics not knocked the rebound out of bounds.

But Abdul-Jabbar was directly and indirectly one of the game's heroes. Michael Cooper's three-point basket that got the Lakers within 103-100 couldn't have been accomplished without Abdul-Jabbar's open-court steal from Robert Parish.

And Abdul-Jabbar was largely responsible for Magic Johnson's game-winning hook. Johnson's hook may not be as esthetically pleasing as Abdul-Jabbar's, but it is nearly as accurate. "Over a period of three or four months in the middle of the season, Magic would take that shot sporadically, once or twice a week," Abdul-Jabbar said.

"Then he'd go two weeks before he'd do it again. You've got to have your legs underneath you; that's the whole deal."

For Johnson, Tuesday's game-winning hook was probably the highlight of an amazing season. But he hopes for an even bigger highlight Thursday.

"I've got to make sure we don't get too happy and excited right now," Johnson said. "I gotta keep the Lakers focused tomorrow night, and then . . . we'll see."