BOSTON, JUNE 12 -- It's hard to imagine the Boston Celtics' 123-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 of the NBA finals meaning much more than about 30 people -- the team's players, coaches and staff -- flying 2,600 miles to spend 2 1/2 days in Los Angeles at a cost of approximately $700 per person. All that just to officially extend the string of non-repeating champions in the league to 18 years.

Then again, imagine being a member of the Celtics and realizing that were it not for an uncharacteristic series of gaffes in Game 4, the team would be heading west with a great chance of winning the title. This after being blown away at the Forum in the opening two games of the series.

Imagination's nice, but reality probably lies somewhere between the two images. The Celtics trail three games to two in this best-of-seven series because they did blow Game 4, because they have been a mediocre road team all season and because the Lakers dominated Games 1 and 2. Chances are, the thousands of balloons that Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke (then the Lakers' head honcho) ordered ready to be dropped from the roof of the building if the team beat the Celtics for the 1969 title finally will be released.

They weren't the first time around; the Lakers lost Games 6 and 7 in Inglewood. Their 1985 title against Boston was a breakthrough -- their first over the Celtics in nine tries -- but it was won at the Boston Garden. On Thursday, the Celtics deprived Los Angeles of a repeat performance, but they're still caught between a rock and a hard place.

"I can sit here and tell you stuff all day and if we come back and win, you'll say I lied," said Boston forward Larry Bird, who finished Game 5 with 23 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. "But I don't think our chances of winning are great. When I'm up, 3-1, I think that it's over . . . out there we have to be more aggressive, we can't give them anything because, if we do, they'll turn it into two points."

If the Celtics indeed had any home court advantage in Games 3, 4 and 5, it was that the Lakers didn't seem able to run on the parquet floor. There were any number of theories on Los Angeles' difficulties. Some suggested that the floor was too spongy, the quagmire effect slowing the team down. Boston guard Danny Ainge said perhaps the court is shorter than the regulation 94 feet and stopped the Lakers before they got started.

Whatever the reason, Los Angeles scored 126 and 141 points in the first two games of the series, shooting 58 percent from the field and scoring 110 points on fast breaks. In Boston, the Western Conference champions failed to hit 50 percent of their shots or score 40 points on the break in any of the games; on Thursday, the Celtics actually held an edge in fast break points.

Perhaps that's why Lakers assistant coach Bill Bertka was pacing restlessly around the lobby of his team's hotel here by 6 this morning.

"I didn't sleep at all last night," he said. "I want to go, get moving, get going."

That sentiment is shared to some extent by his co-workers.

"We're advancing the ball but we're not getting the same things out of it that we got in L.A.," said Coach Pat Riley.

That may have been a reference to guard Byron Scott and forward James Worthy, two players who function much better in the open court. Before going to Boston, Scott was enjoying his finest postseason, hitting 18 of 26 shots and scoring 20 points in Game 1 and 24 in Game 2.

In Boston, however, he shot two for nine, three for 10 and three for 10 with a total of 19 points. After Game 5, Riley was asked about Scott and reportedly responded, "We're still looking for him."

That same search party might have to track down Worthy as well. Apart from a nine-of-18, 21-point effort in Game 4 and a brief eight-point flurry on Thursday, the all-star's production was virtually nil in the three games. He scored 13 and 12 points in the Lakers' two losses.

"I picked a bad time to be in a shooting slump," Worthy said Thursday. "I became too anxious and it's disappointing when you cannot make a contribution to the team. I really have to contribute early in the ballgame. I have to hone-in the next two games."

If there are two more games, then we'll really have a story going, but Riley says he saw enough good things in Game 5 to maintain an air of confidence about the next contest Sunday.

"We'll come back and do all the things we have to do," he said. "We'll play on another level on Sunday. That doesn't guarantee anything because the Celtics only want to win this one and force a seventh game, but I think we'll come out much harder."