BOSTON, JAN. 27 -- Per usual, Larry Bird's work began more than an hour before tonight's game against the Washington Bullets with the all-NBA forward alone on the parquet floor of Boston Garden shooting jump shot after jump shot. The difference on this occasion was two uniformed security men standing just outside the court.

"No one is allowed to speak to Mr. Bird before the game," said one guard sternly, hustling away a well-wisher. With the tone of the evening thus established, Bird went on to score a season-high 49 points, hitting 20 of 30 shots to lead his team to a 106-100 victory.

Bird also added eight rebounds, six assists and four steals, but the splendid effort was barely enough to defeat the Bullets, who literally came within inches of changing the script and taking their first win here since March 14, 1984.

The game might have come down to the final 30 seconds of play. Leading, 102-100, the Celtics had the ball but with just a few ticks remaining on the 24-second clock. Dennis Johnson backed Bullets' rookie Tyrone Bogues down to the side of the free throw line but missed the short turnaround.

Bogues came up with the carom, surrounded near the baseline by three Boston defenders. Undaunted, he spun away, then attempted a pass to forward Bernard King, standing near midcourt. The ball never got there. Celtics guard Danny Ainge snaked in from behind for the steal, then hit center Robert Parish for an easy dunk.

The intercepted pass was even tougher to swallow because Ainge was the only Celtic in the vicinity of King and John Williams, who was even farther up the floor.

"There were three guys around me, but I saw John and B {King} down the court so I figured we could get a quick break out of it," Bogues said. "He said he didn't see Ainge there but it was probably my fault -- that's just how things happen sometimes."

"Danny had a decision to make, he could come up and try to make the steal or he could go back and play defense," said Celtics' Coach K.C. Jones. "I thought he made a very nice decision."

Naturally, his Bullets counterpart, Wes Unseld, felt a little different.

"It's all still young for me but this is the most frustrating loss yet," he said of the defeat, which dropped the Bullets to 16-22 overall and 8-3 since Unseld was named coach on Jan. 3. "I know that if B {Bernard King} had gotten the pass, we would have tied the game. But he just didn't see it coming."

Of Unseld's three defeats as head coach, two have been at Boston Garden. This loss also ended a four-game win streak for the Bullets, who return to Capital Centre to face the New York Knicks on Thursday.

King, a former Knick, led Washington with 32 points. Jeff Malone added 21 and center Moses Malone had 17 and 11 rebounds. The Celtics (30-11) got 26 points and 12 rebounds from Parish and 21 points with 10 boards from forward Kevin McHale. They have won 64 straight at Boston Garden, dating to late in the 1984-85 season.

Unquestionably, Bird was the word tonight. A starter in the all-star game in each of his nine NBA seasons, Bird hit 10 of 11 shots and scored 22 points in the opening quarter; he finished the first half with 32.

Some observers felt Bird was trying to atone for a substandard performance in Boston's 102-97 victory at Atlanta on Tuesday. In that game, Bird was seven for 21 from the field, and had five turnovers. After the game, he was quoted as saying, "I'm very glad there's a game tomorrow night."

The Bullets certainly bore the brunt of his glee in the early going, but, according to McHale, " . . . when {Bird starts scoring}, the rest of us tend to just stand around and watch. We're going, 'Woo we, did you see that one?'."

Indeed, Ainge, who entered the game with a 17-point scoring average, finished with just nine, and Dennis Johnson had but two. And despite Bird's pyrotechnics, the Celtics were unable to shake Washington.

Really, it wasn't Bird that hurt Washington as much as its inability to make the necessary plays, physically and mentally: At times, the Bullets failed to go after a number of loose balls; other times, they kicked them away.

In one sequence, two Washington players battled themselves for a rebound, knocking the ball out of bounds underneath the Celtics' basket. Given the second chance, Bird drove the lane for a basket and added a free throw after he was fouled. The play started the Celtics on a 14-4 run that put them ahead, 78-64.

On prior occasions that might have been a signal for Washington to lay down. Instead, the Bullets came rushing back. Down, 81-70, after three quarters, Moses Malone scored eight points early in the final period to help close the gap. However, with just over four minutes remaining, Unseld substituted Manute Bol for the all-star.

"I thought we were going better with Manute in there," the coach said. "We were playing good defense and we could use traps whenever we wanted to."

The unit of Bol, King, John Williams, Frank Johnson and Bogues continued to pare Boston's advantage, and when the 7-foot-6 Bol calmly sank a pair of free throws with 40 seconds left to make the score 102-100, the Bullets appeared in position to win. The idea appeared to take hold during the subsequent sequence, but the steal by Ainge brought the dream to an end.

Bulls 119, 76ers 109:

Michael Jordan scored 37 points, including four in a 6-0 overtime burst, as Chicago snapped a nine-game road losing streak last night in Philadelphia. The 76ers lost their sixth straight.

Chicago went ahead, 107-105, in overtime on a field goal by Brad Sellers, who scored 19 points, and the 76ers tied it on Charles Barkley's (22 points) driving layup.

Pistons 103, Pacers 86:

In Pontiac, Mich., Adrian Dantley scored 23 points and Detroit held Indiana scoreless for two lengthy stretches in the second half to win easily.

Cavaliers 112, Spurs 102:

Tyrone Corbin scored 21 points and Cleveland outscored San Antonio, 14-4, late in San Antonio.

Warriors 115, Trail Blazers 110:

Terry Teagle scored 12 of his 25 points in the final quarter as Golden State improved to 8-30, one-half game better than New Jersey (8-31) in the race to avoid the worst record in the NBA.

Mavericks 121, Suns 102:

Derek Harper and Mark Aguirre combined for 23 points in the fourth quarter as Dallas won at Phoenix and tied a club record with their fifth consecutive road victory.