BOSTON, FEB. 6 -- For those wondering how Larry Bird would do upon his return to the lineup, this should suffice: 18 points, 13 assists, 9 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocked shots (and no, no partridge in a pear tree for this bird).

Tonight, Bird showed no signs of the back injury that kept him out of 14 games and reduced the Boston Celtics from masterful to mediocre, leading a 133-117 triumph over the Charlotte Hornets at Boston Garden.

"I didn't feel out of place," Bird said. "Usually when you're out that long it takes awhile to get back in the flow, but I felt good."

Bird tied teammate Kevin Gamble with a game-high 38 minutes and added crisp passing that had been missing while the Celtics went 7-7 without him. They were 26-5 before he got hurt.

"It's fun to see him out there," his coach, Chris Ford, said, "because so much happens with movement of the ball. I had no fears. We're still concerned how he'll react" after the long absence.

The Celtics said before the game that Bird wouldn't play Thursday night in New York or in Sunday's All-Star Game because they don't want him to travel or play on consecutive nights.

Boston led 36-34 with 8:25 left in the second quarter. Bird's short jumper started a 16-2 burst that gave the Celtics a 52-36 lead 3:02 before halftime.

Boston led 58-49 at intermission and stayed ahead by six to 25 points the rest of the way.

"Bird coming back gave them an emotional lift," Hornets Coach Gene Littles said. "He played very well when the game was on the line."

Kevin McHale scored 28 points for the Celtics, Gamble had 23 and Reggie Lewis 18. The Hornets, who got just 30 points from their starters, were led by reserves Dell Curry with 24 and Kendall Gill with 23.

"The bench earned the playing time, and they played hard," Littles said. "I went to the starters twice in the first half, and they put us in a deep hole."

Without Bird, who hadn't played since Jan. 6, the Celtics lost in Charlotte, 92-91, last Friday. It was their first loss after 10 victories over the Hornets and lowered their record against the four recent expansion teams to 26-2.

"There's no way I could have come back any sooner," Bird said. "I was worried about my wind, but I felt better out there than I thought I was going to."

Boston, which has won four of its last five, scored the first six points and was in control nearly all game.

Charlotte is 1-13 in its last 14 road games.