Somewhere in the 11 days between performances, Larry Bird lost his shooting touch. But he rejoined the Boston Celtics Tuesday night at East Rutherford, N.J., with all his other abilities in hand and helped the team beat the New Jersey Nets, 123-117.
Although he was only 4 for 19 from the field, Bird, who missed three games because of a back injury suffered against Chicago Jan. 2, had 21 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists while playing 43 minutes.
It was a three-point play by Dennis Johnson with 2:16 remaining that clinched the victory over the battling Nets. The Nets scored 10 points in a row to cut the lead to 110-106 before Johnson applied the crusher.
Boston's Danny Ainge, also bothered by a back injury, returned after missing one game. He played 31 minutes and, like Bird, had 21 points.
"I expected my shot to be missing," Bird said. "The important thing, though, is that I felt good. My movement was good, and I looked for the pass. I'm not worried about my shooting because I knew it was condition and laying off for nine days."
Bird, who worked out Sunday and Monday, did have his touch at the free-throw line, making all 13 attempts.
Bird said the injury sort of scared him. "I felt great after the game with Chicago," he said. "I felt great after getting something to eat. Then I woke up the next morning and it was stiff. I was pretty much in bed the next three days.
"I don't know how it happened or what happened. Now, I'm back doing the same things out there, bumping and pushing, and I might get the same thing. I guess it was a freak accident.
"Last Wednesday, I couldn't even bend over. Maybe I could have played Saturday, but it's probably just as well I didn't."
The Nets outrebounded the Celtics, 55-49, with Buck Williams, who scored 16 points, getting 20 rebounds.
"I think we gave a really good effort," Net Coach Dave Wohl said. "We played well. They were aggressive like ourselves, but then we got too passive on defense and started reacting to them."
Houston 118, Phoenix 100--The Rockets, in a state of shock after learning that Mitchell Wiggins and Lewis Lloyd had been banned from the National Basketball Assn. because they tested positive for cocaine, needed help.
In this game at Houston, they called upon their Twin Towers, Ralph Sampson and Akeem Olajuwon. The two big men responded with strong performances.
Sampson, in his best game of the season, had 31 points and 19 rebounds. Olajuwon had 30 points and 10 rebounds while playing only 29 minutes.
Without the two guards, the Rockets had only 10 players available.
Philadelphia 101, Indiana 94--There are rumors that Charles Barkley is unhappy and wants the 76ers to trade him. His play does not indicate it.
In this game at Indianapolis, the bulky 6-foot 6-inch forward had 30 points, 15 rebounds and 5 blocked shots. The NBA's leading rebounder scored eight of his points in a 20-1 first-quarter burst.
The Pacers, after leading, 21-14, went 5:43 without a field goal as the 76ers zoomed into control with a 34-22 lead. The Pacers never made a real threat the rest of the way.
Dallas 108, New York 103--Rolando Blackman scored 28 of his season-high 41 points in the first half at New York, but it was his five points in the last two minutes that ended the Knicks' six-game home winning streak.
The Knicks rallied from an 11-point deficit to take a 101-100 lead. With 1:58 left, Blackman sank a free throw to tie it. On a jumper from the right side, he put Dallas ahead for good. Two free throws increased the lead, and Derek Harper clinched the victory with a three-point shot.
Blackman, who scored 39 points earlier this season, made 12 of his 18 shots from the field and was 17 for 19 from the line to account for a point-a-minute performance.
Denver 117, Seattle 109--The Nuggets, apparently hopelessly beaten when they fell 20 points behind late in the third quarter at Denver, rallied sensationally.
With Alex English scoring 11 of his 33 points in the fourth quarter, the Nuggets outscored Seattle, 36-11, in the last 12 minutes to win their third game in a row.
Detroit 103, Cleveland 101--Isiah Thomas scored 11 of his 28 points in the last five minutes at Richfield, Ohio, to lead the surging Pistons to their fourth win in a row and their 19th victory in the last 23 games.
Rookie Ron Harper had a career-high 37 points for the Cavaliers, but his desperate attempt to tie the game at the final buzzer just missed.
Milwaukee 113, Sacramento 89--The crippled Bucks found a team they could beat and ended their three-game losing streak at Milwaukee.
Terry Cummings had 23 points and Jerry Reynolds had 21 for the Bucks, who are without two of their best players, Sidney Moncrief and Paul Pressey. However, guard Craig Hodges, after missing two games with a sprained ankle, returned to play 26 minutes and contribute 11 points and 7 assists.
Golden State 111, San Antonio 109--Joe Barry Carroll scored only 11 points at Oakland but made two big plays in the final minute that saved the win for the Warriors.
Anthony Jones scored 16 points in the fourth quarter to spark a Spurs' rally that all but pulled out the win. Carroll, with the Warriors leading, 107-103, made a clutch field goal, then blocked a shot by Jones a few seconds later.
Portland 121, Utah 113--Steve Johnson scored 25 points, and Kenny Carr added 20 points and 119 rebounds as the Trail Blazers won at Portland.
Portland trailed, 90-86, early in the fourth quarter but then reeled off 12 straight points and took a 98-90 lead on a follow shot by Jerome Kersey with 7:43 remaining.
The Trail Blazer win offset a career-high performance by Utah's Karl Marlone, who had 38 points.