BOSTON -- Although no longer "sissies" in the eyes of Boston forward Larry Bird, the Celtics still have a long way to go if the want to capture the NBA Championship.
The Celtics forward called his team 'a bunch of sissies' after Game 3's 33-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Boston responded to Bird's criticism with a rugged 129-125 overtime victory Wednesday night that tied the series 2-2. The contest included scuffles and overt antagonism between the teams.
Game 5 of the series is tonight (9 p.m. EDT) at Boston Garden. The best-of-seven set returns to Los Angeles Sunday and Game 7, if necessary, is Tuesday night in Boston.
"We can play even harder," Bird said. "We've only played this one game (Game 4) close to what we are capable of. We played like the Boston Celtics are supposed to, and when we play aggressive we play a lot better."
Lakers guard Byron Scott has noticed a progression in the physical play during the finals.
"The series just seems to be getting tougher and tougher," he said. "They took us out of our running game by controlling the boards and we had trouble getting the ball in bounds."
Boston's toughness resulted in angry flare-ups, one after Kurt Rambis was decked by Kevin McHale on a breakaway and later when Bird and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar collided while fighting for a loose ball.
"It seemed as soon as the fights began they became more aggressive and we might have lost some of our concentration," said Los Angeles backup center Swen Nater.
The Celtics also played some mind games with the Lakers.
After James Worthy missed the first of two crucial free throws late in overtime, Boston's Cedric Maxwell crossed the lane in front of Worthy while clutching his throat.
"They missed three free throws (two others by Magic Johnson) and lost the game," said Maxwell. "They choked. He (Worthy) is a great player, but those things happen, everybody chokes once in a while."
Boston's M.L. Carr also talked to Worthy before the free throws to try and rattle him.
"That's the kind of player he is," Worthy said of Carr. "He's a psych player, that's his game. He comes in and tries to psyche you out, but I didn't pay much attention to it."
The Lakers' Michael Cooper admitted that his team was disrupted by the Celtics.
"We didn't play well at all. It was the little things that bothered us. There was a lot of frustration on the court," he said.
Lakers coach Pat Riley said he has no objections to the alternate-day schedule.
"I like it when there is not a whole lot of time between games,' he said. 'That way we don't have time to sit around and read; read how great we are. I think going back and playing right away is good for us, and you can bet we will be very good on Friday."
The Boston Celtics outrebounded the Lakers 52-46 in Game 4, the fifth time in six games this season they have had an edge on the boards.
Bird, who had a team-high 29 points, also led Boston with 21 rebounds as the Celtics ended their offensive rebounding problems by getting 27 second-chances.