Larry Bird makes his presence felt at Fieldhouse

Brian Spurlock-US PRESSWIRE

After the Pacers returned to the Fieldhouse with a four-game losing streak, Larry Bird left his perch to publicly reaffirm his expectations for his team.

Enough was enough for Larry Bird on Tuesday at the Fieldhouse. The Pacers president decided to shake things up and let everyone (including his players and coaches) know that he was well aware of the team's recent poor stretch but still maintained the same championship expectations for his team.

Consider Bird drawing attention to himself and his words as an effort to light a fire under the collective backside of the Pacers. Aside from watching home games in his normal seat, Bird normally spends games days behind the scenes. But Tuesday his presence was felt at the Fieldhouse throughout the day.

In the late afternoon, Bird was quoted voicing his frustrations with the Pacers over their recent 13-10 (now 14-10) stretch, deciding to give Bob Kravitz the night off by delivering his thoughts on the Pacers' recent effort, including Bird's "disappointment" with the bench play, well before tip off.

Before the Indy Star released the Kravitz's Bird column, Frank Vogel revealed that the bench would look a little different against the Celtics with Andrew Bynum making his debut while Ian Mahinmi rested a rib (foot? back? shoulder? does it really matter?) injury.

Vogel has remained steadfast in his public support of his players even if he is taking a different approach behind closed doors. Bird made Vogel's positive approach a requirement when he took over the job after watching Jim O'Brien suck the confidence out of his young players. Bird hedged on that approach in his comments to Kravitz, indicating it may be time to hold all accountable regardless of the setting.

"I'm sort of going to Frank's side because he's had so much success by staying positive,'' Bird said. "We do have to stay the course. But I also think he's got to start going after guys when they're not doing what they're supposed to do. And stay on them, whether you've got to take them out of the game when they're not doing what they're supposed to do or limit their minutes. I will say, he hasn't done that enough.

"...Do I think they'll come out of it? Yeah, but I don't think it'll happen overnight.''

Before the game, Vogel said he hadn't read the comments and that he and Bird talk all the time, although it seemed apparent he had yet to hear this bit of criticism from his boss.

Bird also made a very rare pre-game appearance, sitting courtside as a few players went through individual workouts. Donnie Walsh is always on hand to observe the pre-game ritual along with Kevin Pritchard when he's around, but I can't recall Bird sitting on the court as he did on Tuesday. Sitting up in the stands? On occasion, sure, but not on the court.

Now the Celtics were in town with lots of familiar faces, including Bird biographer Jackie MacMullan who was working on the Celtics' television broadcast and spent time seated courtside, as well. But even seeing old friends is rarely a public exercise for Bird.

That leads us to Andrew Bynum's debut late in the first quarter, when the Pacers' big man took the game by storm and appeared to catch the attention of Bird in his usual seat overlooking the Pacers bench in the lower corner of the Fieldhouse. As the Fieldhouse erupted during a string of plays by Bynum, Bird leaned forward in his seat, elbows on knees, intently taking in the action.

After Bynum logged four points and five rebounds in the first few minutes on the court, Bird leaned back into his more familiar stoic pose. His work was done for this day, now it was up to his team to take his very public nudge throughout the day along with the win over the Celtics and build a little momentum to turn things around for the better.

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