Larry Bird's pain will be just as important as his points in deciding the Boston Celtics-Indiana Pacers playoff series.

Bird, who has an inflamed disc in his lower back, entered Friday night's playoff opener having played just one game in the previous three weeks. But in 41 minutes he scored 21 points, grabbed 12 rebounds, handed out 12 assists and led the Celtics to a 127-120 victory. He then checked himself into a Boston hospital to be put into traction for the night.Bird left the hospital Saturday and later attended practice, although he did not play. A team spokesman said the overnight stay was for "therapeutic reasons," so Bird could get a "good night's sleep."

This is striking in that no word-association game links "sweet dreams" with "traction."

Bird's status is uncertain throughout the postseason.

"Every day's a new experience," he said after Friday night's game.

The Celtics said his status will have to be evaluated on a "day-to-day" basis, and he is questionable for Sunday afternoon, when Game 2 will be played at Boston Garden.

Bird's value to the Celtics transcends statistics. When he is on the court, the Celtics play with more self-assurance. By overcoming the back pain Friday night, he had an even greater value.

"Everybody thought he couldn't play," said teammate Brian Shaw. "He's got a big heart, and it (Bird's appearance) was a big motivator for the team. We get a spiritual lift every time steps out on the floor. "

Bird did not practice during the previous week and Boston Coach Chris Ford said, "I didn't find out Larry was going to play until just before the game. (Then) I didn't know what to expect, three or 30 minutes. That's some of the gutsiest playing I've ever seen. I just hope everyone can fully appreciate what he did."

During the regular season, the Celtics were 46-14 in games Bird played in. In the 22 games he was sidelined, their record was 10-12.