Kelvin Upshaw did get drafted. But it wasn't until the second round and it was only in the Continental Basketball Association in 1986.

He did make it to the big time this year, averaging 6.3 points in his first nine National Basketball Association games. They were, however, with Miami. And the Heat, the NBA's worst team, cut him on Jan. 31.So how can he be doing what he's doing now?

How can he be leading the Boston Celtics' fastbreak, emerging as one of their top passers and playing sticky defense on top guards? How can he have developed so quickly into a key to their playoff drive?

"His abilities fit exactly what we thought our needs were," Boston Coach Jimmy Rodgers said. "That was to get someone who can push the ball, get us running and make some good decisions."

It also helped that Upshaw was playing with veterns like Robert Parish and Kevin McHale instead of youngsters with the hapless Heat.

"You get the ball to these guys and they're going to finish the play on the break," Upshaw said. "They make by job easier. You're surrounded by great players like Kevin and Robert. I may keep saying that over and over and over, but it's the truth."

Upshaw, 26, went back to the CBA with Albany after being cut by Miami. But the Celtics needed backcourt help once they traded Danny Ainge to Sacramento Feb. 23.

That deal for Ed Pinckney and Joe Kleine was one step in Rodgers' plan to transform Boston into a younger, running team. Upshaw, who signed March 9, was another. Boston, 29-30 when Upshaw signed, is 4-2 since then and has gained on Philadelphia in the battle for the seventh playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

The former University of Utah player originally was seen as holding a roster spot until Larry Bird, who is recovering from surgery on both heels, was ready to return. But Upshaw, who played at the University of Utah, is on his second 10-day contract and Bird, whose recovery is going slower than he'd like, may not play again this season.

The 6-foot Upshaw has brought a fast-paced excitement to the Celtics' attack.

"It's to my advantage to play the running game. I'm able to use my speed and quickness," he said. "I don't know if I've surprised myself. I worked at my game. I've played basketball now ever since I was 7-years-old. I don't want to sound cocky. I don't want to sound overconfident but I've paid my dues."

He went to high school in Chicago, where he played pickup games with Isiah Thomas and Mark Aguirre. In his fourth game with the Celtics on March 17, he played tight defense on Detroit's Thomas, who made 9 of 25 shots.

"He's a solid defensive player," Rodgers said. "He gets the ball to the open man (on offense). That's reflected in his assist total."

Upshaw, who is averaging 5.5 assists in his six games with Boston, led the team in assists twice and tied for the lead twice. He is averaging 8 points and just 1.7 turnovers in 22.3 minutes per game.

In his first game with the Celtics, three days after his first practice, he made all four of his shots and had four assists in 13 minutes against Denver.

"His first game gave him a big boost," Boston starting guard Brian Shaw said. "He gets out in the open court and makes real good decisions. He's really assertive."

"I like his consistency," Rodgers said. "He's keeping us in a running mode when we take Brian out."