Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Turning points in National Basketball Association games aren't supposed to come at 4:10 of the first quarter. You'd think Dick Motta would know that after eight years.
But no, tonight the coach of the Washington Bullets defied whatever it is that decrees that no self-respecting game should be decided until the last two minutes.
And Motta got away with it. The Bullets conquered the perky Milwaukee Bucks, 120-109, all because he had the good sense to let his waterbug rookie guard, Larry Wright, come to the rescue way, way ahead of schedule.
"We planned on going to Larry early if we were floundering," Motta said after the Bullets had boosted their record to 19-18 with the sixth victory in their last seven games.
"I had him sitting right next to me from the very start. But I didn't think Milwaukee was ever going to let me get him in the game."
That's because the Bucks were running off 12 straight points so fast that Motta couldn't get the first syllable of "time-out" out of his mouth before they were taking off with the ball again.
The Milwaukee surge had started modestly enough with Bob Dandridge depositing two free throws and a short jump shot. Then it became downright embarrassing for the Bullet backcourt tandem of Dave Bing and Phil Chenier.
First Brian Winters stole the ball from Chenier and fed Junior Bridgeman for an easy layup.
Then Quinn Buckner sagged off Bing stole the ball from Leonard Robinson.
When Bridgeman missed his chance for another cripple, Buckner went right back and relieved Chenier of the ball and took it in for two points himself.
With the Milwaukee Arena scoreboard flashing a 27-16 lead for the Bucks and a crowd of 9,219 going out of its collective mind, Motta finally got his time-out.
In came Wright, who would go on to tie his professional high with 25 points, and out went the Bucks, like a candle in the winter wind.
It was Wright's way of apologizing for the panic he showed in Saturday's loss to Cleveland.
"That was a tight game, and when I made a couple mistakes, the coach took going to leave me in there, so I could play with ease."
The Bullets' hardship draft choice from Grambling, by way of Washington's Western High School, started with a jumper from the corner. Then Leornard Gray fed him with a nifty pass for a fast-break basket.
Chenier followed that by taking the ball from Winters and going for two more buckets and a deft steal from Buckner, the Bucks' prize rookie, that led to another Chenier score.
A Milwaukee time out failed to slow the onslaught. Elvin Hayes, who tied Wright with 25 points, hit a tip-in and the Bullets had closed the quarter with 14 straight points and a 30-27 lead they never surrendered.
That is not to say that the Bucks, whose 12-29 record is the worst in the NBA, withered and died right there. They kept taking runs at the Bullets that always ended a little short, either because of their own sloppiness or the things the Bullets had going for them.
One of those Washington pluses was the absence of Milwaukee's muscular center, Swen Nater, who sprained an ankle in practice Monday and didn't even dress for the game.
With no one to take Nater's place, the Bullets frolicked under the boards. Hayes grabbed 17 rebounds, Wes Unseld 15 and rookie Mitch Kupchak seven in just 20 minutes.
Motta, meanwhile, took a liking to the Bullets handled themselves in the fourth quarter, as they jacked a six-point lead into that final 11-point bulge.
"We haven't handled the ball and hit the open man like that all season," he said.
Perhaps it was inevitable that the man in the middle of that precision performance was Wright, who built his assist total to nine and did some scoring, too.
"They were backing up on Elvin and double-teaming Phil," he said. "There was nothing for me to do but shoot."
And on a night like this, there was nothing for the ball to do but go through the hoop.