Elvin Hayes says he has arrived at the point in his career he has always aimed for: Opposing players now fear him.

He had that feeling yesterday, he said, as he wheeled and dealed for 40 points against the Buffalo Braves in leading the Washington Bullets to a come-from-behind 117-105 National Basketball Association victory at Capital Centre.

Despite being in foul trouble virtually the entire game, Hayes played all 48 minutes. He made 16 of 26 shots from the field, eight of 10 from the line and grabbed 14 rebounds.

"The Big E . . . He really did it, didn't he?" said coach Dick Motta.

A crowd of 10,942 probably thought it was in for a long afternoon when the Braves sprinted to an 18-point lead in the first quarter.

Former De Matha High School and Notre Dame star Adrian Dantley had 12 of his 33 points in that first period when it looked like the Braves were going to blow away the Bullets.

But the Bullets remained poised, a trait they often have shown of late.

"I told them halfway through the first quarter when they were way down that I wanted them to relax and just get within 10 at the half," Motta said.

The Bullets cut the lead to 63-54 at intermission.

"In the third period, I told them to try to get to the fourth quarter with only a two-point deficit," Motta said.

The Bullets cut the leads to 83-81 going into the final 12 minutes and then played near flawless basketball the rest of the way.

The lead changed hands six times in the final quarter before the Bullets went ahead, 100-98, on a driving three-point play by Tom Henderson with 4:08 to play.

With that as the spark, the Bullets went on to outscore the Braves, 9-0, in less than two minutes and take a 106-98 lead that sealed the victory.

That key play by Henderson came only seconds after he had grabbed a rebound near Buffalo's foul line and then barreled full speed upcourt, through four Braves in a drive that left jaws hanging.

While Hayes was scoring at will, Henderson was the man who was getting the ball to him and the rest of the Bullets. In addition to his 11 points, Henderson had 13 assits and seven rebounds.

"If there is a quicker guard in the league with the ball than Tom Henderson, I haven't seen him," Motta said.

Hayes scored 11 of his points in the final 3:26 of the game.

Buffalo double-teamed Hayes for most of the game, but when the Bullets really needed him down the stretch, Henderson kept calling a play the Bullets call "Clear." The play is designed to clear part of the floor so Hayes can't be double-teamed. The key is to do it and still get the ball to Hayes.

Henderson executed it perfectly.

"We ran almost all clears down the stretch," Henderson said.

"Tommy has really added something to this ball club," Motta said. 'He's picking up the loose balls and playing good defense, but the big thing is that he is now to the point where he recognizes things so well. He kept getting E into those one-one situations against John Shumate, and there's no match there."

"They sagged in on E early, but they didn't do it much later," Henderson said. "On a guy like E, you have to sag."

On almost any other day, Dantley would have been the one everyone raved about. He played most of the game at small forward, but also played some guard. He made 11 of 18 from the field and 11 of 12 from the line. But yesterday belonged to Hayes.

"Right now I'm doing the things I like to do on the court, I can dictate," Hayes said. "I don't let the defense dictate to me. I can do what I want to do. Guys are scared of me now. It's really nice to see that."

The Bullets have now won three in a row and 23 of their last 30 games. They won't play again until Wednesday, when they host the Denver Nuggets.

A jubilant Motta gave them a holiday today.