Elvin Hayes, held to two points in the first three quarters, broke loose for 14 points in the fourth period, helping the Washington Bullets to a 110-103 victory over the Atlanta Hawks last night at the Capital Centre.
Guard Tom Henderson was most instrumental in the effort that snapped a two-game losing streak and kept them in the race for first place in the Central Division of the NBA.
The Bullets went into the game trailing division leader Houston by 2 1/2 games. The Rockets played Seattle last night.
Henderson led the Bullets with 22 points and added six assists, four steals and six rebounds. He also controlled the tempo much of the game.
Coach Dick Motta of the Bullets was a little down on Henderson after Tuesday's loss in San Antonio. Henderson made only three of seven shots, had one assist and played 20 minutes in that game.
The Bullets started as if last night was going to be a repeat performance of their two previous lackluster efforts.
They had an 11-10 lead and then lost the ball four straights times. The Hawks converted each turnover into a basket for an 18-11 lead.
Phil Chenier was connecting for the first time in five games and scored 10 points in the first quarter.
A three-point play by Henderson at the end of the quarter cut the deficit to 28-24.
Chenier was ejected from the game a minute and a half into the second quarter, and the Bullets appeared doomed.
Chenier was called for an offensive foul as he tried to drive around Mike Sojourner. Chenier complained about the call by official Bill Oakes. He knocked the ball out of Oakes' hands and brushed the official as he did.
He was slapped with a technical foul and ejected. Still angered, Chenier got right in Oakes' face shouting obscenities. Larry Wright pulled Chenier away.
With Chenier gone and Hayes having trouble trying to score on former teammate Leonard Robinson, the Bullets soon fell behind by 12 points.
Dave Bing, Chenier's replacement, Mitch Kupchak and Henderson picked things up, and the Bullets scored the last eight point of the second period and trailed 53-52.
A steal and a layup by Henderhon, a fast-break basket by Bing and two Kupchak baskets on assists from Bing accounted for the Bullet points in that spurt.
Robinson led the Hawks with 31 points, making the sixth straight game he has scored more than 30. He hit a 17-footer early in the third period and the Hawks led 57-55.
The Bullets ran off the game's next 10 points for a 65-57 lead. The Bullets never trailed again.
Again it was Henderson who started the Bullet rally before 6,778 fans. He banked in a 10-footer and followed with a fast-break basket. Hayes scored on a fast break after a Wes Unseld steal and Kevin Grevey sank two straight baskets off of drives.
Atlanta drew within 104-101 on a Robinson 20-footer with 56 seconds left, but Hayes hit a 15-footer on a pass from Wright with 32 seconds remaining.
Hayes was limited to four shots in the first half and was scoreless until he scored on a fast break layup three minutes into the third quarter.
Robinson was overplaying him on defense and Hayes didn't appear to be working hard enough to get the ball.
"When I don't score a point in the first half and Phil is out and we are still in the game that shows what kind of character this team has," Hayes said.
Henderson said the Bullets "were a little tight at first, but we got loose. We started running in the second half and playing our game instead of their's."
Henderson noted that Hayes may have been trying too hard in the first three quarters," but we had other guys scoring, and that loosened things up for Elvin later."