Bullet coach Dick Motta put today's decisive playoff game against the Cleveland Cavaliers in sharp perspective:
"It won't be pretty," he said, "but it will be intense, rough and close. It's plain old sudden-death time now."
The winner of today's 1:30 p.m. game at Capital Centre (WTOP-1500) will play the Central Division champion Houston Rockets in the next round.
Cleveland tied this first-round, best-of-three series with a 91-83 victory in Richfield, Ohio, Friday night. The Cavaliers outrebounded and outshot the Bullets and controlled the tempo and every other aspect of the game.
"Some things happened in that game that I just never thought would happen," Motta said.
Among them were a first quarter in which the Bullets shot 27 per cent and were outrebounded, 24-9; an 0-for-16 shooting night from three Bullet small forwards, and a Foots Walker who was allowed to roam all over the court.
"Talking won't do any good now." Motta said yesterday. "We know what they want to do and they know what we want to do. It's just who wants to stop the other from executing. We've beaten them four times out of six this year. We're a better team than they are. We aren't that superior to them, though. They are relentless on the boards and they'll slow the game down and make us look terrible. They won't beat themselves."
The jump-shooting Cavaliers haven't shot well in the series yet, 39 per cent in the first game and 41 per cent in the second.
Three of Cleveland's best shooters, Austin Carr, Bingo Smith and Dick Snyder, are a combined 21 for 78, or 27 per cent.
"That scares me," Motta said. "They aren't going to keep shooting like that."
The Cavaliers have been carried offensively by Walker, who is playing only because Jim Cleamons can't, and by the redoubtable Michael Russell, also known as Campy.
At 6-foot-8, Russell is one of the NBA's most difficult small forwards to defend against.
Russell can take smaller defenders like Kevin Grevey and Mike Riordan down low and work them over. When the Bullets put a muscle player like Wes Unseld or Mitch Kupchak on him, Russell moves outside and shoots his jump shot from up to 30 feet away.
"The first game we took all those jumpers, but they didn't go to the hoop," Russell said. "Friday we know we had to get there.
"I think we can win Sunday. We just have to duplicate our last game. We did everything we planned to do. If we do it again, we'll be fine."
Besides getting outmuscled and outhustled Friday night, the Bullets got no help from the small-forward position. While Russell bombed in 22 points and Smith added 10 from that position, Grevey missed all seven of his shots, Leonard Gray, all six of his and Kupchak three.
Motta finally resorted to using Dave Bing at small forward late in the game "just to have another shooter on the floor."
The Cavalier game plan is to double-and triple-team Elvin Hayes, making it difficult for the Bullets to get the ball to him and even more difficult for Hayes to maneuver once he does get the ball.
As a result, Phil Chenier has taken over the bulk of Washington's scoring. But the Cavaliers are starting to bump him and Chenier has not been getting as many easy shots.
The Bullets also have a tendency to neglect Chenier. Motta had to call time-outs Friday night to point this out.
Simply stated, the Bullets have to run to win. They can't let the methodical Cavaliers lull them into a slow pattern, muscle-type game as they did Friday.
"We walked too much over at their place," Hayes said. "We didn't get many fast breaks at all. You can't beat this team that way."
The Bullets scored only 18 points on fast breaks Friday compared with 39 points in the first game of the series.
So far in the series, Cleveland has made 85 of 211 field goals to only 70 of 166 for Washington. The Bullets have gone to the foul line 69 times and converted 54, however, compared to the Cavaliers' 21 for 32 effort.
That is a good reflection of the difference in styles of the two teams. The Bullets want the ball inside and try to drive to the basket while Cleveland thrives on jump shots.
The 83 points the Bullets scored Friday is their lowest total since they were held to 76 by the Cavaliers in the playoffs last year . . . Hayes' 23 rebounds Friday were his season high . . . The 30 field goals the Bullets made Friday was a season low . . . The winner of today's game will play the first two games of the next round in Houston Tuesday and Thursday.