Tom Henderson scored a season-high 31 points yesterday as he led the Washington Bullets to a 104-98 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the deciding third game of their first round Eastern Conference playoff series at Capital Centre.

The Bullets now advance to the conference semifinals against the Central Division champion Houston Rockets.

The first two games of that best-of-seven series will be played at Capital Centre, but those dates have not been determined.

The Bullets blew a 13-pount lead in the fourth qurter and went into the final 3 1/2 minutes with score 94-94.

Henderson took care of that with a muscle drive to his left around Foots Walker and, after Elvin Hayes blocked a Campy Russell shot, scored a fast-break layup to get the Bullets a four-pount lead.

Henderson added four free throws in the final 30 seconds as Cleveland was forced to foul.

Henderson also had five assists and, as Hayes said, "took little Footsy Walker right out of the game."

"Tom really did it," Wes Unseld said. "He was the difference today."

Embarrassed at scoring only 83 points in the second game of the series in Richfield, Ohio, Friday, the Bullets were determined to run yesterday.

Henderson scored on a driving layup the first time he touched the ball and the Ballets didn't slow up until seven minutes and two Cleveland time-outs later.

By then, Henderson had eight points and the Bullets had a 23-8 lead.

"In the locker room before the game guys just couldn't wait to get out there and get at them," Hayes said.

The Cavaliers, who have had trouble shooting all series, had the same problem yesterday. They shot 40 per cent for the game and their big guns, Campy Russell, Austin Carr and Bingo Smith went one for 16 in the first half. But at intermission Cleveland trailed by only nine points at 56-47 after the Bullets got careless with a 17-point lead.

A rare successful drive by Walker cut the Bullets' lead to 61-55 early in the third period, but Hayes scored a layup off a pass from Henderson and Kevin Grevey sank two to put the Bullets 10 points ahead.

Washington appeared to have thing under control after two 16-footers by Hayes, who finished with 23 points, gave the Bullets a 94-81 lead with 8:08 to play.

Then 7-foot Elmore Smith took charge for the Cavaliers and the Bullets went into a trance. Smith scored ine points while the Cavaliers ran off 13 straight to tie the game at 94.

"Our concentration just wasn't there," Unseld said.

The Bullets went scoreless for 5 1/2 minutes, missed eight straight shotes and lost the ball twice while Smith was putting in hooks and turnaround jump shots over Hayes and Mitch Kupchak.

A Smith jumper put the Cavaliers four points back. Walker stole a Bob Weiss pass for a layup.Hednerson, Chenier and Hayes missed for the Bullets on their next tree possessions and Smith tied the score with another turnaround on Hayes with 3:27 to play.

"I felt that if we hung with them in the third quarter we could get them in the fourth," said Cleveland coach Bill Fitch. "When it was 94-94, that's when anything can happen. The shots we had then were the easiest ones we had all day. They just wouldn't go. We had as good an opportunity to win as they did. Maybe we expended too much energy to get there, I don't know."

After they tied the score, the Cavaliers missed fived straight shots - three layups, two by Walker and one by Russell, a 15-footer by Bingo Smith and the Russell shotes Hayes blocked.

The Cavaliers ended their drought with a dunk by Elmore Smith, who scored 13 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter.

The Bullets controlled most of the game because they were able to run and because Henderson made sure he controlled the ball. Seldom did a successful Bullet play or fast break take shape without Henderson having had a had in it.

"'E' and Wes were going to the board and getting the ball and I was getting the outlet at halfcourt," Henderson said.

Unseld, who had 14 rebounds, one fewer than Hayes, said he expected the game to be close, even after the Bullets ran off to that big lead. Unseld has seen the Bullets blow big leads and lose before.

Metta said the Bullets were a lot more intense than they were the last game and said he knew Henderson was going to have a good game.

"He didn't play well in Cleveland and the kind of person he is, I knew he would be ready today," Motta said. "He is usually a jovial guy before games.He jokes a lot and gets on his teammates. He was very serious, though, yesterday (Saturday) and today. He was determined."

The Bullets were disappointed in that only 10,488 showed up. "There were almost as many Cleveland fans as there were ours," said Motta.