There were three plays for the money yesterday in the final 34 seconds at Capital Centre and the Houston Rockets believed to the man they were bilked badly on two of them by the referees.
"Robbery, that's all I can say," fumed Rocket forward Rudy Tomjanovich. "It's been that way the whole series. I saw guys manhandle Moses Malone out there, and I'm still waiting for the call."
"We're getting no breaks at all," added guard John Lucas, himself a victim of a neat pickpocket caper pulled by the Bullet's Tom Henderson on the first of those three big plays.
The Rockets were leading, 90-89, and had called time-out to set up a play with 34 seconds remaining. Lucas saw an opening up the middle, dribbled near the foul line and leaped into his jump shot, only to have Henderson knock away the ball and Wes Unseld pick it up.
"I have no complaints about that play," Lucas said. "It was a clean block. Henderson hit the ball right out of my hand and made a good play."
But moments later, the Rockets were howling at the other end of the court when Malone went up to block Mitch Mupchak's attempted stuff, and was called for a foul.
Malone offered his standard afterloss "No comment," but Tomjanovich was more than willing to speak up.
"I was standing right there," he said. "The worst we should have gotten out of that was a jump ball.
Added reserve John Johnson, watching from the bench, "We had a good angle, the referee didn't. It was the cleanest block I've ever seen in my life."
Kupchak understandably, [WORD ILLEGIBLE] "He may have had one hand on one ball," he said. "But his other arm went across my body and his body hit me too. No question, I was fouled."
Kupchak made the two free throws for a 91-90 lead with 18 seconds remaining, then made another important play at the other end when he drew a charge from Rocket guard Mike Newlin with 11 seconds left.
Newlin, one of the game's gentlemen, refused to rant and rave. He simply said he saw Kupchak all the way, that he jumped aside to avoid the hit and that "I didn't jump into him.
"I expected to go the (free throw) line," Newlin said. "What do you expect me to say, that I ran right up his front? The referee has to call it the way he sees it. He calls what he calls and there's nothing I can do."
"I have no complaint," added his coach. Tom Nissalke. "It was a judgement call on Moses and it doesn't make a difference what I thought. But Moses made a great play on it. Newlin's foul was the same way.
"I thought we played well. All three games have been great basketball games. Hey, is Malone a player or not?"
The way the Rockets talk, Malone is also a very battered player. "They're beating him up," said Lucas. "They beat on him the whole game and he hardly gets to the line. But we'll be back. We'll win here Tuesday, go back home and win and win it here next Sunday."
Over in the Bullets' locker room, Elvin Hayes was feeling no sympathy for Malone, not after watching him take 11 free throws to Hayes' four.
"Moses is a tough offensive rebounder and you have to use little tricks to keep him away," Hayes said with a sly grin. What tricks was he referring to? "Just say I used experience."
That also translates into a lot of bumping, pushing and elbowing at strategic times. "He lost control of himself. But they're trying to do the same thing to me. Whenever I go up for a shot, they send two guys over to hack me."