The Houston Rockets put on an incredible fourth-quarter shooting display yesterday that left the Washington Bullets bewildered, defeated and finished for the season.
The Rockets made 13 of 17 shots in the finla period, including their last 10, on their way to a 108-103 victory before 12,383 at Capitol Centre, giving the Rockets the NBA Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series, four games to two.
Houston now advances to the conference final against the Philadelphia 76ers, 83-77 winners over the Boston Celtics yesterday in the seventh game of the semifinal series.
Again it was the irrespressible Mike Newlin who gave the Rockets a fourth-quarter lift.
He scored 15 of his 21 points in the final 12 minutes, marking all his five field goal attempts.
Rudy Tomjanovich went four for five in the quarter on some outrageously long jump shots.
Moses Malone missed a short jumper with six minutes left and the score tied at 87-87. But from then on, the Rockets didn't miss. Newlin scored on a drive and Calvin Murphy made a free throw and Dwight Jones hit a 12 footer. Even other basket was from beyond 20 feet.
"They were shooting 40-footers like they were free throws," the Bullets' Elvin Hayes said. "NEwlin was shooting off the wrong foot and everything and they were all going in."
With the game in doubt those last five minutes, the Rockets spread and passed the ball around until someone got open. And it didn't matter how far away the open man was. Tom Henderson was on Newlin and Wes Unseld on Tomjanovich.
Houston coach Tom Nissalke said that particular matchup hurt the Bullets as much as anything. Unseld is strong enough to force Tomjanovich outside - way outside - but the 6-8 Tomjanovich was on and distance didn't matter.
Tomjanovich who finished with 26 points, drilled in three straight 25-footers. The middle one with 1:26 left and the 24-second clock running down to give the Rockets an unsurmountable 103-99 lead.
"Wes was victimized by that matchup," Nissalke added. "It's not his fault, either. He was the only one they (the Bullets) could put on Ruddy. We just took advantage of our great shooters by spreading the court."
Unseld said there just isn't much the defense can do when a team spreads out on offense like that. "All you can do," he said, "is to take chances by going for the ball and hope they make a mistake."
The brash Rockets made few.
"They just beat us," Bullet coach Dick Notta said. "I think they beat us the whoel series. They spread out all over the court and then hit the open shots.
"They have the big veteran shooters and the big guy (Malone) to go get it if they miss."
"They aren't afraid of those long shots because Malone has at least a 30 per cent chance of getting the ball.
"They deserved to win, but I dddn't see any panic and the pressure didn'g get to us in this series." Motta said "that's a personal accomplishment for me."
"I don't think we disappointed anyone," Hayes said. "We just didn't win."
The Bullets did have their chances, though. They raced to an 11-point first-quarter lead and frequently seemed on the verge of breaking away.
But Newlin scored four quick points and Houston reserve John Johnson added two more to get the Rockets back to within five.
The Bullets got their lead back up to 11 again in the second quarter, but Hayes was called for charging and Henderson double-dribbed. The Rockets converted both mistakes into baskets and were close again.
The Bullets worked their lead back to 10 points again in the third quarter, but the Rockets fought back by out-scoring them 10-2. John Lucas had six of those points coming on three sweet drives to the hoop.
Washington began the fourth quarter by missing its first four shots and fell behind by two points at 79-77.
The rest of the game the Rockets peppered the Bullets from outside.
It was Newlin from 25 feet, Tomjanovich from 18. Newlin again from 20 and Tomjanovich from 25, answered only by a Phil Chenier jumper, and the Rockets had a 97-91 lead with 3:28 to play.
Mitch Kupchak later just in two straight offensive rebounds to get the Bullets within two points at 99-97 with 2:10 to play.
An uncondisionable Newlin 22-footer put Houston's lead back to four.
Washington was within two once more on a dunk by Hayes with 1:15 left.
That's when Newlin drove to his left, was cut off by Henderson and threw up an awkward off-balance running semi hook shot. It went in.
"If a team is going to beat you like that they're supposed to win." Hayes said. "And there's nothing you can do about it."