Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
If Norm Van Lier had been a man of his word, the Bullets might not have seen their five-game winning streak ended tonight.
Van Lier, the Chicago Bulls' veteran guard, said he was going to take a week off as part of a self-imposed exile to regain his zest for the game. He changed his mind and returned unexpectedly tonight to provide the spark the Bulls needed to overcome an early Washington lead.
With Van Lier penetrating the middle and dishing off to wide-open team-mates, Chicago caught the Bullets and then pulled ahead in the fourth period for a 116-103 triump.
"Van Lier killed us with his penetration," said Bullet coach Dick Motta. "It's difficult to stop once he gets going. We had control of the game and then he took it away from us."
Van Lier had missed the last three games before announcing his decision to take a vacation, citing "mental fatigue." But he came back, he said, after I tried to go hunting yesterday and it started to snow and then I watched TV and saw this guy who was blinded after being shot by a robber.
"I figure, my problems are nothing compared to that, so I said why not play tonight?"
He wound up looking like the Van Lier both Chicago fans and Motta, his excoach here remember. He scored 16 points and had a game-high nine assists, including three assists and six points in the final five minutes, when the Bulls pulled away from a 98-all tie.
Van Lier had plenty of help down the stretch. Forward Mickey Johnson, who roamed free in the second half despite the guarding of three different Bullets, scored 11 fourth-period points and guard Wilbur Holland and center Artis Gilmore posted six each.
That's the kind of balanced scoring Washington has been getting the last two weeks in winning nine of its last 10 games. But tonight, the offense was not nearly as smooth as it had been and the Bullets wound up depending almost entirely on Phil Chenier's 14 fourth-quarter points to stay in the game.
Still the Bullets remain in first place in the NBA Central Division, one-half game ahead of Cleveland, which lost to Portland. The Bullets and Cavaliers meet Wednesday night at 8 in Capital Centre.
"If we were tired tonight, and I think we were," said Motta about his team, which was ending a four-game, five-night stretch that included three road contests. "We are going to have to really dig against Cleveland. That's one game we don't want to lose."
For a while it appeared the Bullets wouldn't lose this one. But their running game and movement on offense broke down in the third period and Chicago's superior floor work took over in the fourth.
Chicago, which had led only at 2-0, finally wiped out the remnant of an early 11-point Bullet lead (and break-out to 45-37 after the Bulls had caught up at 37-37) when Johnson registered a three-point play off a driving layup to knot things at 86.
Chenier did the best he could to keep things even, hitting six straight points and then getting help from Elvin Hayes' three baskets to square the game at 98.
But after two Van Lier foul shots, Chicago took off. Larry Wright missed an open 12-footer and Johnson countered with a jumper. Hayes failed on a high-arching shot over Gilmore's long arm and Van Lier made two free throws after being fouled by Chenier.
That six-point lead was enough to allow the Bulls to dictate the tempo. Van Lier would drive the lane and dish off the ball and either Johnson. Holland or Scott May would convert open jump shots. Chicago wound up making its final nine shots and hit 63 per cent in the quarter.
The Bulls paid a price. They lost backup center Tom Boerwinkle, a 10-year veteran who was dratfed out of Tennessee by Motta, for the season. Boerwinkle fell in a second-quarter rebounding scramble and tore knee ligaments. He will undergo surgery Wednesday.
That leaves the Bulls without a replacement for Gilmore, who doesn't have the strength to play an entire game.