Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
The Washington Bullets combined their best defensive performance of the season with near-perfect execution of coach Dick Motta's game strategy to hand the Portland Trail Blazers only their sixth loss of the season last night.
The 17,610 Capital Centre fans who ignored the inclement weather to turn out for the game were rewarded with a 102-93 Bullet victory that had them standing and applauding for much of the second half.
The Bullets were just as emotional as they sought to prove, according to Elvin Hayes, "that we are just as good a team as they are."
At least for one night, they were, thanks to an intelligent effort from every player Motta employed, and to 41 per cent shooting by Portland, the NBA's second-best shooting team.
Motta wanted the Bullets to sag and clog the middle to cut off Portland's inside passing game. He wanted Wes Unseld to as much as possible stop Bill Walton from passing and he asked the Bullets to fast break at every opportunity in order to wear down Walton and score baskets before he could get into his defensive position.
Washington responded by beating Portland down the court all night and by holding the Trail Blazers to only 12 layups all night, including just six off their set offense.
Unseld was able to bat away some early passes by Walton and the Portland center then seemed to think more about shooting the rest of the game. He finished with 24 points but tired in the fourth period after three quarters or trying to keep up with Elvin Hayes on fast breaks.
"If they were going to win, they were going to have to hit their outside shots," said Bobby Dandridge, who came back from a two-game abscense because of a sprained toe to score 22 points, two more than Hayes.
Portland couldn't meet that test and only a late rally in the fourth period, when the Trail Blazers scored 13 straight points to cut into what had been a 19-point Bullet lead, prevented the lose from being more lopsided.
When the Bullets lost, 117-104, to Portland in December, Motta was convinced his team could run with the Trail Blazers. But he was upset that it didn't take as much advantage as it could of Walton guarding Hayes.
So last night, Hayes kept Walton away from the basket, which allowed Dandridge and Mitch Kupchak to work inside without the threat of the big redhead batting away their shots. And Hayes also contributed 13 rebounds, five blocks and an emotional performance that was topped off by a lategame vicious dunk.
And Hayes' major defensive responsibility, forward Maurice Lucas, was held to seven points, hitting three of 14 shots.
The Bullets grabbed a 13-point lead early in the first half when Portland could shoot only 34 per cent in the opening quarter. The Trial Blazers narrowed the margin to three before Washington scored the last five points before intermission to take a 51-45 advantage into the locker room.
A dunk by Hayes and a three-point play by Larry Wright, who had 12 points as a substitute, combined with a drive down the middle and an 18-footer from Kupchak had the Bullets up, 84-69, early in the fourth period.
When Kupchak added an eight-footer and Dandridge two foul shots with 4:57 left in the game, the Bullets found themselves in front, 97-78, and everyone in the Centre, from the Bullets dancing girls (making a comeback after disbanding in November) to Tambourine Tommy, who wears a mask and plays a half-dozen tambourines tied to his belt, was convinced the contest was over.
But Portland exploded.Five quick layups, combined with erratic Bullet shooting and Motta was of the bench calling for a time-out. Another layup, from Dave Twardzik, and the Trail Blazers were within eight.
The clock, however, was working against coach Jack Ramsey's team. Lionel Hollins had to foul Dandridge, who made both foul shots with 1:42 left and that eased the pressure on Washington. Another free throw from Kevin Grevey moments later and the fans began heading for their cars.
Washington won this one without Phil Chenier, who missed his third straight game with a pulled hamstring. He probably will not play tonight in Buffalo, where the Bullets begin a stretch in which they play 12 of their next 17 games on the road.
Grevey filled in for Chenier with 17 points and nine rebounds.With Kupchak getting 17 points and 11 rebounds and Wright sparking the fast break, Washington also was able to beat Portland off the bench, an area where the Trail Blazers normally dominate.
"When we have this kind of balance and play defense for four quarters, we can stay with anyone," said Hayes, who agreed with Motta's assessment "that we feel we can match up with them. This was a great one for us to win."