Bernie Bickerstaff had just settled into his seat next to Coach Dick Motta on the Bullets' bench yesterday when Motta bolted after referee Joe Crawford to protest what he thought was a missed foul call.
Crawford objected to Motta's opinions and ejected him. Just 44 seconds into the first quarter, assistant Bickerstaff was thrust into the longest acting head coaching stint of his five years with the Bullets.
"There was nothing to it," Bickerstaff said with a laugh after the Bullets registered a 121-110 victory over Golden State in Capital Centre. "when you win, nothing is hard."
It wasn't quite that easy. The Bullets led from midway in the first quarter but couldn't quite shake off the Warriors despite a season-high 35 points from Elvin Hayes. They didn't wrap up the victory until Hayes scored four points and Kevin Grevey two of his 25 late in the fourth period to end a final Golden State rally.
"Bernie might be ready for coach of the year now," said Bob Dandridge. "What is he, 2-0 this year? He might get overconfident at this rate."
It was Motta's earliest ejection in his 10-year NBA career, but he said it made up for the time "when I was with Chicago and I got three technicals in one game. You aren't supposed to be able to get three in a game, but I did."
While Motta waited in the dressing room, Bickerstaff guided Washington to a 64-56 halftime lead that should have been larger. But the Warriors, with Rick Barry scoring 22 points, ran off the last seven points of the second period stay within reach.
"We couldn't shake them," said Bickerstaff. "We tried to put them away but they ran well and we were getting hurt on transition."
Indeed, as well as Hayes and Wes Unseld were playing, Golden State might still have had a chance to make things close at the end if the Warriors hadn't forgotten about Barry in the second half.
Barry took only six shots in the final 24 minutes and added just eight points. His last points came midway through the fourth quarter and then he didn't touch the ball the rest of the game.
"Sure I brought it up," Barry said about his lack of involvement in the Warriors' offense. "It's been a very frustrating year that way. Sure I was getting tired. I can't play as hard now or do as many things. But I can be used to the team's advantage.
"They are still looking for me to carry them, but we aren't playing that way. We have to play wisely, take advantage of what they give us and we're not."
But Dandridge, who guarded Barry most of the game, didn't think he tried hard to get involved. "He expects the ball to come to him and when it doesn't he stands around," said Dandridge. "In the second half, they didn't call too many plays for him. Maybe after 22 in the first half, he was satisfied for the night."
Without Barry, the Warriors had nothing to offset the Bullets' inside game. Golden State Coach A1 Attles talked afterward about his club's first priority in the draft "is for someone to rebound" but that didn't help him yesterday.
Washington outrebounded the Warriors, 55-38, with Hayes picking up 18 and Unseld 11. Hayes had nine offensive rebounds, two more than all the Warriors.
Golden State was hurt by the absence of big forward E. C. Coleman. Barry wound up covering Unseld, who is much too strong for the Warrior veteran. And Hayes was too quick for Golden State centers Robert Parish and Clifford Ray.
Hayes didn't shoot particularly well (10 for 30) but he was aggressive. He wound up with 21 foul shots and made 17, the most he has converted in his 10-year career.
It was Washington's fourth victory in six games and Motta said he was encouraged by how the team "is running the offense better, drawing lots of fouls and, just as importantly, making the free throws."
As for Bickerstaff's performance, Motta laughed and said: "I never even said goodbye. After working with each other for two years, we do the same things now.He did a heck of a job. The team respects him to a man and they played hard for him."
But Bickerstaff had one complaint. "I wish," he said with a straight face, "that Dick would warn me when this is going to happen. I don't like surprises."