Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
Bullet fans got their money's worth at Capital Centre Tuesday night. Not only did John Havlicek turn in a fine farewell performance but Washington suddenly started playing basketball with a zest that had been missing for weeks.
Not even Havlicek's 23 points, and a couple of vintage, dashing layups, could overcome a balanced Bullet effort that easily subdued the Boston Celtics, 119-107, before 17,252 delighted spectators.
The crowd, about 7,000 larger than the Bullets normally would draw for a midweek game, came to say good-bye to Havlicek. He received three warm standing ovations, a plaque and a videotape machine, but by the end of the game the fans were talking more about a couple of Bullet reserves: Charles Johnson and Phil Walker.
Johnson came on the third period to fire in 13 points and save Washington just when it seemed Boston was ready to take control of the game.
Walker, the rookie from Millersville State who spends most nights at the end of the bench, was impressive in the fourth quarter when Kevin Grevey's ankle became too sore for him to play.
Johnson finished with 22 points on nine-of-12 shooting and Walker added 16.They complemented an outstanding 3-4-point outburst by Elvin Hayes as the Bullets broke a three-game losing streak that included two of their worst performance of the season.
Coach Dick Motta credited a Monday team meeting and practice for the club's turnabout. The players pointed to Motta's decision to go back to multiple substitution, instead of relying on seven athletes, as the key.
"Let's face it, we were down, we weren't playing well," said Motta. "I had to do something. I had been going with seven players because I felt we had a chance to catch San Antonio for the Central Division title and I had an obligation to go after them.
"I've conceded first place to them now. Now we are battling for third (in the Eastern Conference) but it won't be the end of the world if we finish fourth. So I felt we had to start subsituting freely to get ready for the playoffs. It's better for us because I don't want to get caught shorthanded again if we have more injuries."
So Motta used 10 players in the first half and went down the stretch with Johnson, Walker and Mitch Kupchak in the fourth quater. The Bullets were delighted with his decision; they had been trying to tell him for the last two weeks that they play better with more substituting.
Instead of walking the ball up the court, the Bullets looked for the fast break and transition baskets. Instead of setting up what Motta called "our easy offeense just toss the ball inside," they ran more options and looked better for the open man.
"We talked it over Monday," said Motta. "It helped. It had been up to the coaching staff to make us execute and we hadn't been doing our jobs the last few weeks."
Last night Motta's substitutions were timely and effective. By using his bench, he was able to compensate for Bob Dandridge's four-for-16 shooting and Grevey's nine-point effort.
The Bullets came out firing. They hit five of their first six shots and only 10 points by Kermit Washington in the last six minutes of the period kept the Celtics within nine points going into the second stanza.
Hayes, who usually plays well against Dave Cowens, had 20 of Washington's first 52 points, missing only three of his first 12 shots. Hayes' three straight baskets put the Bullets ahead, 52-36, and forced Boston to call a timeout to regroup.
The rest was effective. With Havlicek scoring four points, the Celtics ran off 10 of the last 14 points of the half to trail at intermission, 67-56.
Hayes opened the third quater with five points and the Capital Centre fans could sense the start of a rout. But Havlicek, in his 16th season, wasn't about to let things get out of hand. He pumped in eight points over the next four minutes, the Bullets turned cold, started throwing away the ball and suddenly the lead was down to 81-79.
Then Johnson took over. He popped in a long jumper off a Dandridge pass to get things started Grevey and Hayes helped out with some foul shots, Boston turned over the ball a couple of times and Johnson swished in two shots from the right corner just before the buzzer.
No was happier about he victory than Walker. "Dick said I might start because Kevin's ankle was bad," he said. "So I was ready." So ready that in the second quater, Havlicek tried to shoot a jumper over him and only Walker stuffed it cleanly back into his face.
"It was," Walker admitted, "a good feeling. To be a rookie and a play him, well, I won't forget it."
The Bullets play at New Orleans tonight, then at New Jersey Friday . . . Kermit Washington, making his first appearance here as a Celtic, had a good game. He had 16 points, making five of six shots, and nine rebounds . . . Cowens, who had the flu and was not expected to play, flew in from Boston yesterday and wound up with 19 points and 16 rebounds.