San Antonio exploited what star guard George Gervin calls "our beef on the hoof" strategy yesterday and trampled the Bullets in the opening game of their best-of-seven NBA playoff series.
Gervin, the pencil-thin guard who scored 35 points, said that the Spurs tried to "run them as much as we could until their beef started breathing hard." Once the Bullets began panting, San Antonio was able to race to a 114-103 victory before a sellout crowd in the Convention Center Arena.
Washington did little to help itself offset the sharpshooting Spurs. The Bullets converted only 39 percent of their field-goal attempts, committed some crucial turnovers and got little production from their usually high-scoring reserves.
If the Bullets hadn't rebounded well - outboarding San Antonio, 58-48, including 28-13 on the offensive end - they would have been lucky to score 90 points.
"It was a tremendous defensive effort," said San Antonio Coach Doug Moe. "Until the last few minutes of the game, we couldn't have played any better. They only had 85 points with five minutes to go. Take away their rebounding and what's left?"
Only Elvin Hayes played well for Washington. He had 26 points, 15 rebounds and six assists, but just 14 of his 25 attempts came from set plays. The rest were from offensive rebounds.
Otherwise, the Bullets were as cold as in any game this season. Kevin Grevey, coming off a 41-point effort Friday night against Atlanta, was six of 20 from the field and scored 14 points. Mitch Kupchak missed 10 of 16 tries and Greg Ballard hit only two of 10.
"The only encouraging thing is that they played as well as they could and we didn't play well at all," said Hayes. "We cut down on our turnovers and get a boost from our bench and we can beat them."
Washington now has lost all five times it has played here since San Antonio joined the NBA last year. The Bullets will get another chance to break that slump tomorrow night before returning to Capital Centre for contests Friday and Sunday.
They could get a boost in game two from the return of Bob Dandridge, who worked out yesterday before the contest but decided his sore neck hurt too much to play. He said he filt he could suit up tomorrow.
"That will help us with our substitutions," said Coach Dick Motta. "It gives me more flexibility and I can bring Mitch off the bench, and I like that option too."
While Dandridge watched from the bench in street clothes, San Antonio broke open the game much the same way had beaten Washington twice before here this season.
After a fairly even first half, the Spurs turned to Gervin and their fast break to open a seven-point bulge in the third quarter. By the time the Spurs finally slowed down midway through the fourth, they had built a 16-point margin.
Gervin was kept under control in the opening half. But he quickly added to his 10-point total by hitting five of his first six third-quarter attempts as San Antonio came out gunning and running to start the period.
"We got our passing game going," said Gervin. "They weren't going to me, but I had good shots. They were all in close and I'm going to take those."
Motta tried to stop San Antonio's charge by calling timeouts, but his team's poor shooting prevented any comeback attempts. The Bullets managed to close to within 76-74 late in the quarters but the Spurs ran off six of the last eight points of the fourth to gain control.
Gervin finished with 16 points in the third period, missing only three of 11 shots. Meanwhile, Grevey was four for 16 for the game going into the final 12 minutes.
The one thing we have to prevent is spurts by them," said Motta. "We let them get going with a few turnovers and then they are hard to stop."
Not until the Spurs had jumped ahead, 101-85, and Motta went to seldom-used Joe Pace did Washington mount a comeback.
While San Antonio unwisely tried to slow things down, the Bullets ran off a 16-4 streak to pull within 105-101 with 55 seconds to go.
But the Spurs never lost their composure. After a timeout, they gave the ball to Gervin, cleared out and let him go one-on-one against Grevey. The result was two Gervin foul shots with 38 seconds left, then a three-point play from the Iceman 20 seconds later to wrap things up.
"We run better than they do," said Gervin, who led the NBA in scoring by producting a lot of 35-point nights. "And I think we are in better condition. So it's important for us to push the ball up the court and tire them out.
"If you can get three or four fast breaks in a row, they are bound to get tired. They are bulky and they didn't want to run."