So why not put Bob Dandridge on George Gervin in the final 140 seconds of a tie game both the Bullets and Spurs needed desperately to win? He had done everything else. When Washington needed unselfish play early, Dandridge provided it. When the Bullets needed scoring, Dandridge scored. Dandridge made Larry Kenon a nonfactor much of the game. He cracked The Iceman more than the law usually allows - and got away with it.
"Out front, you have to hand-check him," Dandridge explained. "Below the top of the key, I knew you've got to use the body and bump him. Fortunately, I wasn't called for either of it. Evidently, that's part of defense. He never got me to low, and when he did get inside I'd try and drive him into Elvin (Hayes) or Wes (Unseld)."
Like everyone else with an open mind, Dandridge was almost certain Hayes would be called for goal tending an off-balance prayer Gervin threw up with 32 seconds left and the Bullets ahead by a point. He hid his feelings well on the court, saying later: "You have to be prepared for anything in this league."
Bullet fans were not quite prepared for the way victory came about yesterday. Instead of the immediate intensity the team offered Friday, the Bullets made seen turnovers in the first eight minutes. Even the mascot, Tiny, had trouble getting the ball upcourt during a timeout, as Mo Layten showed he can too keep a dachshund from a loose ball while the Spurs are attending to other matters on the beach.
"You look at the box score," Coach Dick Motta said later, "and you'd swear we'd scored 115 points. We had only 15 turnovers, which is great; we get nine steals; we get six more rebounds than they did, and shot 50 percent from the field. But we never really got into the flow of the game. And Gervin got too many shots (17) from the foul line."
That the Bullets were able to stay close and finally slip by for a three-point victory was in part due to the Spurs playing "a little scared," Motta believed. Instead of their usual abandon the Spurs played almost deliberately, failing to push the throttle to the floor and deliver Washington a crippling blow each time that seemed possible.
"But then we'd beaten them at their own game," Dandridge reminded everyone.
"Any speed-up in tempo is to our advantage," Motta insisted.
"They don't hava a big man who can stay with Dandridge," Motta said. "And their second bid man can't stay with Elvin. We want to run on this team."
You knew these are playoff games when Billy Paultz goes running for an important spot on a jump ball and Unseld gives him a Terry Hermering like block to get the same position The hitting was fierce at times. So was the thinking, by Dandridge and Unseld, which is why the Bullets stayed in the game early despite all those turnovers.
What the Bullets did was isolate Dandridge on Kenon on offense - and the Spur could not have been more out of the play after Dandridge's first step had a spike been driven through his sneaker. Once past Kenon, Dandridge had two options - and usually chose the second one. When another Spur tried to cover fr Kenon, Dandridge found the open Bullet, usually Unseld for layups.
Dandridge had five assists the first quarter.
"That's the first time we've had a clear cut for the forward," Dandridge said, who quickly came to Kenon's defense. "A 6-9 guy like that on a 6-6 guy like me is like me trying to guard Tiny Archibald or Kevin Porter. The smaller guy has the advantage when he has the ball.
"I try to get involved as much as I can early in the game. We could feel they weren't going to run, that it would be a matter of doing same things differently, passing off, stealing the ball, so many little things that keep us in the game. Actually, they didn't beat us anywhere except Gervin on the foul line. Guess they (the officials) were trying to keep the game as interesting as possible."
As a free agent before the season, Dandridge had two options, he said, the Bullets or San Francisco. He chose the Bullets for a variety of reasons, one of which might someday be the reason's soloist such as Gervin might leave the Spurs. A man can carry an entire team only so long.
"Here I knew I could get 17 or so a game with no sweat," Dandridge said, "and we'd be a contender. There wouldn't be a helluva lot of day-in-and-day-out grind like Gervin's got to go to court and everybody to one side.
"Gervin's a guy who needs his rest, so sometimes it has to come during the game, like in the third quarter today. That's the price you have to pay for leading the league in scoring and being the dominant force on a team. You have think self-preservation, even though the coach leaves you out on the court."
Also, Dandridge was not about to be intimidated by Hayes, as a younger, Walter Davis-like player might have been. As he said: "I'd gotten my points playing (in Milwaukee) with Kareen and Oscar.I knew I could do it here with 'E' and Phil Chenier.
Dandridge volunteered that the Spurs "probably have played the best they're going to play. Kenen's not gotten into the offence. Green hasn't gotten into the offense and neither have (Coby) Dietrick and (Mark) Olberding. I still feel they won the Central Division title because we had too many people hurt."
The Bullets certainly have a fine chance to win the playoff series tomorrow in San Antonio, because the Spurs are not playing confidently. Perhaps too many players have been kept out of the offense for too long for them to give Gervin help when he needs it - or at least needs rest.
For the moment at least some basic truths about the basketball are becoming evident again. It is a big man's game after all, although the Bullets' Charles Johnson is showing that a little fellow with hustle and an accurate jump shot always is helpful. And teams that abandon what carried them during the season (ie: the Spurs' running game) usually become spectator s rather early in the playoffs.