Elvin Hayes is saying, "I smell a championship" and the Philadelphia 76ers are holding their noses. That the Bullets have the best team money can buy on the ropes is something no one could anticipate. Or bottle for future use. As Coach Dick Motta keeps saying: It's wonderful while it lasts."
Teams often are touched with a special glow at the oddest times. Portland became dominant after trading Sidney Wicks and Geoff Petrie; Los Angeles began to slide after collecting half the stars in the NBA galaxy. The Bullets play better each time somebody gets hurt or starts slumping.
The Sixers were supposed to bite the Bullets BEFORE Wes Unseld missed three games with a sprained ankle, BEFORE Kevin Grevey suffered that neck injury, BEFORE Mitch Kupchak became a 29 percent shooter, BEFORE Charles Johnson went eight for 33 from the field.
"I knew we matched up well against Philly," said Grevey. "San Antonio actually was the team we feared, because of (Larry) Kenon and (George) Gervin. I knew we could give the Sixers a good series, but having them down 3-1 is something I never dreamed about."
Why is this happening? The Sixers have been ever so helpful, keeping the ball from their hot shooters whenever possible, growling at one another, missing open shots. If there is a Sesame Street for NBA teams, somebody should enroll the Phreelancers. Their chemistry is highly volatile at the moment.
But the Bullets are winning this series almost as much as the Sixers are blowing it. Elvin Hayes and Bobby Dandridge are joys to behold, and whenever the Bullets need a basket or steal or crisp pass they get it.
"I don't know of a better small forward in the game now than Dandridge, if you consider every phase of the game," Motta said. "By that I mean knowing when to pick his spots at both ends of the court, when to run, how to block out and pass, all the things that make a team go."
Hayes had his usual Sunday playoff numbers: 35 points and 19 rebounds; the Bullets had four players with six assists each; Charles Johnson threw the most memorable pass of playoffs, to Larry Wright, now known as the Prince of Midair for the dunk that followed almost immediately.
Kupchak entered the game shooting 29 percent for the series. Naturally, this was the day he would go eight for 12 from the field, including a 17-footer from near the free-throw line and a tough rebound and followup basket when matters became slightly tense midway through the fourth quarter.
And Grevey, the fellow uncertain of a job before the season and uncertain of playing effectively after the neck injury before game two in Philadelphia, accounted for 30 points, 12 of them on assists.
When Dandridge was signed as a free agent and Greg Ballard drafted last year, it was Grevey who was being phased out of even more playing time, if not off the team, after two frustrating seasons.
Instead of pouting and accepting his fate Grevey worked all the harder. During last summer, Grevey's lunch hours were spent in the George Washington University gym. His evening hours were spent at Maryland. Weekends there were pickup games.
"It was the first time I'd ever flirted with failure," he said. "My high school coach had said there'd be a point where everything wouldn't be peaks, that he hoped that didn't happen to me, but if it did not to get down.
"Well, I signed with Kentucky and everything was still perfect, All-America, getting to the final four of the NCAA tournament. But the first two years here were so frustrating, the first time I'd ever doubted myself."
"I though maybe it was quittin' time for me."
Now Grevey has renewed vigor at a new position, guard, and he says "I go to bed every night thanking the Lord it happened."
And with a stiff neck.
The textbook for toweling off after a shower calls for swift strokes behind the neck, hands placed at either end of the cloth. When Grevey did that Tuesday "all the muscles began to spasm, tense up, pull away from the bone. It was freaky."
Many of Grevey's off-the-court hour now are spent in the hospital, his neck either being stretched, heated or massaged. He is shooting better on the court because he has a mere mortal, Doug Collins, instead of Gervin to check on defense.
"He's missed some, hurried his shots, not follwed through," Grevey said."And the Sixers are saying to themselves: You missed six in a row; you think I'm gonna pass it to you?"
"I know the feeling."