A truce has been declared in the Washington Bullets' camp. After almost a week of internal bickering, the enemy once again has become the Seattle SuperSonics.
"It's amazing what one win can do," said one Bullet, who didn't want to get involved in any more conflicts. "The pressure was incredible for a while. Everyone was feeling it. Now with one win, everyone has relaxed."
That victory Thursday night evened the National Basketball Association championship series at one game apiece. It was the Bullets' first win, ever, in the finals, which took care of part of the pressure. The rest was relieved by the fact that Washington didn't collapse after losing all but two points of a 16-point lead in the first half.
So yesterday thoughts turned to tomorrow's third game, which Coach Dick Motta categorized "as the most important in the history of the franchise.
"We've got to win it," he said of the 1:30 contest in Capital Centre. "We can't go out to Seattle behind 2-1. We've got to put the pressure on them."
Unlike the physical, aggressive practices earlier in the week, yesterday's light workout featured smiling faces and lighthearted byplay among the players.
And, for once, all the attention wasn't centered on Bob Dandridge and Elvin Hayes, the two forwards who scored 59 points Thursday night after getting only 27 in the opening game.
Instead, it was Tom Henderson, who has suffered through a troubling season, and Wes Unseld who were answering the questions and giving the TV interviews.
"Not everyone can be an offensive player," Motta said at one point. "There are only enough shots in the game for four players and probably three. And usually two do te bulk of the shooting. The ones who don't shoot have to fill other roles."
At least for this one game, the role-playing and the chemistry that had characterized Washington's drive to the finals returned. Thursday night the players worked well together running the offense the way Motta urged them to after the breakdown in game one. And while Dandridge and Hayes stole the applause of the sellout crowd, Henderson and Unseld did what their coach calls "the dirty work" and controlled the Sonics' two key players, Fred Brown and Marvin Webster.
Henderson contributed in two ways. He scored 20 points, his highest output since midseason, mainly by driving past defenders for layups. He also blanketed Brown, limiting him to 10 points, 20 fewer than in the opener.
"Tommy is strong now, like he was in training camp," said Motta. "His ankles don't seem to be bothering him as much."
This was the third time in the playoffs that Henderson, who has been inconsistent, has come up with a superior defensive effort. The other two were against George Gervin and Doug Collins in the sixth games of the San Antonio and Philadelphia series. He also helped limit Gus Williams, Seattle's top scorer, to six points in the opener of this round.
"You can't let Fred set up behind screens," said Henderson, who has maintained all along he could play good defense. "We got some help on the screens (Thursday night) and we also fought our way through them better."
Henderson has spent much of the year working againg ball-handling guards, which allowed Kevin Grevey to defense shooting guards. But both Henderson and Motta admit he is much more successful matching up against shooters such as Brown, Collins and Gervin.
"He has good luck going over the top of picks and screens," said Motta. "He really concentrates and keeps the ball away from them. He has strong legs and they enable him to fight through bodies."
While Henderson was working outside, Unseld was muscling inside. His 15 rebounds enabled the Bullets to get their fastbreak untracked. His massive screens and picks underneath allowed Hayes and Dandridge to work free for open shots. And his defense limited Webster to 10 points.
"Our offense is only as flexible as what Wes allows us to do with his screens," said Motta. "He helped get (Paul) Silas off Elvin in the game with his screens. No one notices things like that because they are watching the guys who have the ball. They are stars.
"Someone has to give up the ball and Wes is our man to do it. He's one of the reasons I took this job. I just wish I had coached him when he was younger. I would have liked to have put a saddle on him and ridden him to a great career."
Few players are willing to sacrifice points for picks as Unseld does.
"They are paying me to do thing like rebound, set picks and screens, pass and play defense," he said. "If they wanted me to score, I probably wouldn't set any screens either.
"Why? Because I don't like to get hit either. I get sore too, but that's why they are paying me.
"I use my bulk to do what a 7-footer uses his seven feet to do. I think I fare just as good as any 7-footer, but some people think because you are seven feet and you score a lot, you are better than a guy 6-7.
"A lot of people don't realize what I do is important. A lot don't want to But I do it because it works. I'm like anyone else. But I also can be like a hound dog. If I find game and no one bags it, I'm going to stop looking."
This has been a trying week for Unseld. He had been criticized for his lack of offense, something he says "comes up every time we get into the playoffs," and he said he was hurt by the statements.
But he said he felt he had to put his personal problems aside. "We might be on the verge of accomplishing the best thing that has ever happened to this organization," he said. "We can't let other things affect us."
Motta says he has no intention of trying to force more offense out of Unseld.
"Let Seattle leave him alone and chase Elvin with Webster," said Motta. "I love them to chase. For every shot of Elvin's they may block, Wes is going to get an offensive rebound or an easy layup. How can they sag off him when he's underneath the basket? He'll kill 'em.
"Maybe no one else appreciates what he does, but I do. And that's all that counts."
The Bullets watched films of the first half of Thursday's game. Motta said the execution and intensity "was much better. We can win playing that way" . . . Grevey, still bothered by his sore ankle, yesterday had an aching knee.