The reasons the Bullets may well have played their last home game of the NBA championship series yesterday can be reduced to one number and one scene, one steal and one word: eyes.
In capital Centre yesterday, the gang that couldn't shoot straight were the Bullet guards, who missed an astonishing 80 percent of their 45 shots. It would have been even worse had Tom Henderson not gone a torrid 6 for 18 from the field.
Seattle was in a charitable mood, though. And the half-dozen or so Bullet fans who did not leave before the final half-minute saw the whole game pass before their eyes.
There was one last chance to win the game the Bullets needed so desperately, time for one play with three seconds left and the Sonics ahead by a point. The Bullets got the ball to the man they wanted, Bobby Dandridge. And Dandridge got the shot he wanted, from the left baseline.
Time after time sore-kneed Kevin Grevey or Charles Johnson or Larry Wright would find themselves with reasonable shots, not as unmolested as those the slender blond girl Hotshot was making at halftime, but ones a pro ought not miss with such regularity.
"The worst thing a shooter can do out there is think," said Seattle's Fred Brown. And the Bullets were thinking about the fact that seven of their shots never got farther than the large hand of Dennis Johnson.
Johnson is a wonderful defensive player, but seven blocked shots is beyond belief. It is the equivalent of Elvin Hayes getting 40 rebounds or Dandridge 60 points.
"Hes not a cork," said Washington's Charles Johnson of Dennis Johnson. "Not a guy who can keep you completely bottled up. He never blocked shots like that on us before. He left his feet - and we ought to be able to exploit him for that, by faking to get him off the floor and then either shooting or moving with the ball."
A Sonic sub named Joe Hassett has tried that, too, and he advised Johnson not to be overconfident about the tactic in game four Tuesday in Seattle.
"His (Johnson's) secret is the eyes," Hassett said. "He looks at your eyes when you're coming downcourt - and he can sense when you're going to shoot.
"If you come down and take a peek at him and act like you're not going to shoot, you can get something off on him. But even I know when Grevey's going to take a shot. And Dandridge, too.
"But David Thompson also tried head fakes, but he (Johnson) wouldn't fall for 'em. Then Thompson would go up for the shot - and Dennis would be right there in his face. It's very rare to see him fall for a fake."
Johnson is a second-year Sonic who demonstrated a special flair for blocking shots as a rookie. He rejected six against the Celtics one game. He believes timing is as significant as leaping ability, though his vertical jump has been measured at nearly 40 inches.
"But the first thing I look at on the stat sheet is rebounds," Johnson said, "because me and Gus (Williams) have this thing about who gets the most rebounds."
Still, although Johnson's defense was the most obvious, the most significant defensice play was the one Brown made with just over 90 seconds to play and the Sonics ahead by four points.
Brown's defense had been maligned here after game two and veteran hoop insiders and insisted he does what is known as "guarding the passing lanes" as well as anyone alive. He gave a clinic just after CJ took an in-bounds pass near midcourt.
"I could see a set play coming up," Brown said. "I could see Dandridge coming out bear the key for a pass. I watched Charlie's eyes. I could see where he'd throw it.
"Sometimes I'm good on those things."
This time Brown stole the pass and sped downcourt for an easy layup, making a four-point swing for the Sonics. Had Washington converted the play it called time to set up, Seattle would have been ahead by just two points. Instead, the lead became six points.
The Bullets left for Seattle less than a half-hour after the game, so sniping was limited to Dandridge saying: "We're only run three or four plays all series. That's uncalled for. I hope we can start hitting from the outside: guards, me and E.
"We've got to exploit 'em, show 'em how we got here."
Nearby, Grevey had just unstrapped an ice bag from his right knee, memories of shots being blocked by George Gervin as well as Dennis Johnson still fresh.
"We couldn't play any worse out there," he said. "It was a nightmare. I guess I was rushing my shots. I don't know. If I had any kind of offense, if anything had gone in it would have taken the pressure off us."