It's always nice to hear from the readers, even if the discussion takes place at a decibel count produced most often by jackhammers. So, about 11:26 the other night, an unnamed columnist said into the telephone. "Hello," and the literary critic at the other end said, "Get off Elvin's back, you jackhammer." He didn't really say jackhammer, but that's close enough.
"All I wrote was that Elvin ought to shut up and play basketball in the fourth quarter."
"Why," the caller said, "can't Elvin say what's on his mind? The guards have been awful and he said it. Motta is a joke and he said that. Earl Strom, everybody knows he's a crook. Elvin's right on all that stuff and you're criticizing him for saying it."
"It sounds like so much whining. Play basketball."
"Did you see the game on television tonight?" the man asked. He had called perhaps five seconds after the Bullets won at Seattle, 120-116.
"Sure, and Elvin was great."
"Are you going to put that in your stupid newspaper?"
Elvin Hayes was great the other night. When it mattered most, Hayes produced.Ending a rest on the bench, Hayes entered the game late in the third quarter with the Bullets 13 points behind, 85-72.Of Washington's next 34 points, Bobby Dandridge had 13 and Hayes eight. Those points tied it in regulation time.
And in the early moments of overtime, while Hayes didn't score again, he was an important factor. His aggressive rebound led to the Bullets' first bucket and a two-point lead. Then he not only ripped off another rebound, he threw a perfect 70-foot lob pass that produced a four-point lead. A few seconds later, he blocked a Seattle layup.
That was that. Seattle didn't catch up again, and Brent Musburger, the CBS-TV man who is something of a jackhammer himself, assured us viewers that this series isn't over yet. Since it was only game four, with each team needing two more victories for the NBA championship, it was hard to argue with him. Neither could we challenge Musburger's bold assertion, with all of six seconds left in a 2 1/2-hour telecast, that he "had thought all along" the Bullets could win in the Kingdome.
"I don't think the building did it, Brent," said Rick Barry, Musburger's seeing-eye dog for NBA work. "The Sonics didn't play smart basketball. They had a big lead and they let it get away.And you have to give the Bullets credit for coming back."
The woman of our house, knowing incisive analysis when she hears it, said, "Rick Barry made more sense with that bag over his head." She referred to the videots' halftime antics. About that time every night, we put on the popcorn. It had to wait the other night, for there was Rick Barry with a grocery sack over his head, shooting a free throw at halftime of an NBA championship game. The stunt might have passed for Barry's impression of the Bullet guards in game three, when they shot as if their heads were locked in some dark place. Barry missed everything. But then Paul Westphal of the Phoenix Suns made a free throw while blindfolded. So we popcorn-makers went to our stations secure in the knowledge that the Bullet guards, if all else failed, could ask Westphal how he did it.
They had no need. In the first three games of this championship round, Dandridge and Hayes, all-star veterans with 19 years experience between them, had averaged a combined six points in the fourth quarters. These are the horses. These are the big-bucks trucks paid to carry the freight. But they disappeared in the fourth quarters. Not this time; this time they had help.
Dandridge had nine points the last quarter. Hayes had six. The necessary help came from guards Charles Johnson and Larry Wright, who added 11 points, all but three from the outside. About then, the woman of the house, done with her popcorn, delivered a sweet message. "Overtime?" she said. She'd rather have seen Burt Reynolds and Michael Landon talk to Bawbawa Wawa on another channel. "You're a crumb," Journalism is hell.
In overtime on the other guys' court, you don't win often if you're crummy. Hayes did the heavy trucking work and the guards did the scoring with Johnson and Tommy Henderson each getting six of the last 14 points.
Every Bullet contributed to the victory. The guards who were nine for 45 in game three were 20 for 47 this time. Seattle, then, couldn't put a man behind Hayes, a man in front of him and another inside his shirt. Wes Unseld, the center, outscored Marvin Webster, 15 to eight.
If the Bullets are to win the NBA championship, they still must win a game in the Seattle Coliseum where the Sonics have won 21 straight games. Past performances suggest that Bullets can do it. Hayes and Dandridge will get their 40 to 50 points. Unseld will not let Webster win by himself. Just as the Bullet guards aren't that bad, Seattle's Freddy Brown and Dennis Johnson aren't that good.
The Bullets are the better team. By now, it may be argued, they could have won the whole thing. They botched a 19-point lead in game one and lost game three when a shameful 10 for 45 by the guards would have won. No big deal. It's all fun, better, anyway, than listening to Bawbawa Wawa.