What Coach Dick Motta described as "the real Bullet team" finally showed up in the NBA championship series yesterday and trampled Seattle, 117-82, to force a climactic seventh game.
"I saw things out there I thought we couldn't do anymore," said Motta, whose team evened the final playoffs at three games apiece.
The title game will take place Wednesday at 9 o'clock EDT in the Seattle Coliseum, where the Sonics have won their last 22 games since losing to the Bullets Feb. 8.
In running up the largest victory margin in final-round history, the Bullets showed the sellout crowd of 19,035 in Capital Centre facets of their game that had earned them previous triumphs against Sasn Antonio and Philadelphia.
They controlled the backboards 69-49, ran their fast break crisply, passed well (26 assists) and got a huge boost from their previously quiet bench (63 points).
And in the process, they found a new hero, rookie Greg Ballard, who was credited by Sonic guard Fred Brown with being "the difference in the game." Ballard scored 12 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and assisted on six baskets in 27 minutes, his longest appearance of the series.
Ballard got his unexpected playing time in part because of another injury to guard Kevin Grevey, who hurt his wrist in the third quarter of Friday's fifth game. The wrist was so uncomfortable by yesterday afternoon that Grevey was in for only six minutes - all at the outset.
It was Motta's decision to move Bob Dandridge to guard late in the second quarter to defend against Dennis Johnson, the Sonics' best player in the series. That gave Ballard his chance at forward. Dandridge and Ballard wound up igniting a Bullet rally that gave them a 12-point halftime lead.
"I guess I hurt it running into a (Jack Sikma) screen," said Grevey, who went to Sibley Hospital Saturday night for X-rays and six hours of treatment. "It stiffened up on the plane coming home from Seattle and even though they gave me a needle (cortisone and xylocain) before the game, it was still stiff."
Grevey said he did not think he could play Wednesday "if it doesn't improve."
Team physician Stanford Lavine felt the injury "should be healed enough by then to let him play, although it won't be 100 percent."
Charles Johnson filled in admiringly for Grevey, scoring 17 points," all in the first three quarters, through which the Bullets built an 84-61 lead. Johnson's defense and his ability to push the ball up the floor against lethargic Seattle helped trigger Washington's running game.
The Sonics aided the Bullets considerably with 22 turnovers, 33 percent shooting (including only 21 percent in the second quarter) and poor defense.
Seattle Coach Lenny Wilkens described it as "being out of sync. It was probably the worst we played all year."
No team has scored as few points in a final-round game since 1955, when Syracuse could total only 71. And the Sonics' first-half output of 35 points was their lowest of the season.
Whatever, Seattle's problems, Motta and his players felt a repeat Wednesday of their performance yesterday will, as Elvin Hayes put it, "bring back the championship to Washington. Seattle may say this game doesn't matter, but if we make a run at them Wednesday, it will have to come back to their minds. That's when it will bother them.
"I was just excited to see us play this way.It's the way we should have been playing all along. We got something from everyone."
Washington did spread the glory around. Hayes had 21 points and 15 rebounds with Wes Unseld (14 rebounds) to control the boards and start numerous fast breaks. Dandridge had 19 points, mostly off the running game, and reserves Larry Wright (10 poins) and Mitch Kupchak (19) enjoyed their best showing of the series.
Motta and his assistant, Bernie Bickerstaff, made an important contribution with the decision to use Dandridge against Dennis Johnson. It was a move that seemed to confuse the Sonics.
With Dandridge at guard, Ballard came in to play his forward spot. Over the final 4:20 of the first half, the two scored nine of 11 Bullet points, including the final seven, as Washington move from a one-point lead to a 47.35 halftime margin.
Ballard, who had not played in game five Friday, immediately made an 18-footer. Dandridge followed with another jumper and Hayes added a turnaround basket before Marvin Webster scored for Seattle.
Washington countered with a 10-footer from Dandridge, another Ballard jump shot, a driving Dandridge basket and a foul shot by Ballard after a technical called on Wilkens.
"We had talked about moving Bobby to guard before game four." Motta said. "But it just didn't work out until today. Grevey getting hurt made it necessary. Seattle was hurting us by having (Dennis) Johnson work down low against our smaller guards when Grevey was resting and we wanted to counter that."
Seattle scored only 14 points in the second quarter, missing five ofits last six shots. Dennis Johnson didn't shoot once and the Sonics also helped, Motta said, "by putting John Johnson in to cover Dandridge. That got a guard out of there and it's been their guards who have killed us."
The Bullets employed Dandridge in the back court briefly in the fourth quarter, but by then his presence didn't matter. Washington had put the game away, much to the delight of a crowd among which some had booed the home players briefly in a sloppy opening period.
There were nothing but cheers in the second half, when the Sonics could get no closer than nine points before the Bullets exploded with the kind of blitz that earned them a 19-point lead in game one of this series.
Dandridge again was a pivotal figure when the Bullets broke open the game for good. He put in a rebound of his own miss to give Washington a 59-48 advantage and followed with six straight points as Seattle began to crumble.
Those six points all came off fast breaks.
The first was a layup off a lead pass from Tom Henderson. Dandridge was fouled on the play and missed the free throw, only to have Charles Johnson slip in for the rebound inside Webster and set up Dandridge for a 12-footer.
Then Hayes grabbed a Jack Sikma miss and tossed a long pass to Johnson, who drove under the basket and fed the trailing Dandridge. Sikma fouled him; Dandridge made both tries.
Hayes followed with a rebound bucket and the Bullets were ahead, 67-48.
Moments later, Motta inserted four substitutes and the fresh faces proceeded to run off a 10-4 streak before the quarter ended. Another 12-0 blitz in the last period could have been mistaken for a 1978-79 season ticket push.
Motta had been worried about his team's offensive execution, but the Bullets ran so well yesterday they rarely had to set up for plays. Instead, they produced the loose, relaxed style that Motta said "we've been searching for the whole series. Why in this one? I don't know, except we knew we needed it very badly. We've always wanted to run it."
Whatever the reason, Motta felt the Bullets had constructed the "kind of victory we needed to get our confidence back. Everyone knows what a good game will produce for us against this team.
"Even though the last game is on their court, there is pressure on both teams. The one who can stand up the best is going to win it. We both know that."