Dick Motta returned to his long-time NBA home tonight and came away with his first allstar coaching assignment in his 11 league seasons. But he had to put in a good night's work before he could claim the distinction.
The Bullets began the game without forward Bob Dandridge (sprained ankle), then lost guard Kevin Grevey (hamstring pull) early in the third period. But some superb individual efforts, led by Elvin Hayes, were enough to pull out a 113-102 triumph over the Chicago Bulls.
Hayes outran Artis Gilmore in the first half to score 22 of his 31 points and stake the Bullets to a 55-46 intermission lead. In the second half, he got plenty of help from Mitch, Kupchak, Charles Johnson and Wes Unseld to withstand Gilmore's assault on the basket.
Kupchak, playing much of the way for Dandridge, scored 21 points and provided a number of key rebounds late in the game. Johnson came in to replace Grevey and pumped in all of his 14 points after intermission. Unseld, despite spotting Gilmore seven inches in height, pulled down 15 rebounds and scored 16 points.
Motta, who had been downplaying the all-star job by saying it was "no big deal," was elated with the triumph. When he coached in Chicago, he had come close to having the Western Conference's best record at the midway point of the season "a bunch of times" but lost out each occasion. And with the Bullets' sudden injury problems, it appeared he might suffer the same fate this year.
Because of the extent of their injuries, Dandridge and Grevey are doubtful for Saturday night's game against Indiana in Capital Centre. But at least Motta got plenty of practice learning to maneuver without them in this one.
Chicago tried putting Gilmore on Hayes the first time these teams met this season. The Bullets won that game so easily that they didn't have a chance to exploit the matchup. But this time around, they took full advantage.
Hayes, the quickest big man in the league, kept beating Gilmore down the court in the first half. He got in foul trouble early in the second, but came in midway through the fourth period to score two straight baskets that got Washington started on a comeback from a 85-82 deficit.
The Bullets soon ran off a 14-4 spurt to grab a 98-90 margin just when it appeared Gilmore, who had 21 points and 17 rebounds, was going to pull Chicago to a triumph.
During that outburst, Johnson scored two baskets, picked up a steal and fed Kupchak for a long fast break layup. Hayes caused another turnover by catching a Gilmore shot and stuffing it to the floor. A Hayes 12-footer and a Kupchak offensive rebound finished off the spurt.
Johnson finished with four steals and three assists in probably his best performance of the last month. Before leaving the game, Grevey scored 14 points and had the hottest Bullet shooting hand in the third period.
Washington also was able to take advantage of Unseld being guarded by a forward, mostly skinny Mickey Johnson. Unseld plowed constantly to the boards and kept the ball alive with taps. And his increased offensive activity this season resulted in one of his higher point productions of the schedule.
"I can't understand why Chicago wants to put Artis on me," said Hayes. "It doesn't work. I just try to run and beat him down the court. They started pushing more in the third period and that got me off or I could have scored more."
Both Hayes and Unseld had picked up their fourth fouls with 2:5 remaining in the third period. Hayes left with Washington ahead by four, but the Bulls came back behind Gilmore, whose dunk put them ahead, 87-84, with nine minutes left in the game.
Hayes had replaced Unseld moments before and scored immediately. Then Washington exploded to its 30th victory in 43 games and its 12th in 21 on the road. Both marks are the best in the NBA.
"C.J. did a heck of a job helping Elvin," said Grevey. "His steals were all important and he hit a lot of big shots. He knew what he had to do and he did it. But that is how our bench has been playing all year."
Grevey, who has been hampered by bad knees all season, pulled the hamstring when he slipped on a wet spot on the floor. He said afterward that, "It doesn't feel real good.My leg really stretched out when it happened."