The usually loquacious Charles Johnson was quiet last night. That's how tired he was after a 41-minute effort against Indiana that bailed out the Bullets on a night they played as dreary as the weather outside Capital Centre.
With Kevin Grevey sidelined by a hamstring pull, Johnson, in his first start this year, doubled his normal playing time and tripled his scoring average with a season-high 24 points in Washington's 109-104 triumph.
Although Elvin Hayes and Mitch Kupchak applied the knockout punch to the Pacers in the final period, it was the elusive Johnson, bombing away from the corners with those high-arching jumpers, who set up Indiana for the finishing blows.
"I'm too tired to think," Johnson said with a laugh. "I found out that playing 18 minutes as a reserve doesn't prepare you for what I played tonight."
But no one would have guessed Johnson was dragging the way he scampered around, searching for open spots on the court, mostly along the baseline. The Bullets found him alone enough that he had 22 points, sufficient to stake the Bullets to a 76-73 lead, through three quarters.
Then he handed things over to Hayes and Kupchak, who scored 22 points in the final quarter (Kupchak had 14) and took away the boards from the Pacers, who had been limiting Washington to infrequent offensive rebounds.
Kupchak, the only effective Bullet reserve last night, finished with 18 points. Hayes had 24 points, 17 rebounds, four blocks, two steals and two assists.They were supported by Bob Dandridge, who returned from a one-game absence because of an ankle sprain, to pump in 24 points, 16 in the first half.
Hayes has scored 88 points in his last three games, coming up with outstanding final periods in all of those contests. He has raised his average to 20 points, but, just as important for Washington, is running and rebounding better than any other time this season.
During the Bullets' current four-game winning streak, however, Hayes has barely overshadowed Johnson and Kupchak, the heart of Washington's standout bench. Kupchak has been a terror down the stretch during this span and Johnson has come through with excellent back-to-back games in place of the ailing Grevey, who was hurt Friday in Chicago.
Kupchak got his club rolling in the fourth period against Indiana with a three-point play off an offensive rebound. Moments later, Hayes made two foul shots, Kupchak batted away a pass and swished a jumper and the Bullets embarked on a 13-4 spurt to break away from the Pacers.
During that burst, Hayes recorded a tip-in and Kupchak another three-point play off a driving layup. And Larry Wright brought the crowd of 11,427 to its feet by blocking a Johnny Davis shot, then grabbing a long pass from Hayes and scoring through four Pacers on a fast break.
But before the fans could start celebrating, they had to watch the Bullets try to toss away what was now a 12-point lead. Three turnovers helped Indiana cut the margin to 103-100 but Dandridge, Johnson and Wes Unseld came back in to preserve the triumph.
Johnson had been resting since midway through the quarter.
"I had to take him out," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "He was tired. He should have been. He played 18 straight minutes. But while he was in there, he was tremendous."
After a 14-point second half against Chicago, Johnson knew he was going to start this game. As a result, he said he had to "prepare differently. Usually I like to get into the flow by watching the first quarter on the bench; for this game, I had to start thinking in the dressing room."
Whatever those pregame thoughts were, they worked. Indiana threatened to take control through the first three quarters with good offensive rebounding and scoring from James Edwards and Rickey Sobers. But every time the Pacers got moving, Johnson would pop loose along the baseline and swish a fade-away jumper.
"I was getting a lot of the shots off set plays," he said, "and that's different, too. In the second period, you usually have more opportunity shots because people are tired and more lax. In the first quarter, when they are fresher, you have to work for the openings."
Johnson may start for a few more games. Motta said Grevey was doubtful for Tuesday's playoff-final rematch with Seattle and there is a good chance he might miss most of the other three Bullet contests the next seven days.
Washington might have had a good reason for its slow start. Most of the players flew out of Chicago at 2:30 a.m. yesterday morning, changed planes in Atlanta and headed for Baltimore. But the flaps wouldn't work and, just as the plane got to Baltimore, it had to turn around and go back to Atlanta. Then the flaps started functioning and the craft about faced again and landed in Baltimore.
"That can get you thinking about something other than backetball," said Motta.