The Bullets were like Volkswagens in a Grand Prix race tonight. While they puttered along, a sleek model called Ford whizzed by them so quickly they couldn't even read the number on its back.
Rookie Phil Ford has turned the Kansas City Kings into a team of racers. They moved with such speed in this game that they scored their most points in a contest since moving here seven years ago. But even the 142-128 whipping wasn't the major reason for Washington's embarrassment.
The Bullets simply could not stop either Ford or the other guard, Otis Birdsong. They had 72 points and 23 assists as they shredded the Bullet defense.
Birdsong's 39 points and 10 assists both were season highs, as was Ford's 33 points. But there should be an asterisk next to Birdsong's statistics. Almost all were a result of Ford's amazing ability to control games.
Ford, who had 13 assists, made 14 of 18 shots while Birdsong was 19 of 28. Forward Scott Wedman added 33 points on 14-of-17 marksmanship The Kings shot 60 percent. What was just as impressive was the number of wide-open shots they had. At times it looked almost like shooting practice, so poorly did the Bullets play.
"When Phil Ford gets going like that," said coach Cotton Fitzsimmons. "there isn't much you can do to stop him. He gets a head of steam up and he can go so many different ways."
Ford has transformed the Kings from one of the worst teams in the National Basketball Association into one of the best. And he gave Washington a fine example of just what he means to this club.
Although the Bullets came from 20 points back in the second quarter to trail by three early in the third period, the Kings were not in trouble. As long as Ford got the ball, he was able to manipulate Washington's defense.
"The only way to control him is to outscore him," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "But we couldn't do that tonight.
"You have to get both him and Birdsong along the baseline and make them play defense. As long as they stay out front. they can get a jump on the break and take off."
Washington sorely missed Kevin Grevey, who remained home nursing a hamstring pull. He is the club's only big guard and, without him, the Bullets had no one tall enough to handle Birdsong. And no one among Larry Wright, Tom Henderson or Charles Johnson could cope with Ford.
Ford turned routine offensive plays into fast breaks just by pushing the ball so fast up court that he overran retreating Bullet defenders. By the time he had reached the foul line, he would have a two-on-one break Kansas City could turn into a basket.
"We wanted to rush the ball up the court." said Fitzsimmons, emphasizing the word rush. "Just get the ball up as fast as we could. When we do that. we create shots: that's our game. If we tried to match them physically. they'd push us around. Hey, with Phil Ford. you don't walk the ball up the court."
Ford wasted little time taking charge of the contest. He and Birdsong scored the Kings' first seven points and soon Washington was behind, 21-12, before breaking a sweat. After the Bullets closed to three, Kansas City took off again, racing to a 39-22 margin. At that junction, Ford and Birdsong had all but 12 of their team's points.
Elvin Hayes and Larry Wright tried to prevent a rout in the second period. Wright scored 16 of his season-high 30 points and Hayes 12 of his 28 to cut a 20-point deficit to 11 at intermission despite 23 from Birdsong and 15 from Ford.
Eight quick points from Bob Dandridge in a 10-2 Bullet burst at the start of the third quarter had Fitzsimmons off the bench, calling for time with Kansas City ahead, 72-69.
"We were walking the ball," Ford listened. In the next two minutes, Ford and Birdsong lead the Kings on a 10-2 spurt