Three weeks ago at the NBA all-Star Game, Moses Malone played only 17 minutes despite being selected as the starting center on the East squad. He was upset about his lack of time and blamed the coach of that team, Dick Motta.
Last night, Malone took his revenge. He scored 35 points and clasped 23 rebounds against Motta's Washington Bullets to carry the Houston Rockets to a 120-110 triumph at Capital Centre. It was the Bullets' most lopsided Centre defeat of the season.
Malone's awesome display, including 17 points and nine rebounds in the fourth period when the Rockets broke open the game, ruined Washington's first home contest since Jan. 30.
The Bullets, coming off a highly successful road trip, had to play without starter Tom Henderson and reserve Roger Phegley, both sidelined with the flu. Motta was left with one playmaking guard, Larry Wright, and when Wright tired in the fourth quarter, the offense broke down.
"I hope Tommy will be back for Seattle," Motta said about tonight's 8 o'clock game here against the SuperSonics, which already is sold out. "It sure would be nice to play with a full complement of players for a change."
But Washington's depth problems had little to do with Malone's effectiveness. The young Rocket superstar just took over the contest when his teammates were sagging and he wound up dazzling a crowd of 10,219.
After being stymied in the fourth quarter by the Bullets in Houston, Malone was determined not to wear down this time. He got eight minutes of rest (partly due to incurring a chipped dental bridge in the second period) and seemed as fresh down the stretch as in the opening seconds.
Malone is most noted for his rebounding but last nigght it was his scoring that was most impressive.
He consistently got the ball in the low post and, progressing since his previous seasons, now knows how to get off short, turnaround jumpers from that spot.
With Wes Unseld on the bench to start the last 12 minutes, Malone unwound with a layup that gave Houseton a 95-90 lead. After a Greg Ballard basket for the Bullets, the arena turned into Malone's playground -- 11 points for the big Virginian in a 15-0 Rocket run.
He tipped in a missed shot and then put in a rebound of another miss and was fouled. He completed the three-point play and Unseld was rushed in. But Malone was warmed up -- "got my wind back by sitting out a couple of minutes in the third" -- and even the veteran Bullet center couldn't stop him.
By the time Houston had finished off its spurt, Malone had made two more three-point plays to give him 11 points in that stretch. And Houston had a 110-92 lead.
"If I get the ball there (in the post), I can put it in," Malone said. "That's my spot. I felt good at the end and I was getting the ball."
"I thought we had him contained pretty well until then," assessed Unseld, "then he got away from us. Once he got going, everything he shot seemed to go in. He's got a nice inside touch; that's one area in which he has improved."
The Bullets used their usual tactics against Malone: lots of body contact and constant blocking out. But this was the most offensive-minded he ever has been against the Bullets (14 of 19 from the field). Ironically, he got off to a slow start, including only one offensive rebound in the first half, his season's low.
The home team attributed the defeat to a few factors other than Malone's play: a lethargic second-half offense and not enough rebounding (Houston, 47-42).
The Rockets took advantage of the Bullets' depleted bench, which once again was missing Mitch Kupchak. Houston played much of the way with more physical subs Mike Newlin, Robert Reid and Dwight Jones while hardly using starting forwards Rick Barry and Rudy Tomjanovich at the same time.
The reserves made significant contributions. Reid, a 6-foot-8 guard, had four of his eight points in a 14-4 thirdquarter spurt that helped Houston to a 93-86 lead entering the final period. Newlin improved the back-court defense and Jones gave Malone help under the boards.
The Rockets shot 57 percent and never cooled off from the outside, as has been their problem lately against Washington.
With Wright scoring five points and dealing four assists, the Bullets jumped to an 11-point first-quarter lead and still were ahead by seven midway through the third before Houston caught fire.
Elvin Hayes finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds and got support from Kevin Grevey's 20 points. But during Houston's 15-0 fourth-quarter outburst, the Bullets missed six straight shots from the field, including a bunch of open attempts.
"Shots that were going in for us on the road trip were missing tonight," said Wright. "I don't know why we didn't stay smoking like we were early in the game but I think we learned our lesson. We shouldn't let down against Seattle like we did in this one."