It was a scene straight out of a Keystone Kops movie. Referce Joe Gushue was backpedaling down the court with Bullets Bob Dandridge, Kevin Grevey and Tom Henderson racing after him, screaming and waving their arms.
The Washington players were trying to tell Gushue that traveling call he had just made on Dandridge should give way to a foul whistled by referee Jesse Kersey that would have given the Bullet forward a basket and a free throw.
But Gushue, the lead official, said his traveling decision, made with 27 seconds left, was the correct call. Dandridge's field goal, which would have tied things at 107, was nullified and the Indiana Pacers were able to salvage a 109-105 triumph.
"Kersey called the basket (by Dandridge) good," said an outraged Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "I always felt that if there was a shadow of a doubt between two calls, the one with the most severe penalty took preference.
"Kersey made the signal to allow the basket and to call a foul. we had it but Gushue never let Kersey explain it. He just said the traveling was correct."
Motta charged after Kersey after the game and had to be restrained by captain Wes Unseld while he yelled in the official's face.
The Bullets were upset before the game even started. An article in the morning paper here cast them as a football team in shorts, shoving and muscling opponents while the refs looked the other way.
"The refs are human, they read the paper," said Unseld, who fouled out for only the second time this season after playing just 18 minutes. "It looked as if they wanted to show from the start that the game wouldn't get out of hand."
The Bullets, riding a four-game winning streak, didn't help themselves with a lackluster sloppy performance that probably shouldn't have earned them a chance for a victory at the end.
But the struggling Pacers never could put things away and, with Elvin Hayes scoring 34 points and pulling in 22 rebounds, Washington hung on until Indiana faltered down the stretch.
The Pacers saw a 103-97 lead evaporate in 90 seconds on a layup by Phil Chenier, a Hayes rebound and a Hayes turnaround jumper.
Indiana center James Edwards responded with a basket, but Dandridge, who had 26 for the night, cut around Mike Bantom and knotted it at 105. It took the Pacers three shots to score on their next possession, but Alex English finally put in the ball with 33 seconds to go.
Motta called a timeout. The Bullets then got the ball to Dandridge and he tried to dribble across the key. Ricky Sobers came up behind him and knocked away the ball. Dandridge picked it up, turned and hit an eitht-footer.
At that point, both Gushue and Kersey blew their whistles. Kersey signaled that the basket was good, but Gushue gave the travel sign and headed down court, three Bullets in hot pursuit.
They finally persuaded Gushue to talk to Kersey, but nothing came of that short conference. The travel call stood and Indiana got the ball. The Pacers made the most of the opportunity when Bantom dumped in an over the-head, off-balance layup to assure the victory.
"Kersey isn't much of a man," said Hayes afterward. "The call was there, Dandridge was fouled and he wouldn't speak up."
Said Dandridge: "I couldn't have traveled, I didn't have control of the ball. It just became a matter of the lead official overruling a younger guy. What does it matter to them? We just lost the game."
This was a night when the Bullet bench, which has won so many games for the club this season, had a horrid showing. The reserves were four for 25 from the floor, but Motta was forced to play them more than he wanted because of foul problems by the starters.
Mitch Kupchak expecially had a difficult time. He missed all six of his field-goal tries and had only six rebounds in 19 minutes. With Unseld on the bench most of the second half with five fouls, Motta finally put in Dave Corzine at center
Hayes was magnificent, going over 30 points for the fourth straight game. He was aided by 17 points from Grevey, making his first appearance in four contests. Grevey's hamstring held up well, although he stayed on the bench in the fourth period for a long bench when the backup guards were struggling.
Motta, however, could see only that disallowed Dandridge basket.
"We didn't have our rhythm and we didn't look very pretty," he said, "but we still had a chance to win it. When Bobby's shot went in, I looked at the clock and figured we would be a point up with 27 seconds left.
"It won't do any good to protest this one, but it's not fair. They read something in the paper and then they turn around and ref like this."