Captian Wes Unseld wound up coaching the Bullets for 1 1/2 quarters tonight but he wasn't responsible for the embarrassing licking Detroit bestowed on Washington.
The blame was team-wide. After a week of impressive basketball, the Bullets were ripe for defeat, which Detroit gleefully applied, 124-114.
The loss could prove costly. Althouth Bob Dandridge returned after missing three games with a sore neck, Tom Henderson twisted a knee in the third quarter and was in considerable pain. He did not know if he would be able to play against the Pistons Sunday afternoon in Capital Centre.
In addition to the scintillating play of Piston guard Kevin Porter, excitement was generated by the ejection of Coach Dick Motta and his assistant, Bernie Bickerstaff, in the third period.
Both were tossed out by referee Joe Crawford in an 11-second span during which Dandridge and Henderson also picked up technicals. Motta had been slapped with his first technical in the first half.
When they lost their coaches, the Bullets were trailing, 87-66. They rallied to within eight points midway through the fourth period before Detroit eased to thr triumph that prevented Washington from Wrapping up the Atlantic Division title.
Neither Bickerstaff nor Motta was available to comment on the officiating or the loss. According to the locker room guard, they hitched a ride back to the team's nearby hotel sometime during the fourth quarter.
The players were not delighted about being left, although no one would say so on the Records.
If Motta had given a postgame interview, he likely would have blamed the loss on Porter. The former Bullet who already has broken the league redord for assists in a season, raced to 24 points and 12 assists (one under his average) and refused to let his teammates sit on their big lead.
With Porter controlling the ball and penetrating the middle, the Bullets were forced to to double-team him. Once that happened, he began passing off to an open teammate, especially fellow guard John Long, who responded with 27 points.
Center Bob Lanier chipped in with 29 points, five off technical foul shots in the third. Those three Pistons all had 20 points going into the fourth.
Detroit broke open the game in the second period by outscoring the Bullets, 15-2, for a 47-30 margin. Porter had seven points and an assist during the spurt and Detroit maissed only one of seven shots. Everytime the Bullets made a mistake (they had three turnovers), Porter would turn it into points.
Porter had 16 points and six assists and Long 17 points at the half. The Bullets helped dig their own hole with 40 percent shooting, including four of 16 accruacy from Elvin Hayes and Greg Ballard and two of 11 from Henderson and Charles Johnson.
The contest had turned into a loose, poorly played affair that wasn't exciting even to the home crowd in the Silverdome until the Bullets and the referees clashed.
Dandridge began arguing with Crawford near the Detroit basket after being whistled for fouling Lanier and was called for a technical with 6:15 to go in the third. Washington's entire starting team stood around the officials and yelled while Motta stalked the sideline.
Referee Hughes Evans wouldn't slap Motta with a second technical, which calls for automatic ejection, but Crawfore didn't pass up the opportunity. Motta was gone and Lanier then made one of two technical fouls plus two free throws on the Dandridge foul.
When play resumed, Henderson kept complaining to Evans while dribbling the basketball. Evans finally signaled a technical, and Lanier made that free throw. Then Henderson drove the middle, got called for an offensive charge, twisted his knee and had to leave the game.
Bickerstaff, outraged at the charge call, stormed onto the court and Crawford immediately whistled two technicals with 6:04 to go. It was the second time this year both Bullet coaches have been ejected and the firth time Motta has been tossed.
Unseld took over as coach but it was more direction by committee.Without a leader, the club played better until reducing the lead to eight, but Unseld admitted, "I didn't think there was anything significant to the rally. When you came back from 23 or 24 points, it's hard to hang on."
And what did he think about his coaches being tossed out?
"They had something to say and they said it," he replied. "And the officials took it from there."