Atlanta Coach Hubie Brown kept saying it over and over - "We played dumb basketball, dumb basketball. You can't play that way against a team like Washington and expect to win.

"But hey, they're the world champions. They've played 150 playoff games. How many have we played?"

It was the Hawks who played like the seasoned veterans for the first three quarters yesterday, before wilting under a flurry of missed shots and Bullet pressure in the fourth quarter to lose, 103-89, in the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series at Capital centre.

"I'd like to congratulate Washington on a great display of withstanding playoff pressure," Brown said. "I thought for three quarters we played our game. We kept the pressure on them and forced them into a lot of errors.

"We were doing this without John Drew or Tree Rollins, who were in foul trouble the whole game, too, so I thought we were in good position going into the fourth quarter."

The Hawks were ahead, 76-71, entering the final 12 minutes, but the Bullets outscored them, 24-9, in the first 9 1/2 minutes of that period.

Atlanta made only five of 23 shots in the final period.

"During that 24-9 spurt they (the Bullets) did one thing we had prevented them from doing for three quarters, Brown said. "They would throw that length-of-the-court pass and get a two-on-one fast break and convert it."

The Hawks, meanwhile, kept missing and missing. Terry Furlow missed two long jumpers, Drew and Jack Givens missed relatively easy shots and Armond Hill and Eddie Johnson missed layups.

"We were getting the open shots. We just missed them," Hills said. "We tried to go for the rebounds and they'd get those fast breaks. We are going to have to make some changes."

"It discouraged us to miss those shots and our heads were down, but we realize now that we can play with these guys," Givens said.

"They (the Bullets) didn't do anything great at the end," Brown said. "The ball just wouldn't go in the basket for us. We aren't discouraged by that."

What did discourage Brown were bonehead plays that he said cost his team at least four dunks.

"We'd run perfect pick-and-roll plays inside and Hayes would double team, but our guy wouldn't take the step to the basket. That's just dumb.We can't do those things and stay on the floor with them."

Drew, who averaged 20 points a game in the playoff series with Houston and 22.7 a game during the regular season, played only 24 minutes because of foul trouble. He made three of seven shots and scored eight points, five in the first quarter.

Foul-plagued Rollins, the Hawks' second-leading rebounder, played only 12 minutes and had one rebound and no points.

"Drew and Rollins won't play that way again," Brown said.

Drew's problems were the direct result of the Bullets' Bobby Dandridge, who victimized Drew and his backup, rookie Givens, for 31 points.

Drew was so frustrated trying to contain Dandridge that, late in the game, as the Bullet forward was taking him one-on-one in the corner, Drew turned and screamed for help. It came too late as Dandridge drilled a jumper.

"A lot of people don't want to pay Bobby the complement, but he is the best small forward in the game," Brown said. "He is effortless. He can always get his shot and those times it isn't there he will make a great pass."

Givens couldn't agree more.

"It's smart for them to go to Dandridge," Givens said. "You just have to have help if you are going to contain him. Another reason it is so hard to guard him is because they run very few plays for him. They usually just give him the ball and let him work on his own."

Hill, the Hawks' playmaker, scored 12 points and had seven assists, but is still troubled by a bone bruise in his right hand. He was injured in the Houston series.