The videotape machine whirled silently as Atlanta's Tom McMillen spoke in the background. "There," he said, "they cut off the options. I was the only one left and I got the ball too late."
McMillen was in the Hawks' locker room, watching a tape of the final seven seconds of regulation of today's Atlanta-Washington playoff game. It could go down as the most crucial seven-second period of this Eastern Conference series.
The Hawks had a chance to take the game by scoring a basket, yet didn't even get off a shot and the Bullets went on to win in overtime, 120-118.
The camera focused on guard Eddie Johnson, standing at the top of the key after receiving an in-bounds pass from Armond Hill. Johnson waited patiently as the options on Coach Hubie Brown's play carefully unfolded.
First, he looked inside to Dan Roundfield. But the Bullets thought the Hawks would go to this Atlanta forward, so Wes Unseld avoided a pick and stayed between Roundfield and the ball. Then Johnson looked to Wayne Rollins, who was cutting to the basket. But Mitch Kupchak was glued to his uniform.
That left one final possibility. McMillen stood in the right corner, left wide open when Bob Dandridge decided to double-team Johnson. The Atlanta guard passed to the corner, but the buzzer sounded before McMillen could touch the ball.
"We knew they would concentrate on Roundfield," said Brown, "so we wanted to get the ball to McMillen. We just did it too late."
But Johnson didn't remember those instructions. He was to run out the play as diagrammed, trying to "keep my poise. I was out there, I could see what happened.
"They just played good defense, that's all. They cut off everything inside. By the time I went to McMillen, it was too late."
Perhaps if Brown allowed more free-lancing in his offense, Johnson might have improvised a last-second shot. But that is not how Atlanta got into this series. The Hawks win by execution and by following Brown's instructions, to the letter.
"There was nothing wrong with the play," Johnson said. "It just didn't work. I didn't want to give them a chance to win it in regulation. So I wanted to make the perfect play."
Another Hawks' play failed to work at the end of the overtime. This time Atlanta ran what Brown called "our B play."
He put in three guards and hoped to get the ball to Terry Furlow, a good shooter. But Washington cut off that option and Johnson again got the ball at the top of the key. He drove by Henderson, who went for a steal, but failed on a 12-footer, the last shot of the game.
"You have to remember," said Bullet forward Bob Dondridge, "he had guys 6-6, 6-9 and 6-0 coming at him and chasing him. It was tough to make."
But Johnson thought the shot should have gone in. "He (Henderson) went for the steal and I had a path," he said. "It was the same as down the stretch. We got a lead but against a veteran team, you have to execute. We didn't."
Brown, faced with a 3-1 deficit in the series, said that people shouldn't criticize Johnson or anyone else - "we wouldn't be here without him" - but should praise Washington.
"We had lost only seven games at home before this weekend," he sid, "and now they beat us twice in a ros. They've beaten us three times here this season. How about giving them some credit? They are a hell of a team."
And Brown's team is, he says, "young and that hurts us. It's just like the regular season. Down the stretch in close games, we miss foul shots and we miss open shots on the break. Today, we blew four foul shots (in the fourth) and a couple of fast breaks."
Washington Coach Dick Motta was just glad to escape Atlanta in control of the series. He said he "would have bet my household" on the Bullets winning game three Friday night but today, well, "it sure helped when he (Johnson) didn't take that shot in regulation."
Motta, who had picked some money off the floor late in the game, smiled and remembered the last moments of overtime: "It was nice to see Wes crouch low with the ball, four guys around him, the buzzer going off and $2.25 in my pocket. That's a good feeling." CAPTION: Picture, Tree Rollins branches wide to beat Elvin Hayes to rebound, but Bullet star hauled in 17 to the 7-1 Hawk's 11.