While the Washington Bullets spent most of the game screaming at the referees, the Atlanta Hawks did their talking tonight with an impressive display of basketball that soundly whipped the Bullets, 104-86, to force a seventh and deciding game in this Eastern Conference semifinal playoff.
The Hawks, once down 3-1 in games in the series, had a sellout crowd in the Omni standing in the aisles and screaming for more as they tore apart Washington's defense and disrupted the Bullet offense.
The game was by far the most lopsided in what had been a thrilling, closely fought series, now knotted at 3-3. But the Bullets spent more time debating with the officials than they did playing tonight, and the Hawks were capable of taking advantage of the distraction.
Atlanta will try for its third straight victory in the series and its third win at Capital Centre when the clubs square off for the seventh game Sunday afternoon. That will give the Bullets two days to forget about what quickly became a living nightmare on this humid spring evening.
From a statistical standpoint, this game made little sense. The Bullets had been outrebounded in the series, yet they grabbed off nine more missed shots tonight-including a season high of 29 offensive rebounds. And the Washington bench contributed just six fewer points than the usually more-productive Hawk reserves.
But the score sheet doesn't have any figures that reflect hustle and teamwork, both of which were Atlanta strong points. The Hawks broke away from a six-point halftime lead with a splendid combination of running, accurate shooting and execution of their intricate offense.
Almost everywhere the Bullets looked, they were outplayed. Their guards were outscored, 40-20, and made just eight to 35 shots. They had 12 fewer assists than the Hawks and were outshot, 47 percent to 32 percent. Washington's usually reliable front court couldn't handle Atlanta's big men after intermission.
Washington could make only 15 shots off offensive rebounds, with all those shots coming from within five feet of the basket. From the outside the Bullets were but 16 of 67.
Atlanta got help from almost everyone who played. John Drew overcame his usual foul problems to score 22 points in 28 minutes. Dan Roundfield had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Eddie Johnson scored 22 and had five assists. Steve Hawes, who had 14 rebounds, added 12 of his 14 points in the second half, mostly from long range.
Elvin Hayes was the only Bullet with more than 15 points, and his 24 came on eight-of-23 shooting. Only four other players were in double figures.
"We got our butts whipped," Coach Dick Motta said in the Bullets' subdued dressing room. "I thought the intensity was good, but everytime we got something going, a three-second call or something else in the offensive end was called to stop us."
Washington wasted much of its intensity jawing with officials. The Bullets have been progressively dissatisfied with the refereeing. Tonight it was an obsession. They have been up set particularly with two of the most respected officials in the league, Jack Maddon and Jake O'Donnell. O'Donnell was the lead ref tonight.
"I guss it has to be something of a distraction," guard Tom Henderson said. "On Sunday, we just have to go out and play and forget about them. It doesn't do any good to say anything to them anyway."
Bullet captain Wes Unseld was in the middle of much of the fuss tonight. Before fouling out in the fourth quarter, he had verbally jousted with all three refs and nearly came to blows with Atlanta guard Terry Furlow.
Late in the first quarter, Furlow was fouled by Unseld in a scramble for the ball. The Hawk guard said he didn't hear the whistle and kept struggling. Unseld took exception and challenged Furlow, who tried to ward off some teammates and get to the Bullet center. Fortunately for Furlow, he failed.
That outburst was the highlight of the Bullets' evening. For the only time in the game they started playing hard and battled back from what had been a nine-point deficit to tie at 31.
But the Hawks quickly took control in the second half. With Hawes popping from the outside for 10 points to ruin Washington's attempts to sag its defense. Atlanta shot 50 percent the third period and opened up a 12-point bulge.
The Bullets cut the margin to eight early in the fourth with the help of three straight Hawk turnovers. Then Unseld who had been dominating the rebounding, fouled out with 7:16 to play and Atlanta exploded for eight straight points to put things out of reach.
Motta was so frustrated by his guards that he gave Phil Chenier his first minutes of the series. Chenier, however, missed all three of his shots. Charles Johnson was just one of five, Grevey four of 14. Larry Wright, who had been playing well, failed on three shots.
"The tough loss wasn't tonight, it was Tuesday night at home," Bullet guard Kevin Grevey said. "We knew this would be a tough one to win. We were at a complete disadvantage, trying to beat them three straight here. They had everything going for them.
"But Sunday is different. It's a man's game.They should show up ready to play."
Furlow, who talks as well as he plays, said the Bullets are hardly ready mentally to play a seventh game. "All that crying about the refs, to me that's the mark of a crybaby," he said. "They are a bunch of crybabies.
"The Bullets are world champions. What are they doing crying instead of getting it done?"
Tonight, the Bullets had only 15 assists, a season low. When their offense is functioning properly, they usually record at least 20, with many setting up easy layups.
Part of Washington's problems has been its poor offensive execution for most of the series. Even when the Bullets won two straight here last weekend they did not disply the efficiency and smoothness that characterizes their best basketball.
Atlanta's defense has contributed greatly to their plight but Unseld reiterated tonight 'that we haven't executed properly in a long time."
By harassing Unseld every time he pulls down a rebound and by pressing the Bullets full court after every Atlanta basket, the Hawks have almost eliminated the Bullet running game.
Washington was averaging, according to Hawk Coach Hubie Brown, "15 or 16 points a game on transitions" at the start of the series, but over the last three games, its output "has been negligible."
"We've been down this road before," Motta said, referring to the Bullets' uphill battle in last year's final round against Seattle. "I expect the seventh game to be a tough one. But how much more intense can it be? Tonight was the most intense so far." CAPTION: Picture 1, Wes Unseld (left) wrestles with Terry Furlow in first quarter; by UPI; Picture 2, Tom Henderson gets shot blocked by Eddie Johnson in fourth. Richard Darcey-The Washington Post; Picture 3, Dan Roundfield stops Elvin Hayes from scoring late in game when Bullets trailed by 10. Photos by Richard Darcey-The Washington Post; Picture 4, Ted Turner, owner of Hawks, celebrates from courtside Omni seat. AP