In a dramatic ending to a highly emotional series, Washington rode what Coach Dick Motta called "hall of fame" performances by forwards Bobby Dandridge and Elvin Hayes to a 100-94 triumph yesterday that finally put away those amazing Atlanta Hawks.
Hayes, storming around the court like an enraged bull, scored 39 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and blocked three shots carry the Bullets until the fourth period. The Dandridge, who seems to thrive on pressure, poured in 17 of his 29 points to wrap up the seventh game of this NBA Eastern Conference semifinal round.
In all, Hayes and Dandridge accounted for 23 of Washington's 25 fourth-period points. And Dandridge, showing again why he is the best small forward in basketball, twisted and whirled for 13 of the Bullet's last 15 points.
A roaring sellout crowd of 19,035, including President Jimmy Carter, filled Capital Centre with intense sound 30 minutes before the nationally televised game started.
It was the first appearance by a president at an NBA game and Carter chose a marvelous game to see. The contest was memorable, a competitive, wonderful aggressive game that was a fitting ending to this series.
Washington advanced to the conference finals against either Philadelphia or San Antonio. Those teams will not end their series until Wednesday night in Texas. The next record will begin Friday night in Capital Centre.
But the Bullets scarcely were thinking of what is ahead. Just being able to get by the tenacious Hawks, they admitted, was enough to keep them content a long while.
Atlanta was seeking its third series victory in the Centre and the Hawks nearly pulled it off. But ultimately they were unable to cope with Dandridge and Hayes, the only Bullets who scored more than eight points yesterday.
Washington had hoped to relieve it forwards of some of the scoring burden by getting accurate outside shooting from the guards.
But they are hit on only two of the first 22 attempts before Larry Wright and Phil Chenier finally gave their big men a lift with two baskets each in the last 17 minutes.
But it still came down to the skills of two forwards who Motta says "will be in the hall of fame after they retire. They're already carved out a place in history for themselves." Their play yesterday enhanced their already formidable reputations.
Hayes, explaining that he played so hard "because we had to win," had 33 of his points in the first three quarters, including 13 of the team's 23 in the third period, when Dandridge sat out eight minutes with four fouls.
Hayes constantly crashed the boards, picked off loose rebounds (the Bullets had nine more offensive rebounds than the Hawks) and, when he had spare time, he cheered on his team-mates, refusing to let them collapse in the face of Atlanta's constant pressure.
And when he finally tired, Dandridge came off the bench at the start of the fourth period to put on another of his sensational performances, which highlighted every Bullet victory in this series.
"It's instinct: We just know how to work with each other," Dandridge said about the way he and Hayes take turns controlling games. "When one of us is going good, the other kind of hangs back because you know you have to run of steam eventually.
"The rest did me good. It was like the regular season. I always rest in the third. When I came in, I wanted the ball and they know they should give it to me."
Wright's two jump shots at the end of the third quarter, amid heavy Atlanta defensive pressure, gave Washington a 75-69 lead, its largest till then, entering the final 12 minutes.
The Hawks roared back to tie at 83 when the Bullets failed to get back fast enough on transition plays. Hayes then dumped in a 10-footer to signal the start of the Bullets' stretch drive-and Dandridge's heroics.
In such situations, Washington does not run set plays for Dandrige, but lets him improvise. He began with two foul shots, then swished a high lob jump shot from the left corner over the arms of leaping John Drew.
Hawk Coach Hubie Brown, down six with 4:36 left, called time to try to stop Washington's momentum. But his coaching magic didn't include a potion to stop Dandridge.
Terry Furlow, outspoken Atlanta guard roundly booed by the fans, sank an 18-footer (he had 21 points in the game) to keep Atlanta within reach, but Hayes drew Tree Rollins' sixth foul and made both free throws for a 91-85 margin.
Drew, who had 24 points in this, his best game of the series, answered with a 10-footer over Dandridge. Hayes missed a jumper but Dandridge grabbed one of his six rebounds that period, turned and dumped the ball in from 10 feet. Drew tried to get it back at the other end but failed and Hayes picked off the rebound.
The Bullets could have put away the game at this juncture, but Hayes and Dandridge missed jumpers, and Furlow was good on a long, fast-break shot from the corner cutting the Bullet lead to 93-89.
Then came what Dandridge said was one of his two most important baskets, with the shot clock winding down to two seconds, he drove across the lane and made a running one-hander, or as he calls it, a "rider."
Furlow, taking over the Hawk offense, found himself working against Hayes on a switch, a matchup Motta said he wanted down the stretch. Instead of passing to Dan Roundfield, who was covered temporarily by Charles Johnson, Furlow put up an unsuccessful bomb.
But the Bullets missed twice and Eddie Johnson suddenly was racing downcourt, heading toward a fast-break layup that would have a narrowed the lead to four points with 80 seconds left.
Somehow, Hayes raced the length of the floor, leaped and caught Johnson's shot as it left his hand. Dandridge was right behind, picking off the loose ball.
"That was a key play." Brown said. "We felt there was a flagrant goal-tending that wasn't called."
Said Hayes about the block: "I just try to do the job, I try to give something extra. I never get tired but the fourth quarter is what this team is all about." Hayes played all 48 minutes.
The crowd was standing and roaring by now, but Atlanta refused to quit. Roundfield, held to just three rebounds, made a layup with 62 seconds remaining to again put the pressure on Dandridge.
He responded with another breath-taking basket. This time the shot clock was a thick away from expiring when his soft 12-footer fell in for a 97-91 Bullet lead with 38 seconds to go.
"I guess I should have relaxed after that one," Dandridge said, "but you can't with the Hawks. You never know what strategy Hubie Brown will come up with down at the end to keep his team in the game."
Yet even Brown couldn't help Atlanta this time. Furlow sank a free throw with 32 seconds left but the Hawks had to foul to have a chance to win and they picked the wrong man: Dandridge. He put in three of four tries from the line in the final 25 seconds to assure the victory.
"We talked a lot down the stretch to each other," Dandridge said when the game was finally over. "We didn't want a letdown and blow any chance we had to win."
Hayes helped himself yesterday by staying out of the foul problems that had plagued him much of the series. When the Hawks fronted him he broke to the basket and got a handful of passes from Dandridge for easy points.
Those were all offensive fouls earlier in the series," Motta said. "But we told him not to push off when he broke to the basket. As you saw, if he avoided that, he was able to get easy baskets."
There was never a time when either team verged on superiority. The Hawks were hampered by a 50-37 rebounding disadvantage (The Bullets outscored Atlanta, 28-6, on second shots). The Bullets were slowed by their guards' inability to score.
"I felt like an Easter Bunny looking for eggs," Motta said about his search for an accurate shooting guard. Kevin Grevey hit just one of eight and Tom Henderson was zero for five, so Motta finally called on Wright and Chenier midway in the third period.
"Phil gave us a lift with his baskets and then Larry give us a spark," Motta said. "And I thought CJ played good defense down the stretch.
"But I'd hate to push those kind of odds again," he said, referring to his guards' lack of firepower.
Nor would the Bullets like to be involved in another series such as this during their title defense. Although Motta says his team functioned "at only 60 percent of our true ability" and should be primed now "to win it all again," the Hawks had much to do with Washington's spotty consistency and its unbalanced scoring.
"We asked to play Atlanta instead of Houston in this series," Wright said, "but we almost got too much." CAPTION: Picture 1 and 2, Bobby Dandridge (left) hits key jump shot over John Drew in final two minutes; Elvin Hayes (right) blocks short attempt by Hawk guard Eddie Johnson, far left. Photos by Richard Darcey-The Washington Post; Picture 3, Bullet Charles Johnson muscles a rebound away from Hawks Dan Roundfield (32) and John Drew (22). The Bullets outrebounded their foes for a decisive advantage throughout the contest.By Richard Darcey-The Washington Post