Your respect goes to Elvin Hayes; your heart goes to Phil Chenier.
"If you ever want to know what a superstar game was," said Hawk Coach Hubie Brown, "Elvin Hayes played it today."
Terry Furlow, who gave a Hayes-like performance himself, made a point to reach E, as in Everything, almost immediately after the Bullet victory and said: "I saw you play against Lew Alcindor in the Astrodome. You played the same kind of game today."
It was an emotional a game as anyone could imagine-and if President Carter or anyone wonders just HOW emotional, the Bullets can tell them. They measured the Capital Centre sound level yesterday-and the giddiest moment was about the same as standing next to a shrieking locomotive.
Numbers filberts are advised that the loudest decibel count was 113, or seven shy of when the ears begin to ache. That came not after one of Hayes' 39 points or one of Bobby Dandridge's silky pressure jumpers but after a guard scored.
And that guard was not Chenier. It was Larry Wright's 15-foot jumper, with a Hawk clawing at the ball, that gave the Bullets a six-point lead at the end of the third quarter, and the crowd its loudest high.
When anyone with a mind and more than an ounce of compassion recalls the proud old Bullets finally slapping aside the proud young Hawks, though, Chenier's 14 minutes become more and more special.
That Chenier played at all was a measure of Coach Dick Motta's desperation over guards who at one point had missed 20 of 22 shots and played terrible defense. Tom Henderson-or should it have been Hinderson? - threw up six of the worst layups in hoop history. Kevin Grevey couldn't hit Beltsville.
When the entire guard coprs went two for 16 the first hald and missed its first three shots the second half, Chenier entered the game.And the decibel cound must have approached zero. It was not a popular substitution.
From perhaps the essence of what a pro guard should resemble, Chenier now looks uncomfortable in uniform. He seemed to have lost his zest for defense even before serious back surgery last summer-and his first few minutes of playoff action Thursday night had been a disaster.
So why not move Dandridge to guard?
"Chenier does execute well without the ball," said Bernie Bickerstaff, the assistant coach. "And the guards hadn't been coming well off screens, flat instead of at a 45-degree angle."
So he could get open. So what? The man simply had lost his jump shot under pressure. Or so it seemed during three shots in game 6. And his shot yesterday only fueled that impression.
And when he missed two open shots from the right baseline the Motta hook seemed inevitable. Chenier used to hit those shots blindfolded. Once that had been a Bullet staple, a play called 1-C. Now the C-note was sour.
But Motta stayed with Chenier, perhaps his most telling comment about the other guards, and was rewarded with 4:59 left in the third quarter. It might be the moment Chenier recalls above all others, if it triggers the turnabout he wants.
From perhaps 18 feet from the basket and slightly to the left of the free-throw circle, Chenier was almost alone with the ball and Furlow. He faked left, move past furlow, pulled up at the free-throw line and shot.
And sank it.
"The fact that he took the shot impressed me," said Bob Piper, Wright's Western (D.C.) High School coach, who understands players and their inclinations during the pivotal moments.
All of a sudden Bullet guards were not a curseword in Cap Centre. All of a sudden the guard in the game with Chenier, Wright, hit two jump shots. And the first taste of success sent Cheneier into the air again early in the fourt quarter, from his favorite spot on the right baseline.
He scored again.
"I almost cried when he did that," Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry said. "I'd sweated the operation with him, become involved with him for so long. I drafted him out of college. And he never was a rookie,remember.
"From the day he was drafted hardship, he started. And all of a sudden to go through this. You can't imagine the kind of frustration."
The Chenier numbers are two for six. But he will be welcomed heartily next time in Cap Centre, for he worked on defense, too. He and Wright had given the Bullets a standoff a guard. They had not played well, but surely well enough. And that is all Dandridge, Hayes and Wes Unseld need.
"It's not always how much you produce, but when," Wright said. "You look at E, and a how much he cares and you tell yourself you've got to give him some help. You give him a little help and he'll carry you."
Chenier saw nothing cosmic in his performance. He wants more minutes and now he deserves them.
"A great feeling," he said. "It really turned out well. But I still have a long way to go. This is another stepping stone."