With Elvin Hayes unable to contribute much offensively because of a sore finger on his shooting hand, Washington was unable to overcome a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit tonight and fell to the San Antonio Spurs, 116-114.
A Charles Johnson jumper with two seconds left came within inches of forcing an overtime. The shot, from 18 feet, rimmed the basket and fell out.
The defeat left the Bullets trailing, 2-1, in this best of seven NBA% EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIP SERIES WHILE NOT KNOWING WHAT TO EXPECT FROM HAYES WHEN THE ROUND IS RESUMED HERE FRIDAY NIGHT.
HAYES, WHO DISLOCATED THE MIDDLE FINGER OF HIS RIGHT HAND IN THE SECOND GAME SUNDAY, PULLED IN 23 RE-BOUNDS BUT HAD ONLY 15 POINTS ON SEVEN-OF-20 SHOOTING FROM THE FIELD AND ONE-OF-SIX ACCURACY FROM THE FOUL LINE.
HE SAID AFTERWARD HE COULDN'T FEEL ANYTHING IN THE FINGER, WHICH HAMPERED HIS OUTSIDE SHOOTING TOUCH. ONLY TWO OF HIS BASKETS CAME ON OUTSIDE JUMP SHOTS, NORMALLY THE STRENGTH OF HIS OFFENSIVE GAME.
YET DESPITE HIS PROBLEMS, WASHINGTON STILL ALMOST PULLED OUT A GAME WHICH IT REALLY HAD LITTLE RIGHT TO WIN. THE BULLETS PLAYED INCONSISTENTLY MOST OF THE WAY, BUT MANAGED TO MOUNT A DESPERATION RALLY IN THE FINAL 61/2 MINUTES AGAINST THE STRUGGLING SPURS.
OF HIS MISSED SHOT, JOHNSON SAID, "IT FELT GOOD, I THOUGHT IT WAS IN. IT FOOLED ME."
WASHINGTON OUTSCORED SAN ANTONIO, 21-9,IN THE LAST PART OF THE FINAL QUARTER. THE SPURS, WHO HAD BEEN BOMBING SUCCESSFULLY FROM THE OUTSIDE, COULD SCORE ONLY TWO FIELD GOALS IN THAT SPAN AND WERE ONLY FIVE OF 11 FROM THE LINE.
BUT THE BULLETS ULTIMATELY WERE DONE IN BY ONE OF THOSE BASKETS, A LARRY KENON REBOUND DUNK WITH 32 SECONDS REMAINING.
JAMES SILAS, WHO HAD 18 OF HIS 22 POINTS AFTER THE HALF, HAD MISSED AN AWKWARD JUMP SHOT WITH SAN ANTONIO AHEAD, 113-112. KENON, STATIONED ON THE WEAK SIDE OF THE BASKET, GRABBED THE MISS AND STUFFED IT IN AS BOTH HAYES AND WES UNSELD WATCHED FROM THE OTHER SIDE OF THE LANE.
KENON'S POINTS, WHICH GAVE HIM 11 FOR THE NIGHT, SHOULD HAVE WRAPPED (SEE BULLETS, F4, Col. 3) (BULLETS, From F1) things up. However, moments later he was called for traveling and Washington quickly took advantage of the opportunity when Hayes put in a Tom Henderson miss.
The Bullets then fouled Kenon with three seconds to go. He missed the first try, made the second and Washington called time out. When play resumed, Johnson broke loose for his attempt, which was taken without a Spur in sight.
"With five minutes left, I saw that look in San Antonio's eyes," said Bullet Coach Dick Motta. "It was the same as they had against Philadelphia (in the semifinals) and against us in our place. If we went into overtime, we would have been in good shape."
But the Bullets had spotted the Spurs too many points and they had gone too long without being able to control Silas or George Gervin, who finished with 29 points on a night when his wife gave birth to a premature 3 pound 11 ounce baby girl.
San Antonio succeeded in its announced goal of controlling. Unseld, who had scored 41 points and grabbed 40 rebounds in the first two games.
Hounded constantly by the Spurs, Unseld still managed 18 rebounds, but only six points. He sat out much of the fourth quarter for rookie Dave Corzine.
The Spurs were outrebounded, 59-55, but that was close enough for them to keep Washington from getting many easy baskets. Gervin and Silas, crashing the boards from the outside, combined for 19 rebounds.
With Hayes struggling to find his touch the bulk of Washington's offense fell to Bob Dandridge, who had 28 points and eight assists, and Kevin Grevey, who had 27.
Grevey scored 16 in the first half, when he turned in his best sustained effort of the series. But early in the fourth quarter, he was unable to hit some open jumpers in the midst of a San Antonio outburst that won the game for the Spurs.
Silas, who was ineffective Sunday, shook off a poor opening half tonight to take charge of things in the fourth quarter while Gervin was on the bench.
Washington was as close as 91-88 when the Spurs took off. They scored nine straight points, including a three-pointer by Silas and a layup by Gale, both off fast breaks after Grevey misses, to go up, 100-88.
San Antonio was getting a big boost from its reserves at this point. Subs Gale, Billy Paultz and Coby Dietrick were outplaying the Bullet starters and forcing Motta to scramble for a unit that would begin executing his offense.
By the time Silas converted two free throws for a 107-93 lead, the partisan crowd was celebrating the Spur victory. Washington wasn't finished.
Corzine, who had played well in a brief first-half appearance for Unseld, reentered for the veteran center in order to give the Bullets more offensive punch.
The club soon exploded. A layup by Henderson, a basket by Dandridge, a Corzine reverse layup off a rebound and an open 15-footer by Johnson had the deficit to six with four minutes left, even with Gervin back in the game.
Gervin missed a jumper but Hayes was called for goal-tending a Mike Green rebound. It was San Antonio's first field goal in five minutes and Silas added a free throw.
Moments later, a Hayes foul shot and a splendid Dandridge jumper off a fine move against Kenon brought it to 113-110. Then Silas couldn't hit from 15 feet and Hayes tossed a length-of-the-court pass to the flying Dandridge, who missed the layup, but Grevey put in the rebound.
That set up Kenon's saving rebound and the exciting final seconds of the contest, which was by far the most physical of the series.
Washington got an early boost from its reserves, with Larry Wright, coming back from a sprained ankle, and Greg Ballard, subbing for the injured Mitch Kupchak, combining for 13 second-period points.
Now the Bullets find themselves needing to win the fourth game here Friday or risk falling behind, 3-1, in the series.