George Gervin, San Antonio's spectacular Ice Man, might have put Washington's hopes for another NBA title in cold storage tonight with an amazing 42-point performance.
Gervin shot the Bullets out of the fourth game in the Eastern Conference championship playoffs with 20 points in the third quarter to allow the Spurs to coast to a 118-102 victory that gave them a commanding 3-1 margin in the best-of-seven series.
Washington, which got only six points from forward Bob Dandridge and horrible shooting from its guards, especially Kevin Grevey, now has to win three straight to salvage the round. Only two teams in NBA history have managed to pull off that feat.
This was by far the Bullet's worst game of the playoffs. Coach Dick Motta, incensed that they would not work the ball inside "to the guys who got us here," said afterward that "this is not my team," meaning his players no longer were executing his offense.
But as long as the guards couldn't make wide-open outside shots, San Antonio could sag inside and double-team Washington's front line. Dandridge said everywhere he moved tonight, "I was double-teammed. You either force a shot or you pass off. We are helping out their defensive concept by not making our easy shots."
Dandridge, who had averaged 24.7 points the first three games, only took two shots in the first half and eight for the contest, making three, all in the third quarter. His nine assists kept Washington close for a while, but ultimately Gervin's brillance and the Bullets' inability to sink even simple layups combined to put the game out of reach.
This was the Ice Man's show. The two-time NBA scoring champ, who averaged 29 points in the regular season, took charge of the game midway through the third period, when he began a string of 18 straight points that left the Bullets helpless and dazed.
Three Bullets - Tom Henderson, Charles Johnson and Grevey-all took turns trying to control him in the third before forward Greg Ballard took over the task. But it was like trying to stop a giant with straws.
Within 5 minutes 35 seconds, Gervin had propelled San Antonio from a 60-59 lead to one of 78-68, and the margin grew wider and wider as the game wound down.
"I got in the flow of the game," said Gervin, unemotionally. "I just started getting good shots."
Once Gervin got into that flow, he produced nothing but magic. If the Bullets backed off him, he swished a 20-footer. If they played him tight, he'd glide by with a quick first step, using his 6-foot-7 height advantage to get off spinning inside shots.
In all, he made 19 of 31 shots, 13 of 19 in the second half when the Spurs turned over their attack to him and let him wheel and deal.
The bullets tried to answer his cannon with a popgun. Their shooting the first half had been atrocious from inside five feet and they were lucky to be within a point going into the locker room. But their fortunes ran out once Gervin got untracked.
Grevey exemplified the Bullets' difficulties. He was given wide-open shots by the Spurs, yet could put in only one of 10 in the third period, finishing by missing consecutive rebounds on the same offensive possession. Washington missed 21 of 31 shots during the quarter, while compared to San Antonio made 16 of 28.
The Bullets weren't missing all hard shots. One time Henderson drove the middle and tossed up an uncontested layup. The ball hit the bottom of the front rim and fell to the floor.
Nor could they do anything with most of their 28 offensive rebounds. Only 10 were turned into baskets, with Wes Unseld having the most trouble. Eleven of his 21 rebounds were at the offensive end, but he could turn only two into field goals.
With Dandridge shackled and passing off, the burden of carrying the club fell to Elvin Hayes, who shook off the effects of an injured finger on his shooting hand to register 23 points. But he didn't have enough help.
Hayes also was involved in a brief first-half scuffle with San Antonio's Mike Green. Green said Hayes landed an elbow to his head that opened a cut, which had to be closed with three stitches. Unseld stepped in to prevent any further problems and neither player was penalized.
That was the highlight of the game for Washington.The Bullets pride themselves on the ability to reach back and perform well in key playoff games. They knew tonight's contest was crucial to their hopes for another title, yet when they reached back, they came up with mistakes instead of successful plays.
Motta had felt the playoff-long shooting slump in his backcourt had been broken in Game 3, when both Henderson and Grevey had good scoring efforts. But tonight, the difficulties returned. Grevey shot eight of 23, including misses from every conceivable distance. San Antonio eventually left him alone to fire away, allowing Gervin to rest all he wanted at the defensive end.
Henderson was only five of 14 before sinking three of his last four shots. Johnson was used in his place during some of the third period but he couldn't handle Gervin.
"No one in any way was able to contain Gervin," said Motta. "It seemed like he could score 90 tonight."
When he was finished, Gervin hardly appeared to have worked up a sweat.
The Bullets were trailing, 60-59, when he started his burst with a layup. Coby Dietrick then missed a shot but Gervin, who had six rebounds, tipped in the miss. Dandridge answered with his second basket of the contest, but that only set up more Gervin heroics.
He swished a 22-footer, then put in a rebound after a Lary Kenon miss. He stepped in and picked off a Dandridge pass and coasted in for another layup and a 72-61 lead.
During that stretch, Washington missed 10 of 11 shots, failing on six offensive rebounds. Even a three-point play from Unseld and baskets from Johnson and Dandridge moments later couldn't offset Gervin, who put the game away on a drive around Grevey and a climactic 25-footer jumper.
Motta was so frustrated going into the fourth period that he benched Dandridge and Unseld and went most of the rest of the way with Greg Ballard and rookie Dave Corzine. But any lineup changes wouldn't have done much good against the now inspired Spurs, who had overcome 36 percent shooting in the first half to bang in almost every open shot in the second.
Even Motta's attempts to unnerve the Spurs with talk that they could not hold onto big leads came back to haunt him. Instead of folding tonight, San Antonio continued to fire away. And for a good reason.
"We realized what Motta said," explained guard James Silas. "And we remembered it. Everyone tried to turn it on once we got ahead. We pushed the score as big as we could go.
"He was trying to rattle us, but we don't play for Dick Motta. We play for the Spurs. We proved that tonight." CAPTION: Picture 1, George Gervin, left, goes over the bullets' center, Wes Unseld, for two points. At right, Elvin Hayes has better luck as James Silas is called for a charge on his drive to the basket. Photos by Richard Darcey-The Washington Post; Picture 2, Bleeding from gash near his eye, Mike Green of Spurs yells at Bullet Elvin Hayes as official keeps them apart. Green required three stitches. By Richard Darcey-The Washington Post