These Bullets are dead. If hot wax brought life back into Elvin Hayes' injured finger, someone should dip the whole team in the stuff. Right now they couldn't fog a mirror. They have lost five of their last seven playoff games, giving rise to the suspicion that these aren't the world champions at all. They must be imposters in red, white and blue jerseys.
Someone posing as Bobby Dandridge did not score in the first half tonight. So brazen was this gate-crasher that he wore Dandridge's jersey in the second half, too, and insulted witnesses further by putting up only four shots. The real Dandridge shoots that much in two minutes.
The box score lies. It says Bobby Dandridge was three for eight. Anyone who has ever seen the real Bobby Dandridge knows the Bullet forward is a beautiful basketball player who can score against Superman. Whoever that was in Dandridge's No 10 shirt tonight made six points while guarded by San Antonio's Larry Kenon, who is to defenders what Liz Ray was to typists.
An no matter how much the Spur's fans screamed at the little fellow crouching in front of the Bullets' bench, he could not have been the coach, Dick Motta. The real Dick Motta would have been in a rage at the way these imposters were difiling the world championship. This Motta watched in silence.
Only when it was too late did this man in Motta's sport coat make a move to stop the Spurs' astonishing George Gervin. Little old women in tennis shoes knew the Bullets had no guards who could play defense against the 6-foot-7 guard. For a while, the man in the Motta disguise had a 6-footer trying to reach up to Gervin's chin.
The Bullets even called a timeout when Gervin made the first moves on an offensive burst that would produce 26 points in the second half.
Witnesses with long memories believed the real Motta would finally resort to the defense that he used with success in last year's playoffs with the Spurs. Gervin had scored four straight baskets midway through the third quarter, moving the Spurs ahead, 68-61.
At that point, with the HemisFair Arena exploding with the screams of Spurs' crazies, some people believed it was time for Dandridge to play Gervin.
Dandridge is a 6-foot-6 guard with mobility. The Bullets have no guards who combine height and movement well enough to stay within shouting distance of Gervin. That is why Motta used him on Gervin last season, and it is why he ought to try him now. He has tried everyone except Fritz, the Maytag midget, so why not Dandridge?
During the timeout, the Bullets did make a defensive change again Gervin. Tom Henderson, who never quits trying to keep up with Gervin, and at 6-foot-3, is the Bullets' best "big" defensive guard, was taken out of the game. Incredibly, Motta replaced him with Charlie Johnson, a 6-foot offensive minded guard whose defensive presence delights all opponents.
In the next 92 seconds, Gervin scored three more baskets. One was a fast-break stuff after stealing a Dandridge pass to Johnson; the second was a fast-break layup after blocking a Bullet layup, and the third bucket - Gervin's seventh in a row, all in 3 minutes 3 seconds - was a 15-foot jumper over the helpless Johnson.
Motta absolved Dandridge of any blame for his unproductive night on offense. The coach said the Bullets simply did not get the ball to Dandridge enough. But while it was important that Dandridge score - especially with Hayes still not shooting well from outside - the Bullets' problem tonight was defensive.
And only when Gervin had scored 40 points did Motta give up on his guards. Then instead of using Dandridge, who sat out an early six minutes of the last quarter, Motta sent Greg Ballard, a second-year player, against the NBA' leading scorer.
"It's not my team," Motta grumbled afterward in the locker room, and if those melancholy words from the coach of the world champions are not adequate measure of the Bullets' desperation, then what is? Motta is a fighter, alive with the fire of the battle, and these Bullets are dead. Motta's words are more melancholy for their truth.
Motta believes psychological tactics help. A year ago he whipped up a verbal battle between Hayes and the 76ers' George McGinnis. He believed McGinnis would crack under the pressure of the playoffs and the verbiage. Motta was right. This week he tried a similar stratagem in San Antonio.
When the Spurs won Game 3 to go ahead two games to one, they did it in homely fashion. Ahead by 14 points midway in the last quarter, they won by two points.They were choking. Motta made sure his observations on the Spurs' near-flopperoo were big news in the San Antonio newspapers.
The Spurs, he said, were rattled and confused. You could tell by the look in their eyes, he said. The impliciation was that the Bullets, the NBA's best road team, would win Game 4 to even the series against a folding underdog.
When Gervin made the sixth bucket of his seven-in-a-row streak, the Spurs gained a 10-point lead for the first time.
Across the floor from Motta, a fourth-row customer held up a printed sign that said,
"MOTTA, LOOK INTO MY EYES."
Motta had said his Bullets were 15 points better than the Spurs. The problem was, he said, the Bullets have not played at better than 70 percent of their ability. The evidence is mounting now that the best may be behind the Bullets, that repeating as NBA champions is too difficult a chore for them.
"It's not the pressure of anyone expecting something because we won last year," Elvin Hayes said the other day. "Now we're the champions and tose other teams want to take it away from us. They want to take what we got."
And unless the Bullets decide they want to keep what they have more than the Spurs want to take it, this series is over.