Now that was more like it. Elvin Hayes was very, very large tonight. Not only did Bobby Dandridge play guard, he played it for eight minutes and drove George Gervin to the bench. Wherever Greg Ballard went, magic happened. Whatever thought entered Dick Motta's head came out stamped genius. These are the Bullets who won a world's championship. These Bullets are back among the living.
As the seconds ticked away with the Bullets assured of a 108-100 victory that tied the series at three games apiece, the capacity crowd sent their erstwhile heroes a message.
"Boooooo," they said.
The Ice Man, Gervin, sat colly on the bench, a towel around his neck. The boos might have been aimed at him, for he scored only 20 points - only four in the last quarter when it mattered most. The last two minutes, with San Antonio needing just this victory on its home court to eliminate the world champions, Gervin could only sit and watch. He had been demoted from All-World to spectator by the astonishing work of Hayes and Dandridge.
The Bullets led only 87-82 when Dandridge went from forward to guard. The first time he touched the ball on offense, he dealt a pretty pass to Hayes for a stuff. The first time Gervin moved with the ball against Dandridge, Bobby D. blocked an eight-foot shot.
The game was on, and under pressure the Bullets played their best basketball of the series. Not coincidentally, the Spurs played their worst. "Idiot statements," San Antonio Coach Doug Moe had called Motta's suggestions that the Spurs would fold under Game 6 pressure. What the Spurs did was throw up idiot shots under pressure.
Two examples will do. Because Hayes had blocked six shots already. Gervin flipped up a layup falling away with his back to the hoop. Sort of a backhand out of his right ear. Even for Gervin, that is a bad shot, particularly when his team is five down in the last quarter.
The misguided missile hit nothing.
Next time down the floor, the Spur's Mike Gale put up an eight-foot running jumper falling side-ways out of bounds. To have a chance, Gale had to throw the shot over the back of the backboard. It, too, hit nothing but air.
And then Motta did his best work.
He lives by the fire of victory. He felt it warming. The Spurs ware cracking.
So he put Bobby Dandridge at guard to finish them off. Taking over in Kevin Grevey's spot - after Grevey in 38 minutes had played well and into exhaustion - Dandridge played there the rest of the way. As a guard, he outscored Gervin, 10-4.
Romantics look for fate's work in big games. In their improbable rise to the NBA championship a year ago, the Bullets clearly were lifted by a Lady Luck who had fallen in love with the little guard, Charlie Johnson. CJ came to the Capital Centre by helicopter, delivered on an emergency call, signed to a tentative 10-day contract. All he did was make every basket when the Bullets needed a basket, firing them in from anywhere.
CJ's magic is gone. He has shot poorly in all 13 playoff games so far. Tonight he did not even play. Lady Luck has dumped him to pick up Greg Ballard, a second-year player who has the 11th-year knack of being in all the right places at the right times.
"Dumb," Moe said of Motta's unwillingness to double-team Gervin. So dumb is this Motta fellow that tonight, with elimination the risk, he tried a new lineup that did nothing but win the game. With Dandridge at guard, that took the Spurs' best rebounder, Larry Kenon, away from the basket. If left Gervin to play defense and fight Ballard for rebounds.
On Dandridge's first shot as a guard, a 17-footer, Gervin had a wonderful view, standing there under the basket. As the ball bounced twice on the rim, Gervin watched it still. And Ballard was off the floor at the right time.
That made it 95-86, Bullets, and Ballard kept the lead at nine by tipping in Dandridge's next miss, too. A new play for the Bullets: Dandridge-off-the-rim-to-Ballard.
We can give the romance to Ballard, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds.... We can like Bobby D for doing a job this team needed done when it needed it most. Undoubtedly, Mota substituted divinely (with sensitive use of Larry Wright, who needed to be taken out after his mercurial efforts and Kevin Grevey, who needed to be left in no matter how crazy some shots looked).
And yet this game belonged to Elvin Hayes, who often has been large but never this large. His nine-for-16 shooting is far from his best ever. But he had 14 of the Bullets' 46 rebounds, six of their nine blocked shots, 25 points and, best of all, he was there when in times past he was invisible under pressure - and he was mighty.
Examle: It is 82-all early in the fourth quarter. Gervin tries a running layup. Hayes blocks it. The Spurs' Mike Green gets the rebound and goes back to the hoop with it. Hayes blocks it. And on the offensive end, Hayes drives for a four-foot hook that puts the Bullets ahead for good.
So now Game 7 comes Friday at Capital Centre, where Motta has guaranteed victory. In the Spurs' funereal locker room tonight, Doug Moe said, "Sure we can win up there."
Sure. CAPTION: Picture, Greg Ballard muscles between Billy Paultz and Mike Gale for two points. Ballard came off the bench to score 19 points - 10 of them in last quarter - in Bullet win. By Richard Darcey - The Washington Post