The defender saw a clean block.
The shooter saw a foul to his body.
The official saw a foul to the arm .
Thoughtful people finally saw a reason for the National Basketball Association's unconscionably long regular season. You have wondered what "home-court advantage" honestly means? The answer came with no time left and the Bullets and Sonics tied yesterday in Capital Centre.
The contact Dennis Johnson made with Larry Wright could reasonably be called incidental. Harder collision earlier had been ignored - and this one in fact took place after Johnson had blocked Wright's layup, cleanly it appeared and with no goaltending.
But there had been contact. And Ed Rush did not hestitate with the call.The Bullets were rewarded, not for having played exceptionally well for 48 prior minutes but for having played so hard for so long during the 82 games before the playoffs even began.
If doubt always favors the home side, there is no doubt here that the most lucid comment about the entire last-play fuss came from a parisan witness, Bullet General Manager Bob Ferry.
"If a guy gets that wide open on the last shot," he said, "you deserve to lose. You've got to blame that (the two-point loss after Wright made two free throws) on a lot of other people before the official."
Lenny Wilkens admitted as much.
"You want the pass to go outside, not inside," the seattle coach said. "You want to pressure the baseline and force the pass outside. But he (Gus Williams) was anxious to give some help."
The Sonics seemed to play most of this first game of the championship round as though their minds and bodies still were floating over Cleveland. The Bullets played well enough to rout their opponents, then Relaxed long enought to lose.
Bullet excellence was emphasized by numbers that showed their guards scoring just five fewer points than the Sonic sensations, and seldom-seen Dave Corzinegrabbing as many rebounds in 14 minutes as Lonnie Shelton grabbed in 32.
"Glad it's over," said Wright. "It shouldn't have been that close."
The Bullets' off-the-bench hero is their only exceptionally emotional player, the one who cracks their teamwide air of being blandly professional, the one who cannot kepp the little kid in him from popping out all over the place.
Wright is the Bullets' most versatile guard, perhaps the fastest player dribbling a basketball in the known world. Sometimes he gets out of control, like an Indy racer dazzled by speed; his best defense often is hoping Elvin Hayes gets to his man in time.
On a dizzy shooting streak, such as yesterday's, there are few more pleasurable players to watch. Nobody shows more feeling, such elation after game-wining free throws of such disgust after a botched pass or idiotic foul.
"I made the first shot," he said of a five-for-five performance from the field the first half, "which is fine but nothing special. The next four, though, and people have got to pay attention."
One of them was Coach Dick Motta.
"Very seldom do I get plays called for me," Wright said after that 26-point show. "But I played shooting guard more than usual. And more than not I was knocking the shots in. When they called plays for me five or six times in a row, I just smiled."
Wright missed just two of his first 12 shots. Most of his points came from long range, sometimes during duels with Freddie Brown. yesterday Wrightsville bombed Downtown. Once the shot clock was winding down and he was alone with the ball, but not with a good shot. He still shot - and the ball went in.
"When you're on a streak," Wright said, "you don't get tired. You play easy and free. You don't shoot so much as just let it go, 'cause you're sure it'll go in. It's one of those things you experience every so often."
So right was Wright that he even ventured inside for a shot. Previously, Shelton and Jack Sikma had Established that as no trespassing territory for Bullet guards, with three blocked shots each.
But Wright could not resist one more burst. He drove past his defender, challenged Sikma - and won. The Bullets had a 96-85 lead and seemed firmly in control.
"Then we got like the Bullets." Motta said, and Bullet watchers know exactly what that means. "The prize available is the reason. You wish the seconds away, the offense gets out of character. You want to play the way that got you that lead, so why change?
"But you do. Basketball is like that."
For Wright, the night before his day in the spotlight was not spend in isolated meditation. Promoters will be intrigued to know that he was at the pro wrestling matches Saturday night, cheering another Grambling alumnus, Ernie Ladd.
The ankle Wright hurt during the first game of the San Antonio series still is bothersome, he said, "but when you're playing for this type stakes you go out there and play on one leg."
How many legs does it take to stand on Cloud Nine?
Oh yes. Wright has been in these last-second win-or-lose situations before. He recalled one from his Grambling days, when a last-shot play against Jackson State had him with the ball.
"Three seconds left and we're behind." Wright said."I shot the shot and made it - and was called for an offensive foul. I just laid on the floor about five minutes."