The Bullets reached deep into their bag of fourth-period playoff tricks for another miracle last night. Instead, they came up with enough turnovers, missed shots and uninspired play to allow tenacious Seattle to escape Capital Centre with an easy 92-82 triumph.
Faced with a sagging, guessing SuperSonic defense that forced 21 turnovers, the Bullets used this second game of the NBA championship series to produce some of their worst offensive statistics of the season, including their lowest point total, their lowest half (30) and lowest third quarter (14).
Seattle thus returns home for Games 3 and 4 Sunday and Tuesday with the 1-1 split here it hoped for when the round began five days ago. But the Sonics hardly could have anticipated how simply the Bullets would make it for them last night.
The Sonics had said they would depend on a much tighter defense to unnerve their oppenent in Game 2. As a stunned sellout crowd of 19,035 can attest, they were true to that battle plan.
Washington had seen the same double-teaming tactics in both its earlier playoff series. But Atlanta and San Antonio aren't as good on defense as Seattle; the Sonic sled the NBA in that category.
"We made them shoot from the outside,) Sonic forward Paul Silas noted. "Then if they missed and we block out properly, there is no way they can get the offensive rebound."
The Bullets never could get into a good rhythm against Seattle's quickness. Other than a strong second period, in which they scored 29 points, they were mostly ineffective on offense, especially when forced to shoot from outside 15 feet.
Unlike in the series opener, when Washington got balanced scoring with a big lift from its bench, only Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge were able to penetrate the Sonic defense. But Hayes, who had 20 points, took six shots in the second half and didn't score in the fourth period; Dandridge produced only four of his 21 points in the final 12 minutes.
That left most of the shots to the Bullet guards, but only Kevin Grevey could break into double figures with 10 points. Larry Wright, whose 26 points fueled Washington's opening victory, was held to eight.
"We aren't really together in how we are trying to beat their defense," Dandridge said. "They are playing it better than San Antonio or Atlanta. They are quicker. They were using zone principles a lot and using them better. That's why they were picking off so many passes."
This was hardly a game to remember for either side.
The play sloppy (37 turnovers), the shooting erratic and the consistency uneven. But that is just the type of contest the Sonics like. They want their defense to frustrate their opponents and set up as many easy points as possible.
And Washington was frustrated. Trying to rally from a nine-point Seattle lead early in the fourth quarter, the Bullets failed on 13 of their final 19 shots. It got so bad they missed wide-open foul-line jumpers.
That was all the help Seattle needed. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Sonics banged in six straight attempts to ruin any thoughts of a Bullet rally.
Although guards Gus Williams (23 points) and Dennis Johnson (20) carrried the Sonic offense, the team enjoyed vital help from the likes of John Johnson, 17 points, and Jack Sikma, 14 points plus 13 rebounds.
It was a close game until early in the last quarter. Dandridge made a driving one-hander to pull the Bullets within 72-70, then Seattle exploded. Dennis Johnson started things with a three-point play against Grevey, who was hampered by a sore tendon in his left thigh. After Wright failed on an open jumper, Sikma swished a 12-footer. Dandridge couldn't hit an open shot and John Johnson took a fine pass from Silas to pull Seattle away, 79-70.
The Bullets called time and Coach Dick Motta went to the improvised alignment of forward Dandridge at guard and reserve Greg Ballard at forward and pulled out the series against San Antonio. The switch couldn't turn around this game.
Ballard immediately scored two straight baskets, Washington was within 83-76 and the fans began stirring. Moments later, they were headed to the exit after John Johnson made Seattle's fifth straight successful shot and Williams converted a horrible pass by Bullet guard Charles Johnson into another field goal and an 87-67 advantage.
"We must learn from this game," said guard Tom Henderson. "They double-teamed a lot and we must make them pay for it. We seem to make winning hard so we must go out and play that much harder."
Prospects had looked bright for the Bullets at halftime. After falling behind by 13 points early in the second period, they held Seattle without a field goal the last five minutes of the quarter and ran off a 12-0 streak for a 52-49 intermission margin.
The Sonics didn't score their next field goal until three minutes into the third quarter. But Washington had messed up a chance to firm up control because of its turnovers. The Bullets committed 10 in the third, including five in the last three minutes.
Dandridges had been brilliant in the second quarter, scoring 15 points after Hayes opened with 11 in the first period. And Grevey supplied adequate help with eight points.
But after the half, the Bullet guards made only three of 10 shots. Seattle, which had played a more standard defense in Game 1, allowing Hayes and Dandridge freedom inside, routinely begain dropping its guards inside to help out on the Bullet forwards.
"We didn't run our plays very crisply against what they were doing,"
Grevey said. "We've seen it before but we have to do a better job of handling it."
That's what the Sonics say, too.
"We are the No. 1 defensive team and when we trap, we can hurt them," said Williams. "As long as we play a trap, it will case them problems."
Washington surrended 16 points off its 21 mistakes, but could counter with only four points from 16 Seattle turnovers.
Time after time, the Bullets would work methodically for a good shot, only to have Williams or Dennis Johnson step in and pick off a pass before romping down to the other end for a layup.
To make things worse for the Bullets, they weren't able to make up for their bad play with offensive rebounding - one way they have saved themselves in previous playoff games. They outrebounded Seattle by only five and, in the fourth period, collared one offensive rebound.
One sequence near the end of the third quarter highlighted Washington's troubles.
Grevey stormed in for a fast-break layup, only to be called for charging into Dennis Johnson. Then Wright took four steps trying to penetrate for a layup, and he threw away a pass. Ballard lost the ball out of bounds and Wright's attempt to hit Unseld on a roll to the basket was picked off by Dennis Johnson.
Now the Bullets are faced with the same tupe of challenge they overcame in the first two series. In both of those, they lose one of the first two home games.
"We like to win at home but the home court doesn't seem to much to these two teams," Dandridge said. "But I would have liked to win this one. It seems like we have been playing basketball forever. This already is out 16th playoff game."