Washington's playoff-long scoring crisis in the back court hit rock bottom today. With the guards struggling to make even open layups, the Bullets plunged to a season-low shooting percentage that made it simple for Seattle to coast to a methodical 105-95 triumph.
The SuperSonics had things so easy in grabbing a 2-1 leading in the NBA championship round that they rarely needed the double-teaming, trapping defense that befuddled Washington three days ago.
Instead, Seattle let the Washington guards shoot. Almost 80 percent of the time they missed, giving the Sonics more than enough chances to build big leads.
The boisterous Kingdome crowd of 35,928, third larges in playoff history, enjoyed almost every minute of the one-sided affair, but even the Sonic players admitted they didn't have to play very well.
"Washington wasn't up to par," forward John Johnson said. "When you don't put in your open shots, it's hard to play well."
The Bullets failed on a bundle of open opportunities. They shot 33 percent for the game (their previous low was 36 percent in January), forcing Coach Dick Motta to use everyone but the ball boy at guard.
He finally used Bob Dandridge at shooting guard and Greg Ballard at small forward for the final 17 minutes, but by then his team was 17 points behind and, as Dandridge put it, "really not playing anywhere near well enough to win the game."
The Bullet performance for the first 31 minutes bordered on inept. They made only 17 of their initial 71 shots (22 percent), with the five guards hitting four of 27. For a 10-minute stretch during the middle of the game, Washington made three of 26 shots while Seattle expanded a six-point lead to 17.
Excluding Dandridge, guards shot eight of 35 for 19 points. Charles Johnson finished two to 10, including one for nine in the second period, while Larry Wright and Kevin Grevey made only one shot apiece of the six each attempted. While at guard, Dandridge made five of 11 attempts, scoring 10 of his 28 points.
With Elvin Hayes able to put in only five of 20 shots en route to a 19-point, 14-rebound game, the Bullets didn't have enough fire-power to cope with the quick Sonics, who hardly turned in a top-notch effort.
But Seattle got enough from guards Gus Williams (31 points), Dennis Johnson (17 and nine assists) and reborn Fred Brown (16 in 10 minutes) to roll up a whopping 44-point advantage over the Washington guards.
That was too much of a margin for Wes Unseld to overcome despite his splendid 23-point, 14-rebound, foru-assit effort that, at times, was almost a one on-five match against Seattle.
"Unseld carried them, he kept them in the game," Sonic Paul Silas said. "He's the smartest small center to ever come down the pike in this game. If it wasn't for him, we would have won by 20."
As it was, the Sonics didn't take that much advantage of the Bullet's shooting woes. Despite Horrible 25 percent Washington accuracy at halftime, including zero for 10 the final six minutes of the second period, Seattle took only an 11-point edge into the locker room.
"We should be down by 80," Motta told his team. "Now it's up to us to come back and do something."
Instead, Washington responded to his pep talk by failing on six of their opening seven shots of the third quarter, including an air ball layup by Grevey and three other misses within two feet of the basket.
With Williams scoring 14 points in the period, after a five-for-15 first half, Seattle quickly turned the game into a one-sided romp. For awhile, the Sonics put on a passing clinic as Dennis Johnson threaded passes through the Bullet defense to wide-open teammates, who put in uncontested layups.
Once Motta made the move to Dandridge at guard, the Bullets settled down, their defense perked up and they began running their offense more effectively.
But it was way too late. They out-scored Seattle by nine in the final 17 minutes yet they never got closer than 98-91, late in the fourth period. And then the Sonics ran off a 5-2 spurt to send their fans home happy.
So completely did Seattle throttle Washington that Motta's team could record only two successful fast breaks. Without any transition baskets, the Bullets had to rely almost entirely on their set offense for points. That proved their undoing.
"We've got to run more to take the pressure off our offense," Grevey said. "This isn't our game. We mix up things more.
"When you aren't shooting well, you still have to do other things. You don't rely on shooting, you rely on rebounding and defense. The shooting will come.
"If we start shooting, we can blow this team out. If we don't we still can play them even."
The Bullets can't shoot so poorly and expect to win many playoff games, especially on the road.
"You don't expect a pro team to shoot 25 percent," Motta said. "We are a proud team. This is something we aren't used to."
Yet Motta appears to have run out of ways to snap his team from this shooting slump.
He maneuvered with his guards constantly today. Henderson had two turnovers early in the first quarter, so Motta replaced him with Wright. After Grevey picked up three fouls, he went the entire second* period with Charles Johnson, who aimed his shots and hit the front rim with most of them.
When Grevey failed on two shots to open the thrid and Seattle spurted to a 59-46 lead, Motta sent in Wright and Phil Chenier, who was making his first appearance of the round.
Chenier misfired on two jump shots and was off on two free throws. Meanwhile, Dennis Johnson and Williams were breaking free almost any time they wished for open jumpers. Motta finally called time with 4:52 to go, his team down, 69-52, and moved Dandridge to guard.
"If we don't get the type of production we need from our shooting guard spot, we have to do something else to change things," Dandridge said. "But I'd obviously rather stay at forward. I'm more comfortable there.
"And that also means we are short-handed up front. There are no subs left there. I know we have to run more and maybe if we can't hit the 15-footers, we should move in closer and start shooting 10-footers.
"These aren't bad shots we are taking. They are open shots. I missed a lot of them myself (11 for 27). They didn't even have to play defense that much on us." CAPTION: Picture 1, Dennis Johnson leaves Bullet guard Kevin Grevey standing and watching as he slams in two points for Sonics.; Picture 2, Tom Henderson gets no such unhindered access to basket during attempt to drive past Sonic center Jack Sikma. By Richard Darcey-The Washington Post