The Bullets defeated the San Antonio Spurs last night, 123-117, in front of 14,249 basketball fanatics who passed up the U.S.-Soviet telecast.
Those who came to Capital Centre may have witnessed a development that meant more than just raising Washington's record to 27-34 and putting the Bullets three games behind Indiana for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Significantly, when the going got though it was two reserve guards, Kevin Porter and John Williamson, who made the big plays.
"At the end when they got close, Supe (Williamson) wanted the ball," said Bernie Bickerstaff, the assistant coach now 2-0 subbing for fluridden Dick Motta. "But maybe more important than that, the other guys wanted him to have the ball.
"And Porter too. He made big plays. We need that; we haven't had it all season."
Elvin Hayes led the Bullets with 30 points, 26 coming while Washington was building a 64-48 first-half lead. When the Spurs got the spread down from 81-61 midway in the third quarter to 110-108 on a Mark Olberding layup with 2:24 left, the guards went to work.
First, Porter drove the land and was fouled. He made two of three free throws for a 112-108 lead with 1:56 remaining. James Silas, who had 27 points, second high for the Spurs to George Gervin's 29 (10 of 28 shooting), promptly popped in a 1-footer to make it 112-110.
Now it was Williamson's turn. Spinning and whirling, he threw in an off-balance 18-footer for the 19th-20th of his 22 points and the lead was back to 114-110. Silas, superb as always in the clutch, buried another jumper and it was 114-112 at 1:16.
Porter responded with a drive down the lane for an underhand shot: 116-112.
"They were looking for me to pass because I'm the playmaker out there," the little guard said. "I faked the pass to Supe and they went to him. That left the middle open."
Porter's basket broke the Spurs' comeback. Gervin charged down the left side and fired a 12-foot failure that barely touched the rim. Larry Kenon (nine of 23, 18 points) tried to tap it but missed and Wes Unseld grabbed his 17th and last rebound. He fired to Porter, who went the length of the court for an underhanded layup as Silas fouled him with 54 seconds left.
As his shot fell through the hoop for a 118-112 lead Porter turned and twice shook his fist in the air in delight. "Just praising the Lord for letting me get it back together," he said. Porter's free throw sealed the lid as the Spurs dropped to 33-30 for the season.
"We played well," said Gervin. "We just didn't put it across at the end. We didn't play well enough at the defensive end when it counted."
The game started out to be a Bullet romp and ended up being yet another chapter in a seemingly endless Perils of Pauline series.
Hayes began as if he intended to score 100, hitting his patented turn-around jumper time and again in the first half over three different San Antonio defenders, none of whom came close to stopping him. He finished the half 12 of 19 from the floor, including a three-pointer -- his third of the season in 12 tries.
The Bullets had everything their way the first 24 minutes except at one juncture in the second quarter when a fan yelled at Porter for dribbling too much. Porter, still sensitive after a touch season, turned and yelled "Shut up" to the man as he ran by him.
But that fan was the Bullets' only problem until the late stages of the third quarter when the Spurs, who shot 37 percent the first half, finally got going.
"They had to make a run," said Bickerstaff. "You knew that was going to happen. They're too good not to. Our problem was that when they started double-teaming we didn't execute. We're supposed to cut down the middle for a pass when that happens and we didn't do it."
The double-teamed Hayes was one for nine from the floor the second half, the one a dunk after Porter and Williamson had decided the issue.
But with Greg Ballard supplying 24 points and Unseld 15 to the offense and Hayes continuing to play hard in spite of his shooting trouble (14 rebounds, seven blocked shots) the Bullets hung on and raised their modest winning streak to two games. Bickerstaff, who said Motta will be back for Sunday's game with the New York Knicks, is now 4-0 over two seasons as a substitute head coach.
"Maybe he should stay on the rest of the season," Hayes said (smiling) during the in-house postgame Telescreen interviews, the first time all season he was consented to going on "Just joking," he said later.
But Porter was serious when he said, "Coach Bickerstaff helped me by letting me know when I'm going into a game. That helps me be ready and it helps my confidence.
Bickerstaff played down his role in Porter's improvement.
"Motta does that too," he said, "but we've had so many injuries we haven't had that luxury all season. Now we do. Now things are coming together."