Neither coach was overjoyed in the aftermath of Houston's 110-97 win over the Washington Bullets tonight and both were apprehensive about the two clubs meeting again Thursday night in Landover.
Four technical fouls, two to each coaching staff, plus a heated shoving exchange between Elvin Hayes and Moses Malone capped off a physical contest. Both coaches hinted that the game may have gotten away from officials Lee Jones and Ralph Lembo.
"It certainly was unusual that there were no fouls on Houston in the fourth quarter," said Bullet Coach Dick Motto of the 9 1/2 minutes he saw of the last quarter before being ejected. "It would seem that some basketball expert would have seen at least one foul."
Houston coach Del Harris, who along with assistant Scotty Robertson drew third-quarter technicals, was more direct in his criticism of the officials.
"I knew we were in trouble when I walked out and saw those two guys," said Harris of the Jones-Lembo combination. "The game was teetering on getting out of hand. I've seen it get worse, but it was certainly borderline as far as losing control goes."
Things were to the breaking point of being completely out of control after Hayes and Malone exchanged words and then shoves with just two minutes to play and Houston firmly in the driver's seat. Nothing came of the brief encounter. Hayes refused any comment on the situation. Malone, however, said he was reacting to continued shoving that he felt Hayes was unfairly dishing out all night.
"I give him respect and I wanted him to give me some respect" said the NBA's defending MVP. "I'm a grown man and I don't mind the shoving that goes on in basketball. But he was trying to take advantage of me. I don't mind the shoving but I didn't want to get hurt."
Harris added in Malone's defense that "Hayes had been doing a lot of nudging, lower on the body and Mo had had enough. The fight didn't amount to a whole lot and I think both men, as good people and as pro pros, didn't want to fight."
The controversy could be left to simmer and die if it weren't for the fact that the two clubs, battling for playoff rights, will square off again Thursday night.
"Sometimes I think your worst enemy makes up the schedule" said Motto, before leaving for the confines of the hotel, saying he was fighting the flu. "But it's not a hazard. It's equal for everyone."
Hayes said that he didn't feel the Bullets were backed to the wall "because we've only lost 35 games and so has Indiana."
Houston's Harris commented on the consecutive night battles saying, "I don't think it's a good to put a man up against the same man two nights in a row."
While Malone and Hayes stole the spotlight at the end of the contest, it had already been decided after Rick Barry's 14-point explosion in the fourth quarter.
Leading, 81-72, entering the final quarter, Barry hit two three-point field goals and two driving layups to make it 99-88 with 3 1/2 minutes to play. Barry finished with four three-pointers and 20 points.
Rudy Tomjanovich had 21 for the Rockets, including 13 in the first half, while Malone poured in 33 points but had a below-par reboundingd night with 10. He made 21 and 23 free throws.
Hayes, Greg Ballard and John Williamson provided the Bullet scoring punch, though it wasn't enough to extend a three-game winning streak. Hayes finished with 20 points, as did Ballard Williamson's 24 was the high.
Ballard couldn't miss in the early going as Washington led for the bulk of the first half. It was 54-50 at halftime for the Bullets, with Balard hitting for 10 points in the first quarter and Williamson 11 in the second.
Washington had led, 27-24, after the first quarter, though the Bullets had squandered most of the early 13-4 lead they had established. Houston took two momentary leads in the second quarter before Williamson's three-point play and Ballard's field goal at the buzzer gave Washington the Intermission lead.