Elvin Hayes will be 35 years old Monday, but he seldom has been more intimidating or effective than he was tonight, scoring a season-high 34 points in leading the Washington Bullets to a 100-88 victory over the Atlanta Hawks.
Hayes did more than just score. He also had a game-high 17 rebounds, six blocked shots and a steal. Every time a Hawk sent inside, he was looking over his shoulder for Hayes and, whenever Hayes got the ball on offense, the basket was almost automatic.
"We played great defense and we got good play from a lot of people: Kevin Porter, Wes Matthews, Greg Ballard . . . but it all came down to 'E.' He was fantastic," said Coach Gene Shue.
"The man was unreal," said Atlanta Coach Hubie Brown. "He took us one on one under pressure and always came out on top."
Hayes tried to play down his contribution, saying he "only went out and played." But he admitted he wanted to win this game very badly.
"We had lost two in a row and it was important that we win this game and go home with a winning attitude," he said. "I knew I had to take the ball to them and establish a strong inside game, and that's what I tried to do."
Dan Roundfield, playing his first game in almost two weeks following a thigh bruise, was no match for Hayes and eventually fouled out. The Hawks had no one else who could come close to guarding Hayes.
The Bullets handled Atlanta's pressure defense with ease most of the game and their defense forced the Hawks into 39 percent shooting.
The Bullet offense did sputter a bit early under Wes Matthews, who picked up his third foul with 5:10 left in the first period and the Bullets down, 17-15.
Porter came in, played the rest of the half and directed the Bullets to a 58-43 lead. Porter had nine assists in 17 minutes in the half.
"Matthews does all the spectacular things, but he didn't have any stats in the first half," Brown said. "Porter came in, was less spectacular, but got the job done. To get nine assists in that amount of time is really something."
Porter finished with 12 assists and 10 points.
Often criticized for his defense, Porter worked hard at both ends of the floor tonight, coming up with four steals and forcing Eddie Johnson into four for 16 shooting.
When the Hawks were making a run in the final quarter, it was Porter who calmly directed the offense, making sure the ball got to the proper people.
"K.P. is a settling-type player," said Hayes. "He makes things happen and he makes sure we run the plays right. He is a good contrast to Wes Matthews because we know that when he (Porter) comes in, he's going to be steady."
Greg Ballard also broke out of a small slump, playing his best game since his first start Nov. 4. He scored 18 points on eight-for-16 shooting and had 15 rebounds.
Wes Unseld had 12 rebounds and Kevin Grevey one as those four collected all 45 Bullet rebounds. That's indicative of the offense they run now. When the ball goes up, the guards take off downcourt. The big men get the rebound, whip it out and the break is on.
John Drew led the Hawks, who lost their 10th straight game, with 25 points. Rookie guard Don Collins had 20, all in the second half and 14 in the final quarter.
The Bullets used a 19-3 scoring spurt at the end of the first quarter and the beginning of the second to establish control.
The Hawks did close to six points on a basket by Roundfield with 5:15 to play, but Hayes made two free throws and, after an Atlanta miss and a rebounding foul on Tom Burleson, Unseld made two and the lead was back to 10.
"Their press wasn't that effective against us because we kept the ball in the middle of the court and left the wings open," Shue said. "We played hard the entire game and that's what we have to do. We had complete control all of the way."