The Bullets are finally starting to get Coach Gene Shue excited.
After watching his team catch fire in the third period and impressively run away from the Indiana Pacers, 123-108, at Capital Centre last night, Shue turned to Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff and gave him the "high five," the new way of slapping hands.
"We're getting some enthusiasm now," Shue said. "We're really getting into it."
A lot of Bullets got into it last night. Six players scored in double figures as Washington came up with its most balanced scoring of the season and produced its highest point total.
Elvin Hayes had 24 points to go along with 15 rebounds and four blocked shots and Greg Ballard scored 21 points.
Mitch Kupchak scored 19 on eight-for-10 shooting and had seven rebounds and two blocked shots in his best overall showing of the season. Carlos Terry posted 11 on five-of-five shooting and added six assists in only 15 minutes, the last 15 of the game. When Terry first went in, the Bullets were down, 78-73.
Kevin Grevey provided an impressive 18 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.
The game was actually won in the last minute and a half of the third period and the man injecting the spark was rookie guard Wes Matthews.
George Johnson made a short jump shot to put Indiana ahead, 80-75, but then all sorts of wild things happened.
To begin with, Grevey made a baseline jump shot. Then he hurried downcourt fast enough to block a Dudley Bradley jumper, at which point Matthews took off the other way on a fast break. But as he went up for his shot, Bradley knocked the ball away from him and he dove headlong after it.
Still on the floor, Matthews rolled over and fired a rifle pass to Kupchak, all alone under the basket. His layup cut the Indiana lead to 80-79.
After an exchange of possessions, with the score unchanged, Matthews drew a charging foul against Bradley to nullify a Pacer fast break.
The Pacers were incensed at the call and ended up assessed three technical fouls, one on captain Mike Bantom and the other two -- plus ejection -- on Coach Jack McKinney.
Grevey made two of the three technical shots and put the Bullets ahead, 81-80.
Matthews rebounded a Bradley miss the next time down the floor and assisted Terry on a fast-break basket. He then stole the ball from Bradley near midcourt and fed Grevey for a score on the break with two seconds left in the period.
The Bullets ran fast break after fast break in the final period on their way to 70 percent shooting and the Pacers couldn't keep up.
The Bullets beat them in clearing the boards, 56-39, and went to the free throw line 42 times to 24 for the visitors.
The Indiana press, which gave the Bullets fits the last time the teams met, was not a factor in this game.
The Bullets worked on ways of beating it in practice the past couple of days and they executed well last night.
"We beat their press so easily that they stopped using it after a while," Matthews said.
The Pacers also play an effective zone defense that they usually hide very well. The Bullets beat it by moving the ball to where the zone was weakest and by making their open shots. The Pacers also got called for the zone once at the cost of a technical foul.
For one of the few times this season, the Bullets played with almost a reckless abandon when they were taking the lead in the third period and expanding on it in the fourth and the crowd of 6,633 loved it. Kupchak, Terry and Matthews were all over the court and the Pacers couldn't keep up.
"Those three certainly were effective the way they played tonight," Shue said. "Everything they did was great. It won't always work out that way, though.
"Mitch played great. He was getting out on the break, making his shot and hitting the boards, and Carlos is just a lively player. He can do a lot of things."
The Bullets dressed only nine players for the game. Bob Dandridge and Austin Carr are out with knee injuries. Neither is expected back for tonight's game in Richfield against the Cleveland Cavaliers or Saturday night's date with the Milwaukee Bucks at Capital Centre.