With only eight men dressed, and using just seven until the last minute, the Washington Bullets played their best game of the season tonight, beating the Boston Celtics, 113-103, at the Hartford Civic Center.
Despite the injury- and illness-depleted roster, the Bullets never cracked under the Celtic pressure, committing only 10 turnovers. The offense ran smoothly: when the fast break was there, they converted. When it wasn't, the set plays worked.
Defensively, the Bullets did a good job of keeping the taller Celtics outside, and made them work for almost every basket.
Six Bullets scored in double figures, led by Elvin Hayes with 27 and Greg Ballard with 24.
Kevin Porter had an impressive 18 points and 11 assists in his second straight start, and, dictating the tempo, was a key to the outcome.
"We played great," said Coach Gene Shue. "Boston allowed us to take control right away and we never gave it up. We always got the big rebound or made the big shot. This was as well as we can play. We can't do any better. mThe key was that whenever we needed something we were able to get it."
Late in the second quarter, after Boston had scored eight straight points to turn a 45-38 deficit into a 46-45 lead, Mitch Kupchak scored six points in the next three minutes, all the result of his offensive rebounds. The Bullets led, 55-54, at halftime.
Early in the fourth period, the Bullets were on top, 91-89, when Wes Matthews scored on a breakaway. He then slapped the ball away from Boston's Kevin McHale, got it back and started the Bullets on another fast break. He made a behind-the-back dribble at midcourt to get out of traffic, penetrated and dished off to Kupchak for another basket.
After a Boston miss, Hayes scored after an offensive rebound and the Bullets had a 97-89 lead with 8:35 remaining.
The Celtics cut the lead to 101-97 with 5:50 left after a pair of baskets by Larry Bird, but the Bullets responded with six straight points from Ballard to raise the lead to 10, and that was it for the Celtics.
"We used discretion down near the end," said Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff. "We took care of the ball and we executed well. The big thing was the execution."
"We played smart basketball," said Ballard. "That's something we haven't been doing."
Kevin Grevey stayed home with bronchitis and Carlos Terry was having an off game, so Shue called on a guard line of Porter and Matthews much of the night. It was effective. The Celtics couldn't keep up with them and were forced to use a Tiny Archibald-Gerald Henderson combination at guard.
"This is the best we've played against a good team," said Porter, "and we still missed a lot of layups. We just seemed to be in control all of the time. We were confident and I guess we played like it."
The Celtics had won three in a row and 11 of their last 13. They shot 51 per cent and got 26 points and 15 rebounds from Robert Parish and 22 points and 15 rebounds from Larry Bird. But the Bullets worked together and the result was their most satisfying victory of the season. It was their third road victory and their fourth victory in the last five games, improving them to 13-15.
Shue used only seven players in the victory over Detroit Friday night and only seven tonight until the last 28 seconds tonight, when he brought in rookie Rick Mahorn, who is from Hartford. This was declared Rick Mahorn Day in Hartford by Mayor George Athanson and Mahorn was presented with a plaque at halftime.