The Washington Bullets didn't wait until the fourth quarter to begin their usual fade last night. They started in the second quarter.
After a brilliant first period in which it looked as though they were going to send the Bulls and their six-game winning streak staggering back to Chicago, the Bullets collapsed and Chicago beat them for the fourth straight time this season, 92-82, at Capital Centre.
The Bullets assumed a 30-14 first-quarter lead, but made only 22 of 66 shots (33 percent) the rest of the night. They scored only 14 points in the fourth period and 33 in the second half.
Elvin Hayes and Wes Unseld were in foul trouble much of the night and Wes Matthews' sore ankle kept him from playing, but it is doubtful any of them could have changed the outcome.
No matter who the Bullets sent out, the Bulls were bigger and better. The biggest and best was 7-foot-2 Artis Gilmore.
He scored 25 points, had 13 rebounds, blocked five shots, collected assists and intimidated the Bullets into not even challenging him.
"That's the first time I've seen Artis dominant a game like that," said Greg Ballard, who suffered through a two-for-12-shooting and three-rebound night. "He was the big force. He was scoring, blocking shots, rebounding and getting out on the break."
Kevin Grevey led the Bullets with 25 points and Elvin Hayes scored 24, but neither scored in the fourth period until the final 1:18 and the game was as good as over by then.
Hayes' 14 points and Kevin Porter's eight assists got the Bullets out fast. They stumbled in the second quarter, but still led, 49-40, at halftime.
A 13-2 scoring spurt in the third period, sparked by Bob Wilkerson, put the Bulls on top, 60-58. Gilmore later gave them a 65-61 lead with a layup, but the Bullets outscored the visitors, 8-2, in the last 90 seconds of the period to lead, 68-67, going into the final 12 minutes.
That final period was a Bullet nightmare.
Mitch Kupchak, with 10 points, was the only Bullet to score in the first 10 minutes 42 seconds. By the time another Bullet scored. Hayes on a tap-in with 1:18 to play, the Bullets were down by 10.
Ricky Sobers scored Chicago's first seven points of the quarter to tie the score, 74-74.
Reggie Theus put the Bulls ahead, 76-74, with a pair of free throws; Gilmore followed with a layup; Scott May sank a 17-footer and followed it with a 12-footer to give Chicago an 82-74 advantage with 6:19 left.
The Bullets had virtually no fast break and they are not a club that can simply outshoot the Bulls.
"In order for us to win, we have to run the break," Coach Gene Shue said, "and we just aren't getting enough off it. We're so limited. We just can't score. It's starting to get ridiculous."
Matthews injured his ankle in the Milwaukee game Tuesday and hadn't practiced since. He said he felt he could have played last night, but said Shue "must want to wait until I get stronger."
It was the first game Matthews has missed this season.
Andre McCarter backed up Kevin Porter and in 13 minutes had two points and two assists.
"Wes was having the problem with his ankle, so I looked at McCarter," Shue said. "He did about what I expected."
Kupchak had one of his strongest games this season, finishing with 16 points (14 of the Bullets' final 22) and 11 rebounds, eight offensive.
The Bullets will begin a five-game road trip tonight in Richfield, Ohio, against the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"This trip is going to be difficult because the players have been playing hard without much results lately," Shue said, "and we aren't a very good road team."