Professional basketball is supposed to be a game of brains as much as it is of physical talent. But the Washington Bullets showed a glaring lack of both yesterday as they blundered away their third straight contest and, quite likely, their playoffs hopes.
"We did everything wrong we possibly could," said Coach Gene Shue." "If this game was a test, we wouldn't have gotten one answer right."
Shue's team blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and succumbed, 101-100, to the Cleveland Cavaliers at Capital Centre. Meanwhile, Chicago was beating Kansas City, 97-87, giving the Bulls (38-37) a three-game lead over the Bullets (35-40) with only seven games remaining. A tie won't help the Bullets, because the Bulls won the season series between the clubs.
"We really don't have much of a chance at this point," Shue said.
With the season on the line, the Bullets have played the last three games as if they didn't care what happened. Today, they scored only 14 points in the final quarter, and missed 20 of their 26 shots that period.
"In thier minds they're trying, but it doesn't really matter because they aren't getting the job done," Shue said. "We're capable of beating anyone, but as we've shown the last three games, we're capable of losing to anyone, too. We had all kinds of chances to win today but we didn't."
A 20-footer by former Bullet Roger Phegley cut Washington's lead to 100-99 with 54 seconds remaining. The best shot the Bullets could come up with on their next possession was a 16-footer by Mitch Kupchak, who missed badly. Kenny Carr got the rebound with 39 seconds to play.
The Cavaliers called a timeout seven seconds later and a 20-second timeout after that to set up a play. Then they couldn't get the ball inbounds, so they called timeout.
When they got the ball in, they ran a simple play that isolated that best player, Mike Mitchell, on Elvin Hayes, nine feet to the right of the basket, Mitchell's turnaround jumper swished through for a 101-100 advantage with 23 seconds left.
"We knew what they were going to run and someone was supposed to drop off on Mitchell and help 'E' on him," Shue said. "He didn't do it."
The Bullets called time to get the ball at midcourt and set up a play. They, too, took a 20-second timeout to make sure everyone knew what was going on. They went back onto the floor, lined up out of position, and Bobby Dandridge couldn't get the ball inbounds. He was forced to use his team's last timeout to avoid a violation.
The ball eventually was passed in to Kupchak as his defender, Bill Laimbeer, went for the steal. Kupchak appeared to have a clear path to the basket from the top of the key, but Mike Bratz darted in and stole the ball off his dribble with 19 seconds left. All Kupchak could do was tackle Bratz in the back court.
Bratz, an 81 percent free throw shooter, missed both foul shots, with Hayes rebounding the second miss. The Bullets had no timeouts left, so had to run helter-shelter upcourt.
Kevin Grevey temporarily was stuck with the ball, but got it to Ballard with five seconds to go. Ballard forced up an unneccessary three-point shot that Kenny Carr blocked. Laimbeer grabbed the ball and was fouled by Hayes with one second remaining.
Laimbeer had three chances to make two free throws. He missed the first two and, after a timeout, missed the last one on purpose. Hayes again got the rebound, but his desperation heave at the basket was far short.
"We had a mental error when Bobby couldn't inbound the ball," Shue said. "We had a mental error when Greg took that three-point shot. We had a mental error when Grevey instead of Kevin Porter brought the ball up for that last shot. We had a mental error when Mitchell got off his shot. But, hey, that's the kind of team we have. We aren't doing anything different now than we have all season."
Mitchell had 20 points for the Cavaliers, Carr 16. Grevey and Hayes each had 21 for the Bullets.