The young Detroit Pistons gave the Bullets a lesson in fast-break basketball tonight and handed them their worst defeat of the season, 122-97, at the Silverdome.
The Bullets beat the Pistons, 86-82, at Capital Centre two weeks ago, but it looked like a different Piston team tonight. Detroit controlled the tempo, and the Bullets simply couldn't keep up.
"Tonight they had to play our game," said Detroit Coach Scotty Robertson. "We can't stand in the trenches with very many teams. We have to get them spread out and run the court, and we did that tonight as well as we have all season."
"It wasn't that we were playing in slow motion, they were in fast motion," said Bullet Coach Gene Shue. "They (the Pistons) played very hard and tough, and made us look very bad at times."
The Bullets committed a season-high 29 turnovers in the game, eight of them by Jeff Ruland and five by Spencer Haywood.
Bullet center Rick Mahorn, who started despite a sore back, tied the National Basketball Association high for blocked shots with eight. He only played 24 minutes, because he got into foul trouble early and then was ejected from the game in the fourth period for fighting with John Long.
The two exchanged a few punches, but only Mahorn was ejected. Referee Earl Strom said Mahorn caused the fighting by using excessive force in trying to stop Long from scoring a layup.
The two had squared off earlier, but no punches were thrown then.
The Pistons led by seven, 56-49, at halftime and then blew the game open in the third period, when they outscored the Bullets, 34-18. They scored 13 unanswered points in one stretch while the Bullets blundered about. Washington made only seven of 24 shots in the quarter and committed nine turnovers.
After their 13-0 spurt, the Pistons enjoyed a 69-53 lead. The Bullets scored on back-to-back baskets by Ruland and Mahorn to get to within 14 points, but Detroit responded with eight points in a row, six of them by Kelly Tripucka on fast breaks after the Bullets threw the ball away.
That increased the Pistons' lead to 22 points, and the Bullets were never a threat after that.
Tripucka led the Piston scorers with 22 points. Long had 20.
Guard Isiah Thomas scored 14 points and had 13 assists. He also had five turnovers, most of them on fancy passes that teammates never saw coming. Thomas' backup, Ron Lee, had seven assists and five steals -- a team record -- in the third period.
As a further indication of what kind of game it was for Detroit, the Pistons had 38 assists -- the most in three years -- and they blocked 19 shots, which is the NBA high this season.
Forward Terry Tyler had five blocks and reserve center Edgar Jones four.
Only three Bullets scored in double figures and the two highest scorers, Frank Johnson with 15 and Don Collins with 12, were reserves. Mahorn, with 11 points, was the only starter to score in double figures.
The Bullets had a string of six games in which they had held their opponents to fewer than 100 points, but the Pistons hit 100 three minutes into the fourth quarter tonight.
"Their tempo, pace and defense made us look like we hadn't ever seen each other," Shue said.
"They can fly," said Bullet guard John Lucas. "Their overall team speed is unreal."
Every time the Bullets looked up, Detroit seemed to be off on a three-on-one or four-on-two fast break. The Pistons usually started the breaks after Bullet turnovers and usually converted them.
Lucas said the turnovers resulted from poor execution. "We have to read the defenses better. We aren't meshing right yet, but we'll get there. Today was just one of those days we should have all stayed in bed."
They'll get up Friday, however, to face the Houston Rockets at Capital Centre and then fly to Chicago to face the Bulls Saturday night.