"These things are all in the cards," said Gene Shue. "You don't know how they happen or why they happen."
But they do. A fatalist after umpteen-hundred games, Shue was certain he'd seen two more wonders of the NBA world last night. Bullet watchers were astonished at yet another: the owner, Abe Pollin, storming the officials' dressing room after a game with playoff intensity had ended.
"A disgrace," Pollin said after about a minute-long tirade presumably directed at longtime Bullet antagonist Jack Madden. "It's the first time in 18 years I've gone in the locker room to tell the officials what a poor job they did."
Four technicals in 11 seconds, two that sent Rick Mahorn from the game in the second quarter had Pollin and the publicly calmer Shue livid. After a one-point loss that very likely helped the Bullets' future almost as much as a victory, they chose to dwell on Madden's rabbit ears.
The Bullet center was seven for nine from the field at the time, playing so splendidly Celtic Coach Bill Fitch said to Robert Parish: "If Mahorn had stayed in the game, he'd have set an NBA scoring record."
Replied Parish: "Not if I have six fouls to give."
Their confrontation, the fine young center and the wonderful older one, ended when Mahorn acted like a rookie after being called for a foul on M.L. Carr. He is too young to know that Madden seems to hear thoughts whenever Bullets are involved. But then Shue and Jim Chones, NBA ancients, got slapped with technicals after the back-to-back ones that got Mahorn ejected.
Probably, Madden should not have called the first technical, for Mahorn's tantrum was not all that severe. Mahorn then lost his head.
Biased, Fitch said: "When he said what he said, you have to go. Everybody on our bench heard it. We've lost a few of our guys the same way."
"I'd like the officials to use a little better judgment," Shue said. "Very, very disappointing. You like to see players play. He might have slammed the ball (after being called for the foul). I'm certain he (Mahorn) said something. The player was wrong to react that way. But I'd just like to see better judgment.
"The idea is to control the game."
For most of the game, the Bullets were in control. They executed so well against the defending NBA champs, played with uncommon maturity against a team they had lost all four previous games to this season. And at the end of regulation, it was the seasoned Celts who missed the important free throws after playing spectacular defense.
"If we did anything right," Fitch said after the Celtics' 12th straight victory, "it was defense. (Kevin) McHale was like a wall for a handball court."
Indeed he was. No sooner did the ball leave a Bullet's hand than it bounced off McHale's hand, usually to another Celtic. Carr was equally tenacious, so intent on harassment he played a few minutes with one of his sneakers untied. There ought to be a way to get D into Boston Celtics, they play it so well when they have to.
Still, some Bullet plays would not be forgotten by a sellout crowd that applauded warmly as the team left the court at game's end. Losers in all 12 games against the powers in their conference (Philadelphia, Boston and Milwaukee) and just 2-18 against teams with a better than .600 winning percentage, this bunch is appealing.
Early on, Mahorn worked a backdoor layup from John Lucas on the Celts. Then he got a rebound and layup. Even more embarrassing for Boston, Spencer Haywood squeezed free for a dunk off an inbounds pass. Playground teams aren't supposed to allow that.
Another time, Mahorn left Parish flat-footed near the foul line, drove around him and lofted the ball over McHale for a layup. This was going to be fun, the cerebral Bullets taking it to the champs on a night Tiny Archibald and Rick Robey would see little action.
Then Madden and Mahorn made their mistakes, and the Celtics awoke long enough in the fourth quarter to throw some playoff defense at the Bullet Babes trying for the playoffs.
The Bullets were trying for credibility, trying to get a crowd lured for reasons other than themselves to come see them again. They may well have succeeded.
"I don't give a damn about the Celtics' championship (run)," Shue said later. "We're trying to make the playoffs. We're not learning now. We're achieving. We played as well as we could defensively."
The techs and Danny Ainge's off-balance 19-foot fadeway that sent the game into overtime were equally unfathomable to Shue.
"They go to a guy who hasn't shot a shot (actually he missed his two earlier efforts)," Shue said. "And he makes it."
With Kevin Grevey's hand in his face.
"Gotta be lucky," said Fitch of the fellow who was shooting 37 percent entering the game." He laughed and added: "He hasn't made too many fadeaways in the closing seconds of his career."