Now it's on to Boston for the surprising Washington Bullets, who are peaking in a manner reminiscent of their upset-marked drive to the world championship four years ago.
Coming from behind in the second half for the second straight game, the Bullets raced past New Jersey, 103-92, before a sellout crowd of 19,035 at Capital Centre last night. With the victory, they swept the Nets and earned the right to play the Celtics in a seven-game series starting Sunday afternoon in Boston.
"This team reminds me of our championship team," said Kevin Grevey, who scored 16 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter when the Bullets broke open a close game.
"This a team that doesn't want to stop," he said. "We're not in awe of anybody. We're capable of beating good teams and that includes Boston. Sure, we're big underdogs, but we're capable of beating them."
When the Bullets won their only National Basketball Association title in 1978, they won just 44 regular-season games and didn't have the home-court advantage in the miniseries. This year they won 43 and also will not have the home-court advantage the rest of the playoffs.
"We wore them down and then the fans were a big factor," Bullet Coach Gene Shue said. "As soon as we got our heads in front, the fans went wild. The players responded and it was just a great big high.
"This team has come so far," he said. "We haven't beaten the Celtics (the Bullets were 0-6 during the regular season), but we'll play them hard."
The series with Boston will continue with a game there Wednesday night, then move to Capital Centre for afternoon games Saturday and Sunday. If necessary, Game 5 will be the following Wednesday in Boston; Game 6 is set for May 7 here and Game 7 would be May 9 in Boston.
Once again, the Bullets played excellent defense, although the visitors made 61 percent of their shots (24 of 39) in the first half when they built a 48-39 lead with three minutes left in the second quarter.
Albert King provided the impetus for the Nets' early surge, making all eight of his shots in the first half. He sank 11 in a row and finished with 12 of 16 and a game-high 25 points.
"We were a little shell-shocked at halftime," Shue admitted. "We were playing good defense and King was shooting eight for eight. We were fortunate to get four points just before half. They shot 61 percent and I told the players they couldn't do any better."
Frank Johnson and Spencer Haywood got the Bullets going in the second half, combining for their team's first 13 points as the Bullets closed within one, 61-60.
"I just wanted to get everyone involved," said Johnson, who scored 19 points and totaled a game-high nine assists. "Spencer got pumped up and started hitting his jump shot, then Grevey got off. We also did a good job of keeping Buck (Williams) off the boards."
Haywood (15 points) made five straight shots and his last one, a 16-footer after a pass from Johnson, put the Bullets in front, 67-66, with 1:14 left in the third quarter. After Ray Williams (23 points) tied it at 68, the Bullets took the lead for good on the most electrifying play of the night.
On a set play when the Bullets cleared out the right side, Johnson faked past Darwin Cook, left his feet outside the foul line and made a powerful dunk that would have made Darryl Dawkins proud. As the crowd stood and cheered, he added a free throw to give the Bullets a 71-68 lead going into the fourth quarter.
The final period belonged to Grevey. The seven-year veteran from Kentucky scored 13 of his team's 15 points in a five-minute span midway through the quarter when the Bullets broke the game open.
He made four of four three-point shots and eight of 15 shots in his best shooting performance since the game in which he pulled a groin muscle with five games remaining in the regular season.
After Grevey's third scoring spree, the Bullets were in command, 87-76, with seven minutes to play and the crowd was chanting "We want Boston, We want Boston."
"I couldn't play Grevey aggressively with five fouls," said Ray Williams. "When they got the momentum going like that did, it's that much easier to make those shots."