At a particularly frustrating moment in today's 109-91 loss to the Boston Celtics, Coach Gene Shue of the Washington Bullets spread his arms, looked skyward and said, "I don't understand this game."
It was difficult to digest a few basic facts; for example, how the Bullets could shoot 55 percent in the first half, then slip to 24 percent in the third period, when the Celtics turned a two-point deficit into a seven-point lead. It was also hard to explain how Boston's Thump--reserve Kevin McHale--could outscore Robert Parish and compatriot Bump, Rick Robey, could match Larry Bird.
The best of the Bullets were Frank Johnson, with 14 points and six assists, and Spencer Haywood, with 17 points. But Johnson did not record an assist in the second half and Haywood managed only two points during that time. Nobody else compensated for their declining figures.
"I was making the same passes and we had the same shots, but they just weren't falling," Johnson said. "We just didn't play well in the second half. They started hitting the boards and it got very tough."
"Two or three of my shots were hanging on the rim and not going, so I thought I'd hurt the team if I began forcing them," Haywood said. "I figured I'd let the other guys shoot, but they couldn't hit, either. Maybe I should have forced it."
Haywood hit one of six after the intermission, Greg Ballard one of seven, Rick Mahorn one of five, Kevin Grevey none of four, Jim Chones none of five.
"We didn't shoot well," Grevey said. "When we're hitting those jump shots and controlling the play, we're okay. But we weren't doing it. We have to run our offense more smoothly, set picks and let our shooters get free."
Grevey, who played 19 minutes despite a pulled stomach muscle that obviously hampered his play, said, "I felt terrible today, but I think I'll be better Wednesday."
Shue hopes his whole team will be better Wednesday, but he has no illusions about the job ahead.
"The Celtics are well-balanced and they keep throwing different things at you," Shue said. "Some of them are bound to work. There's really no comparison between their team and ours, but I'm a believer. I think we can beat them.
"I thought this would be a good opportunity for us today. I thought they'd be a bit rusty and their key players were. Bird was not a factor and Parish was not a factor, but we allowed their bench players to do things they shouldn't do. That has to be upsetting.
"Robey does the same thing all the time--he goes to his left. You just can't let players like that beat you letting them go to their strength. I'm really disappointed. I thought we could win the game, but we couldn't get the ball in the basket in the second half."
The Bullets, who seemed to tire down the stretch, offered neither excuses nor a white flag. It was dreadfully hot in Boston Garden and the Bullets had played a tough game Friday while the Celtics enjoyed a week's layoff, but the Washington players declined to accept the proffered crutch.
"We played with great intensity Friday, we worked out Saturday and then we played today; maybe it was too much," Johnson said. "But we have no excuses. We didn't shoot well and our defense wasn't a factor in the second half."
"We're playing a team, a championship team," Haywood said. "You can't just stop Bird and Parish and say you won. We know they've got guys like Robey and McHale who can play. But we're going to beat them. Not can, we're going to.
"We've been written off a lot of times and thrown in the garbage can, but one way or another we've crawled out. We're shooting for the moon."
"We're capable of beating them," Grevey said. "We lost the three games in Washington by a total of eight points, two of them by one point. We can turn that around."