As jock-fights go, what the Bullets and Celtics did to one another yesterday in Capital Centre was typical. Lotta fuss, no muss. Fists cocked, not a blow delivered.
"Just on the bench looking," said Spencer Haywood. "A model citizen."
"When it all started," said Bernie Bickerstaff, "K.C. (Jones, for whom he worked with the Bullets) came over and said: 'I got you.' " He laughed, and nearby General Manager Bob Ferry said:
"I'm goin' after (Red) Auerbach."
The Bullet Bout, Haywood vs. Charles Davis, the day before in practice, had been better, dressing room talk suggested. Serious punches were exchanged in that one. Best friends, Haywood and Davis got caught up in the intensity that suddenly developed in this NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series when the Bullets beat the Celtics Wednesday in Game 2.
At one point during that Friday workout, Rick Mahorn had bruised so many Bullets, in particular Jeff Ruland on one wipeout pick, that Coach Gene Shue called a brief halt and reminded everyone: "The game's tomorrow, against people wearing green."
Yesterday, after they lost just about everything but the postgame bantering, the Bullets seemed more anxious to maul the officials than the Celtics.
Model citizen Haywood observed: "Our men were dripping blood; they were shooting free throws."
From late in the third quarter, Ruland was bleeding from a chin wound that required five stitches. It was Celtic inflicted, though not intentionally. Harm but no foul.
"Got it diving for a ball," Ruland said. "(Rick) Robey or (Kevin) McHale landed on me and I hit my chin on the floor."
It was a Mahorn foul that apparently started the bench-clearing ugliness with 88 seconds left in the game, and Mahorn was the only one ejected--for bouncing the ball off Gerald Henderson's head.
Was there malice in Mahorn's mind?
"On the court," he said, "I ain't responsible for me."
Ruland and Haywood thought the officials should have been more responsible.
"We're working our butts off," Ruland said, "and those two think it's a Sunday brunch. Two (expletives). We're busting our rear ends; we expect them to do the same. It's no joke; I'm fed up with those guys."
Had Paul Mihalak and Jess Kersey been prejudiced in Boston's favor?
"I'm not saying one way or another. Total. It was one of the worst jobs I've ever seen. Worse than anytime during the regular season. And that's saying a lot."
Veteran Haywood, who knows that fines often follow First Amendment talk in sports, was less blunt. He was responding to a question about how to defend very likely the pivotal player in the series, Cedric Maxwell:
"You can't play him if you can't touch him. I can play anybody down low, but not if I can't touch him. And I'm being hit at the other end. I've played him all (regular) season low. Today, I can't touch him. Five fouls; 27 minutes. I couldn't play in the game."
The Celtics went to Maxwell early and often, for 20 points in all.
"Their secret is Cornbread," Bullet reserve Jim Chones said. "Low. He's not a real small forward, and he's not a real big forward."
So what is he?
"Like Julius (Erving) and Magic (Johnson). Just a great player. I saw him do what he did (yesterday) against Philly last year in the playoffs (he also was MVP of the championship series against Houston). Inside, around the basket. Two and three chances (off each miss). Keeping the ball alive.
"We gotta figure out something for him."
It was a giant's game yesterday. Primitive basketball. Tough. Intruders, such as the Bullets' Frank Johnson, were treated harshly. Johnson got more shots slapped back at him than made it to the basket. He missed 19 of 22 shots.
"That's okay," said Ferry. "You make the important shots."
The important shots for Boston yesterday were follow-ups, second and third--sometimes fourth--efforts. Shoot and chase is what the Celtics played most of the time. Bullet talk to the contrary, Boston's Larry Bird was the first player in deep foul trouble. He scored only three field goals.
And the Celtics had a far easier time getting the ball to their primary scorers than the Bullets did. After no more than two passes, Maxwell and Robert Parish had their defenders--and the ball--right where they wanted.
"I tried to deny him (Parish) the ball," Ruland said, "but he'd push my hand away. I told the guy (official) about it. He said he'd look, and then he turned his head."
"Gotta limit 'em to one shot, and one shot only," said Johnson, who now knows his place in this series. "I was penetrating (and getting nearly everything blocked) because we needed baskets in a hurry. And my jumper wasn't going too well.
"When that happened, they just clogged the middle. And stayed with it. Gonna be a physical series."
The rudest Celtic to Johnson was Parish.
"A force," Johnson admitted.
No dummy, Johnson passed off several times after his penetration shots often failed to go head high. Once he found Mahorn free for what appeared to be a cinch slam dunk. Two-handed, two feet above the rim, Mahorn rammed the ball from behind his head toward the net. Parish somehow got his hand on it, blocked it cleanly.
And ended on his back from the force.
During all the crashing of enormous bodies, casual and serious fans learned about NBA life when one of the mortal-looking players, Kevin Grevey, got poked in the eye. Grevey was on the floor, clearly hurting badly, but his teammates worked the ball for a Mahorn shot that missed.
There are 20-second timeouts to cover such cases, but Washington chose not to call one then. With only one to a half, these "injury" timeouts apparently are too valuable to be used for injuries.