Fickle sorts that they are, the Fates pulled a number on the Washington Bullets tonight at the Mecca. One night after a 119-104 rout of Atlanta Tuesday at home, the Bullets played miserably in falling to the Bucks, 105-79.
Any appearance of positive performances by the Bullets were proven to be illusory by the box score; 16 rebounds by Jeff Ruland were negated by six turnovers and only 10 points, and a 12-point third quarter by Gus Williams failed to mask nine-for-22 shooting.
Bullets Coach Gene Shue, usually quick to see the media, took a little longer to face the music following this game. When he did emerge from the dressing room, he correctly credited the loss to Milwaukee's defense, which, despite the loss of such stalwarts as Bob Lanier, Marques Johnson and Junior Bridgeman, still likes to go bumping in the night.
"The Bucks did an excellent job of taking away our plays," Shue said. "They created individual breakdowns and we just couldn't react to them."
According to Coach Don Nelson, the Bucks, an annual league leader in defense, got a little lucky against Washington. "We were fortunate in that we had a day off yesterday (Tuesday) and (Bucks' assistant coach Mike) Schuler was able to scout the Bullets and came back with an excellent report, so we were able to key our defense for them."
Washington forward Cliff Robinson (14 points, six of 16 from the field) begged to differ. "It wasn't so much the difference in teams from last night to tonight but the difference in us," he said. "We didn't play with the same intensity, the same crispness that we had against Atlanta."
Throughout the first two periods, neither offense was much to speak of. The Bucks led at the end of the low-scoring half, 46-37. Content to rely on perimeter shooting, each team was under 45 percent from the field. Another indication was the low number of free throws shot in the half; 11 for the Bullets and three for Milwaukee.
Given those signs, it stood to reason that if the Bullets could indeed find their touch, they would take control in the second half. What happened instead was the Bucks began opening holes in the opposition's defense, the likes of which haven't been seen by the neighboring Green Bay Packers.
At the 8:37 mark of the third quarter, Williams had scored Washington's first 10 points of the period, but the Bullets still trailed, 58-47. Thirty seconds later, Milwaukee guard Craig Hodges penetrated down the lane and dished off to Paul Pressey for a dunk. The play was so pretty that 38 seconds later the duo got together and repeated it, putting Milwaukee ahead, 64-47.
Of the next 12 Milwaukee points in the quarter, which ended with the Bucks ahead, 76-60, eight came on layups or shots in the lane. At one point soon after Pressey's second slam, Robinson got the ball in great position underneath the basket but missed the shot. His tip-in on the offensive rebound also missed and a third shot was blocked, whereupon Milwaukee retrieved the basketball and sped off downcourt for a fast-break basket.
If the game wasn't over then, for all intents and purposes, it was with 6:29 to play, when guard Sidney Moncrief (18 points, 11 rebounds), moving from the left corner, soared high for an offensive rebound and slammed it through the hoop in one motion, putting the Bucks up, 90-69.
Another indication of how low the Bullets had sunk came when Bucks center Randy Breuer, a second-year player who hasn't escaped "project" status, scored 10 fourth-quarter points in less than six minutes.
"We were just so high last night that it seemed we were really down coming into the game," Shue said. "We're still not at a stage of cohesiveness; we're just trying to win as many as we can while working together and getting to know each other."
"You wish you could play every night at the intensity level that we had against Atlanta but you can't," Williams said. "That's one of the funny things about the game."
Nelson concurred. "Defensive games like that don't happen every night," he said. "Tonight it did, but next time they may score 180 points on us. That's the NBA."
And that would be Friday, when the teams meet in Capital Centre in a game the Bullets hope will be markedly different.