The day before last night's game between the Bullets and Celtics at Capital Centre, Washington Coach Gene Shue discounted any chance of his club emulating Boston's renowned fast break.
"We're not ready as a team," said Shue. "We don't have the personnel they do."
But after the Bullets had thoroughly beaten the Celtics at their own game, running up a 37-4 edge in fast-break points in beating Boston, 112-95, it was obvious that this is a team that's potentially full of surprises.
"We'd like to think that these are the real Bullets," said Gus Williams, the game's high scorer with 24 points. "Unfortunately, it only counts once, you can't slice it up and save some for later."
Given the fact that this was the first game of the season that the Bullets (4-5) had their full 12-player complement, there may not be a need to save anything. Leading by as many as 24 points, the Bullets ran early and often, never letting the Celtics back into the game.
"We were able to take control right away," said Shue. "But I was fearful of them coming back, it's happened to us so many times."
However, the Celtics, who came into the game following a Friday night slugfest with the Philadelphia 76ers, weren't capable of responding to the Bullets' knockout blows. Thus, 14,395 fans watched Boston's first loss of the season.
"Maybe it was the post-Philly blues," said Boston guard Dennis Johnson. "We shot 42 percent, got outrebounded, 51-38, and scored just 95 points. Other than that, I don't know what else it could have been."
At the start of the game, it seemed that the only question on the minds of the crowd was who would throw the first punch in the game and when. Apart from Danny Ainge's headlock on Darren Daye that was reminiscent of the flying tackle Kevin McHale laid on Los Angeles' Kurt Rambis during last season's championship series, there was little evidence of violence.
Little evidence, that is, besides an intensity level that spread throughout the team. Daye played his most aggressive basketball of the season, scoring 13 points, 11 of them coming in the second quarter. Forward Cliff Robinson, rejoining the team following a four-game absence, played 26 minutes and had 12 points and nine rebounds.
"That was the big difference," said Shue. "Seeing everyone here and playing with intensity and being productive."
Over the last two seasons, the Celtics had compiled an 8-3 record in games following a game with Philadelphia, but last night there was little hope for the Celtics. For Boston, things got so bad that at one point Coach K.C. Jones had a back court of rookie Rick Carlisle and second-year man Carlos Clark, along with seldom-used Greg Kite in the pivot, in an effort to shake things up.
Forward Kevin McHale saw no alibi in the intense game with the 76ers the night before. "We should be so depressed that we should want to go out and eat arsenic," McHale said.
Tying the score at 2-2 was the high-water mark for Boston. Williams got things rolling for the Bullets with 10 first-quarter points, including eight on fast breaks.
Daye excelled in the second period. Although often matched against McHale or Larry Bird at the defensive end of the floor, Daye caused problems himself, scoring seven points on free throws.
"We were rebounding well and getting the ball out on the break, which helps my game," said Daye. "I think I've played with intensity all season and it just carried over into tonight's game."
Greg Ballard was the Bullets' third-quarter hero, scoring 11 points and adding five rebounds; he also had two steals that led to layups. As the Bullets' lead grew, it reached the point where the fans, many of whom had come out to see the Celtics, actually began leaving early.
Bird, who scored 42 points Friday night before being ejected for fighting Julius Erving, led the Celtics with 18 points.
Williams played down the rout, saying, "There are still over 70 games to go."
According to Boston's Johnson, this outcome could be very important later in the season. "You'd like to think it was just one of those nights and shrug it off," Johnson said. "But you don't want them happening in your own division. Now their confidence will go sky high."