Last night, before an intimate gathering of 5,014, the Washington Bullets won their fourth consecutive game, 125-106, over the San Antonio Spurs.
While the Bullets couldn't find comfort in the scarce numbers in Capital Centre, they did find strength in the numbers provided by their bench. Guard Jeff Malone had 14 points, more than half of the 25 he jokingly predicted he'd score, while forward Darren Daye had a career-high 21. For the game, Washington's substitutes outscored their San Antonio counterparts, 68-49.
While the Bullets' bench took control of the game in the second period, it was the starters who mainly were responsible for putting the Spurs on ice during the third quarter, stretching a 10-point halftime lead to 29 points before coasting to the final margin.
Speaking of ice, for the second consecutive game the Bullets did a good job of harnessing the oppposition's leading scorer. After holding the New York Knicks' Bernard King to 18 points on Tuesday, Washington took San Antonio's Ice Man, George Gervin, completely out of the picture, holding him to just three free throws, 23 points under his average.
According to Gervin, who has scored less than 10 points just three times in his last 518 games, it was the first time in his pro career that he has been held scoreless from the field. The 13-year pro credited guard Dudley Bradley with a fine defensive job, adding, "I guess there's a first time for everything."
Looking at the final stat sheet, there was little wonder Spurs Coach Cotton Fitzsimmons said wistfully, "I've had better nights than this."
The game began as if it would be San Antonio's. Although the lack of a crowd made everything seem slower, the Spurs tried to make up for it by making seven of their first 11 shots. The Bullets, meanwhile, struggled, taking nearly 4 1/2 minutes to go from 16 to 19 points.
As it was, they trailed by only 26-22 after the first quarter. It was then that the substitutes took over. From the time Daye hit a layup to give Washington the lead for keeps at 31-30, the bench scored 12 of the Bullets' next 16 points as Washington headed toward a 59-49 halftime lead.
In the third quarter, the starters, with some help from forward Cliff Robinson, took over. In a 38-21 blitz, the team shot 72 percent, with Robinson (19 points, 10 rebounds), who at one point hit six consecutive shots, scoring 12 points.
From that point the rout was on as Fitzsimmons cleared his bench. "After their third period it was time to call it a night," he said. When the carnage was over, the Bullets' Gus Williams had a game-high 24 points, two more than Jeff Ruland. Mike Mitchell had 19 for the Spurs.
"I'm very cautious because it's a long season but we're very capable of being a very good team," said forward Greg Ballard of the Bullets. "One of the big reasons is the depth. It can prevent us from having a long losing streak."
Malone agreed. "I'm certain one of us may have a bad game here and there, but I don't see any reason why we can't continue to play this way," he said.
The fourth straight victory ties the Bullets' longest streak of last season. No. 5 can come against the Knicks on Friday; King is questionable because of a cut leg. If that happens, the team might even draw a few more fans, according to Shue. "Just like I've been saying about the team, it's gonna take some time," he said. "But I really believe at some point the fans will come back."
Before the game, Shue asked Bradley how well he covered Gervin. Bradley told Shue he played Gervin well but took what Shue said was 10 minutes to explain all the things Gervin was capable of doing. At the end of the explanation, according to Shue, his teammates just laughed. But the game bore out Bradley's first assessment of his chances.