The banner across the scorer's table at the Spectrum read, "BE HERE WHEN THE LIGHTNING STRIKES," but somehow, one gets the impression that the intent of the sloganmaker was something other than what took place here tonight.
The Lightning, in the form of the Washington Bullets' Gus Williams (24 points, eight assists), was indeed here. So was the Thunder, as in Cliff Robinson (24 points, 13 rebounds), Jeff Ruland (22 points) and Rick Mahorn (14 rebounds).
The explosive combination resulted in the Bullets' sixth straight victory, a 120-105 rout of the Philadelphia 76ers. As in the other victories in the team's streak, Washington took control in the second half and coasted to the final margin.
"There's no doubt that last year things probably would've happened the opposite way," said happy Washington Coach Gene Shue. "Tonight, though, we got some breaks towards the end of the third quarter and in the last period the players sensed a win and just played great."
The game not only gave the Bullets a chance to prove their mettle against one of the NBA standard bearers but also a chance to move within a half game of second-place Philadelphia in the Atlantic Division standings.
Still, before the game, the team downplayed the idea of the contest being their most important of the young season.
"You can't put that kind of emphasis on any game this early in the season," said Assistant Coach Bernie Bickerstaff. "It will be a great test, more so than the Boston game. They came into Washington off an emotional letdown (following an all-out brawl with Philadelphia the night before the Bullets' 112-95 rout Nov. 10.)
"This game will be very interesting, a chance to see how broad our horizons could become."
Perhaps it was because the 76ers have played so many big games in recent years that the crowd at the Spectrum was noticeably quiet at the game's start. The players, however, showed traces of nervousness. Rick Mahorn missed layups on two of the Bullets' first three possessions; Philadelphia's Moses Malone slammed the ball out of bounds attempting to grab an easy rebound.
Trailing, 8-5, the Bullets took the lead at 9-8, Williams scoring a layup on a nice feed from Dudley Bradley one possession after Bradley had scored on a feed from Williams.
Williams scored 10 points in the opening quarter, the same number as Malone as Washington took a 27-24 lead.
The Bullets, executing well on both the fast break and set offense, showed their tenacity throughout the second quarter. Eight times, Philadelphia took the lead; six times, Washington regained the edge on its next possession.
Unfortunately for Washington, one of the two times they didn't respond to a Philadelphia basket was just before the end of the first half, a Maurice Cheeks drive giving the 76ers a 54-53 halftime lead.
At intermission, Williams led the Bullets with 14 points and Jeff Ruland had 12. For the 76ers, Julius Erving had 11 points, one more than Malone and guard Sedale Threatt.
The Bullets began the third period continuing their fine defensive job on Malone. When the Philadelphia center scored with 4:55 to play in the quarter, it was his first basket in 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, the Bullets were shooting 65 percent from the field en route to an 84-76 third-quarter lead. Ruland led the Bullets with eight points in the period; Mahorn and Robinson each gathered four rebounds.
The Bullets made their big move with 6:20 to play in the third quarter. After Clint Richardson's jump shot tied the score at 63, Washington outscored Philly, 21-13, to take control.
Once again, the Bullets' reserves played a key role, Darren Daye making a pair of jump shots, and Robinson and Frank Johnson (13 points in 16 minutes) each contributing a three-point play.
The team started the fourth quarter with Ruland scoring a layup on a prettily executed play. Bradley (12 points) then did his part, stealing three consecutive passes with the Bullets converting each into points.
Bradley, who hit a pair of three-point field goals in the quarter, said his defensive work got him going at the other end of the floor. "I just got into it after the steals," he said. "Everything came together, everyone got into the flow."
After Bradley's second steal, an exasperated 76ers' Coach Billy Cunningham called a timeout. But when Philadelphia returned to the floor, it found Robinson ready to take over, as he has consistently done throughout the win streak. Eleven of Robinson's 13 fourth-quarter points were scored from that point.
After the game, however, all Robinson wanted to discuss was his defensive work. "Teamwise, it's the best defense I've ever played, I feel like I've come into my own," he said. "More so than on offense. I've had great scoring days and nights, but I'm really proud of my 'D.' "
Shue, who has said that he'll keep bringing Robinson off the bench "unless he became an absolute defensive gem," has no reason to change things now.
"I think what's happening now is that we're sneaking up on some teams," he said. "It seems as if some of the teams in this league are playing us based on last year's club. We are a different team this year."
As he spoke, Williams strolled by on his way to an interview. The tune he sang as he passed by was "Thunder and Lightning."