There were a lot of unwell things at the Washington Bullets-Utah Jazz basketball game last night at Capital Centre. Bullets' Coach Gene Shue had a virus. The game started five minutes late because the ice underneath the playing surface caused moisture on the court.
The Bullets' play was ailing, too. Shooting 38 percent from the field, they lost, 85-82, before 4,782, which was also a letdown from last Saturday's sellout.
DeMatha High product Adrian Dantley, hobbled recently by a sprained right foot, got well on the Bullets, scoring a game-high 32 points, the final three on a three-point play with 13 seconds left to give his team an 84-82 lead.
Even after that, the Bullets had a chance to tie, but center Jeff Ruland was called for traveling two seconds later. Utah guard Rickey Green made the game's final point five seconds after that.
"Our outside shots usually go in but tonight we couldn't make one no matter who was shooting," Shue said. "Whoever went into the game, it was going to be like rebound practice, because the shots weren't going to fall."
Besides the paucity of baskets from the perimeter, the Bullets found that the inside game, usually a staple, had been virtually shut off by 7-foot-4 center Mark Eaton, who entered the game averaging 5.36 blocked shots per outing. That's more than 15 NBA teams average. He swatted away eight shots and got 13 rebounds, one more than Dantley.
"When you play a shot blocker you have to play smart," Shue said. "The best way to beat him is to outsmart him. Most players, however, prefer to challenge him."
"He's proven that he's good at it, probably the best in the game," said the Bullets' Gus Williams, who scored 14 points after missing three games because of a strained adductor tendon in his right leg. "What you have to do is pick your spots."
The problem was that whatever spot the Bullets chose to take, their effort was more than likely met by a resounding clang from the rim. After Cliff Robinson's layup drew the Bullets within 76-75 with 5:31 to play, they went more than 2 1/2 minutes before scoring again, squandering five possessions.
The nearly literal ice was broken by Greg Ballard's free throw. He got the shot on a technical foul against Utah's Jeff Wilkins, who protested from the bench when Eaton was called for fouling. After Ballard made the technical, Ruland, the player fouled, made one of two free throws to make the score 78-77.
Twenty seconds later Williams was fouled but could only make one of two, tying the game at 78. A little more than a minute later, the Jazz's Darrell Griffith, who entered the game with more three-point field goals than any NBA team but Milwaukee, made his 33rd of the season for a 81-78 lead.
With 50 seconds to play, Williams brought the Bullets within one, making one of his team's few outside shots. Then, 25 seconds later, he gave Washington the lead, getting credit for a layup when Eaton was called for goaltending.
The call was made by referee Hue Hollins, who was trailing the play but hadn't made it past the half-court stripe. When the Utah bench again protested, a technical was called on trainer Don Sparks. Williams stepped to the line because Ballard, the usual shooter, had just been pulled from the game.
However, as was typical of the Bullets' shooting the entire night, Williams missed the free throw, setting up Dantley's basket and foul shot 12 seconds later. Speaking of the shot, a driving, double clutch layup that was made while he was being fouled by Rick Mahorn, Dantley said, "That's from playing one on one on the playgrounds of D.C."
Utah Coach Frank Layden didn't care where the shot came from, only that it counted for his team. "From a point differential, it was an exciting game. But as hard as Washington plays, it's never gonna be a pretty game," he said. "We stayed with them, that was the big thing. They made some runs and could have taken the game out of our hands but they didn't."
Of course, that was mainly because the Bullets wouldn't have known what to do with it after they had wrested it away. "It was bad, bad, very bad," Robinson said. "Games like that won't happen often, hopefully never again."