If nothing else, professional basketball is a transient, transitional game. What's effective in one game -- in one quarter -- often can change dramatically.
Such was the case in tonight's Washington Bullets-New Jersey Nets game. Adjusting to the defensive pressure and rotation that Washington used in Tuesday night's 104-95 victory, the Nets used a page from the Bullets' book of ball movement and execution to take the rematch, 115-106, tonight.
The chief beneficiaries of New Jersey's execution were guards Micheal Ray Richardson and Otis Birdsong. Left wide open amidst the scrambling Bullets' defense, the pair hit wide-open jumper after wide-open jumper. Richardson scored a season-high 32 points, Birdsong had 24.
In addition, Buck Williams, a thorn in the Bullets' side Tuesday, continued to apply the needle in this game, scoring 21 points with 15 rebounds. Jeff Malone led Washington with 25 points.
"I'm in a good groove right now. It seems I can go out there and do it all," Richardson said. "I don't have to do it all, but I got to do most of it."
Mainly in the fourth quarter, when the 6-foot-5 player scored 10 points in what was really a contest of streaks. Four times, a team had a streak of 10 or more consecutive points.
Washington's last run came at the start of the fourth period. Down, 86-75, entering the quarter, the Bullets gave up a basket, then went on a 13-1 tear to cut the Nets' lead to 89-88. But New Jersey answered with an 18-9 run to regain control.
That push was led by New Jersey's back court, Richardson scoring six and Birdsong four. From that point, Washington could get no closer than five points, 109-104, after a three-point shot by Malone.
"We got away from our defensive rotation," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue, "and they had Otis in the right place a lot of the time." Shue's assistant, Bernie Bickerstaff, was even more blunt in his assessment.
"We were like an escort service tonight," he said. "Wherever someone wanted to go we just sort of accompanied him."
Playing on consecutive nights, it's almost imperative for the losing team to reverse the earlier decision -- an act akin to saving face -- and in the early going tonight, New Jersey seemed determined to do just that.
As in the previous game, the Nets went to Williams down low, but unlike Tuesday, when the Bullets immediately double teamed the forward whenever he got the ball, they chose to have Rick Mahorn defense him one on one.
The Bullets were limited in their inside defensive options because of the continued absence of Jeff Ruland, who missed his second game due to a scratched cornea in his right eye. He is scheduled to be reexamined Thursday.
Things got interesting with a little more than five minutes remaining in the first period. Tom McMillen, who did a stellar job on Williams Tuesday, entered the game. Fourteen seconds later, he had his first foul.
At the 4:26 mark, Williams picked up an offensive foul for elbowing McMillen, and 2 1/2 minutes after that received a technical foul after complaining about the veteran's tactics. Williams' gripes must have found a sympathetic ear because exactly one minute later, McMillen was given a technical.
From that point, Shue tried to separate the two, removing McMillen whenever Williams entered the game. This was mainly a result of the inspired play of the now-aroused Williams, who by halftime had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
"We're both physical players and I took last night sort of personally," said Williams. "I read somewhere that he shut me down in the fourth quarter and I came out against him determined to prove that no one player can do that."
He accomplished that and, although he finished with just four assists, Williams also did a creditable job of recognizing the Bullets' double team and passing to the open man.
"They would have been in a big hole if we had beaten them tonight," said Shue. "I was hoping we would get a second wind and come out ahead but we had difficulties stopping Buck and it didn't seem like we could get the big basket when we needed it."