The New Jersey Nets defeated the Washington Bullets, 114-109, at Byrne Arena tonight in a wacky game featuring air balls on jump shots, air balls on dunk attempts, a post-up play for a Washington guard and ejection of a could-be future congressman for conduct unbecoming a public official.
In the end, though, the game came down to this: New Jersey's Buck Williams took advantage of a Bullets lineup without injured Jeff Ruland and cleared a season-high 22 rebounds. And with the Nets' big board advantage, 52-37, Williams and center Darryl Dawkins muscled for 16 and 17 points, respectively.
On the outside, there were Micheal Ray Richardson, who scored 27, and Otis Birdsong, who hit for 24. Providing only occasional resistance for the Bullets were Cliff Robinson (23 points, 17 rebounds) and Gus Williams, 10 of whose 29 points came in the last two minutes.
The Bullets slid back into fourth place in the NBA's Atlantic Division. Washington and the Nets have identical 33-33 records but, if they were to end the season in a tie, New Jersey would be awarded the higher playoff seeding because it has taken four of the five games between the two clubs this season.
In fact, the Nets have now won six straight over Washington at the Meadowlands, the Bullets last prevailing here on March 30, 1983. Bullets Coach Gene Shue said he couldn't account for the streak in its entirety but he knew the cause of tonight's loss.
"It sounds like I keep repeating myself, but rebounding is our big problem," he said. "You are always at such a disadvantage. It gets you down because you can work hard and play good defense but they keep getting the ball back."
New Jersey controlled 14 offensive rebounds, which not only led to follow-up baskets but defused any potential Washington fast breaks. As Shue said, "We could never get the ball to get out on the break to catch them at a disadvantage."
So, it was almost logical for the Bullets to try baffling the Nets into submission. To that end, there was the appearance of Darren Daye at point guard for the first time in three months, as well as newcomer Don Collins starting the second quarter at guard.
Things grew even weirder when Shue called for Collins to assume a position down in the low post and ran an isolation play for him, a veritable rarity for Washington this season. Then, rumbling down the lane for a dunk, Robinson mistimed the attempt and saw the basketball bound from the rim and get stuck at the top of the backboard.
This came a short time after Jeff Malone, who suffered through a miserable first half (one of eight from the field, one of three from the line), shot an air ball on a wide-open jumper. Not to be outdone, New Jersey's Mike Gminski a little later got the ball all alone underneath his basket and went up to dunk but somehow missed everything.
Despite all the strange goings-on, the Bullets, who trailed by 53-46 at the half and proceeded to fall behind by 15 early in the third quarter (69-54), climbed back into the game. Malone, who came on some after intermission, shooting seven for 14 from the field, made two baskets and Robinson one for a tie at 89 with 8:13 to play in the game.
Then three of the Bullets' 16 turnovers cost them.
But the piece de resistance came with 2:58 left. Gus Williams tried to pass to Tom McMillen, who at the time was being flung to the floor by Dawkins. As the ball was being worked upcourt by the New Jersey guards, McMillen bumped the massive Net and was whistled for his sixth personal foul. Enraged by the call, McMillen flew into a snit and was assessed two technical fouls by referee Hue Hollins. Richardson hit one of the two technicals and Dawkins made one his two free throws to make the score 106-98 with 2:45 to play.
Absurdity was piled on when, with 14 seconds to play and Williams' spree having pulled the Bullets within 112-108, Malone tried a three-point shot and Birdsong fouled him. The shot barely missed; had it been good, a made free throw would have tied the game.