Providing only sporadic attempts at resistance, the Washington Bullets lost their third consecutive NBA game tonight, falling, 115-104, to the Boston Celtics.
The Bullets dropped to 37-40. It is the first time since Nov. 7 that their record has been three games under the break-even point.
Larry Bird led Boston (61-16) with 26 points and 15 rebounds, and Kevin McHale had 20 points and 11 rebounds. However, neither was chosen as the Celtics' player of the game. That honor went to 7-foot center Robert Parish, who had 17 points and 13 rebounds in 34 minutes of play.
His evening was shorter than normal because he was ejected from the game with 28 seconds remaining in the third period for elbowing Washington center Tom McMillen, although the blow was a glancing one. Parish's dismissal didn't prove to be a rallying point for Washington; it was just the high point of the Bullets' evening.
Speaking of points, there weren't very many to go around for Washington, as has been the case in recent weeks. Gus Williams led the visitors with 21, and Jeff Malone had 17. Washington shot 49 percent from the field and even scored the same number of field goals, 46, as the Celtics.
However, the defending champion Celtics more than made up for that at the foul line, shooting 27 shots to the Bullets' 13. The Bullets were whistled for 21 fouls to Boston's 13.
That, too, was a familiar story for Washington Coach Gene Shue. "We never get fouls called as a result from throwing the ball into the low post," he said. "Boston, they throw it down to Bird, to Parish, to McHale, to Dennis Johnson, to Cedric Maxwell; of course they're going to get the calls. But if you don't have an inside game, forget it."
Despite the continued absence of center Jeff Ruland -- their inside game -- the Bullets made things interesting in the first quarter by shooting 52 percent. Unfortunately for them, Boston shot 67 percent the same 12 minutes and took a 33-27 lead.
At halftime, that margin was up to 57-50, and in the third period, Boston went ahead by 69-52 before the Bullets put on one of their brief runs. McMillen was the key, scoring seven points.
Many of those points were at the expense of Parish. At the other end of the floor, McMillen frustrated the veteran from Centenary College with his customary floppy-doll defense. At the end of the quarter, following an entanglement under the Boston basket, Parish freed himself and then relieved himself of his frustrations by elbowing the back of McMillen's head.
After being called for the flagrant violation, he left the court without a word to anyone. After the game he was unavailable for comment.
McMillen later said he didn't really feel the blow. "I was running downcourt; the next thing I knew, Earl (referee Earl Strom) was ejecting him. I guess he didn't like the way I was playing defense.
"What I was trying to do was turn him out (of the lane). Parish is a great center, and obviously I have handicaps. I guess my closeness was an irritation to him."
Boston Coach K.C. Jones definitely thought so. "McMillen pulls some mean tricks, but he's smart. I guess that's why he was a Rhodes scholar," Jones said. "He'll fall down, he'll grab your waist. It's hard for the referee to see it, but the guy he's doing it to definitely gets irritated."
After Parish left, there was little more to do than play out the game. It was in the initial part of the final 12 minutes that the Bullets played perhaps their best since the first quarter.
Following baskets by Cliff Robinson and McMillen, they moved within 96-86 with 7:53 to play. However, when Gus Williams moved with the basketball on a fast break, McHale stole the ball. McHale eventually got it back from Ray Williams and scored while Malone fouled him.
McHale didn't get the three-point play, but Ray Williams got the rebound and passed to M.L. Carr, who missed a long jumper. Bird gathered that miss and fed Quinn Buckner for a layup, effectively creating a four-point play and leaving the Bullets once again wondering what had gone wrong.
"It's hard to pinpoint exactly where this one got away," Robinson said. "I thought we played well in the first half, but things just slipped away in the second.
"Something's wrong, though. It's like the togetherness isn't there. I haven't scored well the last couple of games, but for some reason I haven't felt comfortable."
Very few of the Bullets have recently, and it probably wouldn't make them feel any better to know that, according to Jones, the mighty Celtics also are struggling.
"Our guys are tired and worn out," he said. "Things are settled as far as the playoffs go and our guys know it. Mentally, physically, we need some rest. It's a bad time for all of us."
Listening to the coach, one had to wonder from which locker room he was speaking.