The Washington Bullets swapped their theme song, "Thunder and Lightning," for one called "Staying Alive" last night at Capital Centre. The team also switched gears, fast-breaking its way to a 118-100 win over the Philadelphia 76ers to stave off elimination in Game 3 of their best-of-five NBA playoff series.
Game 4 will be Friday night at Capital Centre.
The Bullets' main problems in losing the first two games of the series were mental and physical lapses. In the Game 1 loss, they occurred in the final five minutes of the game. Sunday, the lapses came at the start of the second half.
Last night, with their backs to the wall, the Bullets stumbled out of the gate. Giving up seven offensive rebounds in the first five minutes, the team fell behind by 18-8. At the end of the first period, the score was 35-28, Philadelphia.
But from that point, Washington played almost flawless basketball, executing its break at an almost feverish pitch and pounding the ball down low when not running.
For the game, the Bullets outscored Philadelphia, 32-11, on the fast break, many of those points coming in a 30-13 third-quarter spree. Philadelphia's output was its lowest of the season in a quarter. In fact, the Bullets' Cliff Robinson alone outscored the 76ers by one point in the period.
For the game, the Bullets' statistics sheet was balanced. Gus Williams had a game-high 28 points, Jeff Ruland 25 and Robinson 21. For the reserves, Greg Ballard had 14 points and Charles Jones 10, along with four blocked shots.
Moses Malone led the 76ers with 17 points, 11 of them coming in the first quarter. Julius Erving had 15, eight of them in the first five minutes of the game.
"You have to praise the way the Bullets came out against us tonight," said 76ers Coach Billy Cunningham. "We expected them to put up a heck of an effort, given the fact they were down, 0-2, but they exceeded everything we expected them to do."
Yet at the start of the game, it appeared the Bullets were engaged in their final effort of the season. Malone was scoring from the outside, at will it seemed, while Erving and Charles Barkley were controlling the boards. "They could have buried us in that first quarter," said Jones. "We came out too tight and they were killing us on the boards."
"We started off poorly in that respect but Gene (Coach Shue) called us over and said we simply had to get it going or we'd be out of it quickly," said Ruland. "From that point on, we started doing the job on the boards."
And everywhere else, according to Cunningham. "They did a great job in getting the outlet pass out to Gus, but if it wasn't him it was someone else. But the fast breaks weren't the only thing. I can't think of a single point where they didn't excel."
That included the area of adjustments, the moves and countermoves that often determine a game's outcome. The biggest adjustment came when Shue inserted Jones into the lineup for Darren Daye. With a forward wall of the 6-foot-9 Jones, Robinson, also 6-9, and the 6-11 Ruland, rebounding -- and the running that accompanied -- it was made simpler.
"It was nip and tuck going into the end of the first half," said Erving. "Then they went on a run (12-2 in the final 3:10 of the second quarter). They locked into something that they felt would work and things began to snowball and we didn't adjust. In any case, that momentum carried over into the second half."
The 76ers, meanwhile, were left wondering what had happened to their early momentum.
"We played a good game. A couple things kept us from keeping them down," said Maurice Cheeks. "An offensive rebound by them, a turnover by us; it was just a lot of little things. We had them by 10, but one thing just sort of led to another."
The result was a Washington lead that stretched to 29 points. But anyone looking for some great significance in the 18-point final margin need only look to the previous game.
"The blowout? There's no significance in that," said Shue. "You still have to win three games to win the series. We're still in the same situation."
Erving agreed. "They played like it was all on the line tonight," he said. "Our team will have to come up with a better effort on Friday. We were in a better position before the game today but we'll still be in good shape on Friday."