The way these things work in the NBA, exhibition games are supposed to be an opportunity to dabble and experiment with your team, while at the same time generating a little interest out in the hinterlands.
Tonight, an hour and a half from Boston, the Washington Bullets worked that formula to perfection, beating the Celtics, 101-95.
The game was played before a sellout crowd of 12,208 here at the Centrum, a group that sounded like giggling teeny-boppers ogling a singing group like Wham! However, it was the Bullets who provided most of the pop. Unleashing a swirling, trapping defense, they took control in the second period, then weathered a Boston comeback late in the game.
"We created a lot of turnovers and it was hard for them to score against us," said Bullets' Coach Gene Shue. "That was fun. We want to do that a lot; be aggressive, force turnovers and make the other team shoot from the outside."
Jeff Ruland led the Bullets, 2-0 in the young preseason, with 20 points and Cliff Robinson had 17. But scoring was secondary to the defense. And leading the defense was Dudley Bradley. Setting the tone in 15 first-half minutes, he had four steals and forced a number of other turnovers.
Such things are easier to do, of course, when you're working in front of Manute Bol. The 7-foot-7 rookie played to the nines this evening, gathering nine rebounds, nine blocks and about the same number of comments from a somewhat awestruck group of Celtics.
"It's just unbelievable how long he is," said Kevin McHale. "The first few times around the league, people are going to be wondering how to get a shot off over him."
Amazing as it might seem, Bol's best play wasn't a block, although what statistical category it would fall under is hard to imagine.
Shortly after Bol rejected a shot by the Celtics' Greg Kite in the third period, they elbowed each other while jockeying for position before a jump ball.
After the tip, won by the Celtics, the ball was tossed to Kite. The center spun as if making a move to the hoop but sensed Bol's presence. He then turned the other way and passed the basketball -- to startled referee Paul Mihalak. As the teams raced downcourt after the turnover, Bol laughed to himself, as did some of Kite's teammates.
Behind Bradley and Bol, the Bullets, trailing by 30-28 after the first period, held Boston to 13 second-quarter points and moved in front, 51-43, at halftime.
The teams played evenly through the third period but the Celtics made a concerted run in the final quarter, tying at 83 with 7:15 to play. At that point the exhibition became less like basketball and more like wrestling.
Bill Walton stood out for Boston but couldn't overcome Ruland and Tom Sewell, who indicated he, too, is in the fight for a position on the team with eight points in the last period.
"They played really aggressively and ran their plays well," said Boston Coach K.C. Jones. "But look who was on the bench: Gus (Williams), Robinson and Jeff Malone. We had (Larry) Bird, (Robert) Parish and Dennis Johnson on ours. I'm not too concerned about tonight."
That attitude's easy to take when you're the defending Eastern Conference champions. For the Bullets, fighting to win a little turf of their own, the game meant more, exhibition or not.
"It was fun -- running, cutting, hitting the open man," said Ruland. "This team is starting to look pretty good."