The Washington Bullets, who won their first two games of the NBA season by making the numbers game work in their favor, chalked up some unpalatable statistics last night and lost their home opener, 114-107, to the Cleveland Cavaliers before 7,146 at Capital Centre.
By the time many of those in attendance had settled into their seats, the Bullets already were effectively out of the game.
Cleveland, which entered the game 0-3 and hadn't won a regular-season contest in October since 1980, did its best to put an end to both streaks, jumping out to a 23-10 lead in the opening eight minutes and going ahead by 20 points, 34-14, after the first quarter.
"In the first period, we did about as much as you could possibly do wrong," said Washington Coach Gene Shue. "There was definitely enough to take us out of the game."
Specifically, there was 35 percent accuracy from the field on seven-for-20 shooting and, when the Bullets weren't missing their shots, they were turning the ball over to the Cavaliers; 10 Washington miscues led to 15 Cleveland points.
Things wouldn't get much better for Washington by game's end. The Bullets would be outrebounded, 48-36 ("I'm not very pleased about that," said Shue), with the Cavaliers getting 13 at the offensive end.
"The pace of the game was set then, in the first quarter," said Shue. "It seemed every time you turned around they were going in for a layup. We couldn't get our continuity. We never knew what we could or couldn't do in the game."
Jeff Malone, as with the other Washington starters, has begun each game slowly and then caught fire at the end. The guard was the Bullets' high scorer with 25 points, but he made just 10 of 25 shots, going five for 11 in the first half.
"They came out more aggressively than us. We were just flat," he said. "The starters, everything we tried, running plays or whatever, seemed like it was so hard to do."
Shue went with his first-stringers longer than he had in the opening two games. It was only when he began substituting that he began to get better results.
A team of Malone, Tom McMillen, Dan Roundfield, Darren Daye and Dudley Bradley cut a 24-point Cleveland lead to 12, 58-46, at halftime.
The substitutes, particularly Bradley (16 points, including three three-point field goals along with three steals) and Daye (21 points, tying his career high), also played well in the second half, but there was just too far to go.
"You come in and you're down by 10 or so. Then you work like hell and you're still down 10," Bradley said. "That's the frustrating thing."
Added Daye, "We had our adrenaline going and the fans were getting into it but then we'd miss a couple of shots and that stopped the run. Instead of going from 13 points to nine, they'd get a couple of shots and it would go back to 17."
The Bullets did cut their deficit down to a workable margin, 108-101, with 2:17 to play. However, four straight points by Mel Turpin (who also had 13 rebounds) ended any lingering Washington hopes.
Shue said later that, "We probably could've played all night and not have caught up." That may have been true, because according to Cleveland Coach George Karl, his team was desperate for a victory.
"We're looking at a schedule that's just scary; seven of our next eight are on the road," Karl said. "We have to try and keep our heads above water. That's where the big lead came in. It caused them to play a style that they probably didn't want to. They like trying to control the tempo more."
McMillen agreed. "They were making adjustments and we didn't adjust to their changes," he said. "That'll happen when you play a team back to back (the Bullets were 97-90 winners in Richfield, Ohio, Tuesday night). We won that game and so there wasn't as much reason for us to change."
The next time the two teams meet, there will be.