Except for some fancy uniforms and a basketball with NBA Commissioner David Stern's signature, there was little evidence of anything resembling NBA-quality play last night at Capital Centre, when a group of blue-clad athletes posing as the Indiana Pacers outscored an even worse group of impostors in the home whites of the Washington Bullets, 97-80.
The victory was the Pacers' first over an Atlantic Division team in 43 games on the road but only improved their record to 9-21. They entered the game with a 1-13 record on the road this season.
The game was played before a crowd announced as 4,303 but was in reality better suited to your local high school gymnasium. In fact, those in attendance could be excused for believing that they were at a high school game, so raggedly did the teams play at times. The teams totaled three -- count 'em -- fast-break points. It was a three-point play.
"Is there anybody here who thinks he can make a shot?" Coach Gene Shue asked his Bullets with 6:49 remaining in the game. At that point they were down by 81-64.
The same team that last Saturday was inspired enough to earn a 98-93 victory in New Jersey over one of the hottest teams in the league, shot only 35 percent last night, making 27 of 78 field goal attempts. The team was also outrebounded, 56-36.
Granted, the squad was missing five players. Gus Williams, Darren Daye and Kenny Green had flu, and Jeff Ruland and Frank Johnson are hurt, but those extenuating circumstances didn't allow for all the dropped and bobbled balls or inattentive play.
"When you're short-handed, everyone has to perform and it just didn't happen," said Shue. "The only player doing a halfway decent job was Tom McMillen. Every time we ran a play for our scorers they weren't able to hit the shot."
McMillen scored 14 points, all in the second quarter. The team's high scorer was forward Cliff Robinson, who finished with 27. He was Washington's only player who didn't shoot less than 50 percent from the field, making 12 of 24 shots.
The game's high scorer was Indiana forward Herb Williams, whose career-high 38 points were nearly lost in the dregs of the dreary game. Many of his points came against Manute Bol, which was ironic because, according to Pacers Coach George Irvine, "We weren't supposed to throw the ball into Williams against Bol. I don't know why we picked tonight to throw the ball inside to him but Herb played great."
Williams though, credited the victory to team play, which was accurate on more than one account. For example, when the game was on the line, the Bullets coming within 58-55 with 5:42 remaining in the third quarter, Indiana went on a 14-2 run to lead at the end of the period by 72-57. In that span, only two of the points were scored by Williams.
In fact, the Pacers' entire game plan was geared to reveal Washington's short-handedness. The Pacers accentuated their guards in their running, motion offense, a ploy that hurt both the Bullets' offense and defense.
"It definitely took its toll," Dudley Bradley of the Bullets said. "They played it smart by having their guards just run all over the place. You can't help out on defense because you're always moving, and then, when you get the ball, you're tired. You can't take your normal shot or move the ball the way you'd like."
The Bullets' three guards, Bradley, Jeff Malone and Freeman Williams, totaled eight of 36 from the field and did little to distinguish themselves otherwise, according to Shue.
"It really hurt not having a point guard out there," he said. "The flow of the game just wasn't good; there has to be someone to set the pace."
Little did he realize that that would be the Pacers' Williams, who scored 10 points in each of the first two quarters, eight in the third and another 10 in the last 12 minutes. Inadvertently, Boll, who managed to block five shots, was a factor in Williams' big game inside.
"If you're a finesse player Manute will kill you; no doubt about it," Williams said. "If there's any air between you and him, he'll eat you up. What you have to do is take the ball right to his body because the natural reaction is to back away."
The entire Washington team, now 15-15 on the season, backed away from a chance to go two games over .500 for the first time since the opening two games of the season.
"I hoped we'd find some way to win this game," Shue said. "I guess I really wasn't pleased with anything tonight."