After all the traps and double teams, adjustments and counter adjustments, basketball comes down to scoring, as the Washington Bullets discovered yesterday in an improbable 125-104 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks before 10,089 at Capital Centre.
The spread matched the Bullets' largest margin of victory this season and broke Milwaukee's 10-game winning streak.
Washington finished the game with a 49 percent shooting mark from the field, a number that would have been much higher were it not for an 11-for-28 fourth quarter. By that time, though, the game was in hand and the Bullets were on their way to improving their record to 29-32 in a most unusual manner.
How unusual? Well, how often have the Bullets won this season without a blocked shot from 7-foot-7 center Manute Bol? The answer -- three times before today, the last back on Nov. 24 against the Chicago Bulls. Bol's last game without a blocked shot was two days later against Dallas, 46 games ago.
In making 37 of 69 shots in the first three quarters, Washington (which was held to 36 percent shooting against the Bucks in a 102-84 loss Friday) stunned referee Ed Rush enough that he measured the basket to make sure it was of regulation height.
Presumably the hoop's width also was standard, although it must have seemed much bigger to Washington, particularly in a season-high 70-point first half. By game's end, forward Cliff Robinson had scored 27 points, guard Jeff Malone 25, and five others were in double figures.
"It was just one of those games where things got going and everything fell into place," said forward Dan Roundfield. " [Today] we'd make blind touch passes that would go right into our man's hands. On Friday, someone would throw a direct pass and we'd drop it."
Roundfield led the Bullets' off-the-bench brigade with 15 points and 17 rebounds, but he wasn't alone in his excellence. Tom McMillen scored 15 points and Leon Wood had 13, including three of four three-point field goals. Guard Kevin McKenna hit two of four from three-point range en route to 11 points, and he had five assists.
That was almost one quarter of Washington's assist total of 22 for the game, in which ball movement was the key to victory.
In Friday's game, Milwaukee shut down Washington's offense by constantly double-teaming the ball. Yesterday, the Bullets sliced that strategy to ribbons, either by sending cutters straight to the basket or making diagonal passes across the court, usually to Malone, Wood or McKenna, for wide-open jump shots.
"You gotta love it when your man keeps running away from you and leaving you wide open," McKenna said.
The Bullets met two hours before the game to look at films and discern where the Milwaukee traps were coming from. The knowledge didn't keep the Bucks (42-19) from scoring the first six points of the game and taking a 23-14 lead.
But that's when the fun began for Washington. The Bullets rallied to tie the game at 30 after the first quarter, then outscored the Bucks by 16-7 in the first 3:30 of the second. Milwaukee scored six straight points to close to within 46-43, but the Bullets went on a 15-4 run with McKenna and Malone scoring nine of the points.
"We just didn't respond fast enough to the things they were doing," said Bucks guard Sidney Moncrief, who had 16 points and was the only Milwaukee player in double figures.
"It wasn't a well-played game by us nor a well-coached game by me," said the Bucks' Don Nelson. "They had us where they wanted us the whole game -- moving in between -- on both ends of the floor."
Not that Milwaukee didn't attempt to adjust. The Bucks started the second half with a three-guard lineup with 6-9 forward Terry Cummings the tallest player and 6-3 guard Mike Glenn covering Bol. The Bullets rookie missed four shots before Washington Coach Gene Shue replaced him with Roundfield.
Nelson countered by inserting 6-11 Alton Lister and 7-3 Randy Breuer, but the Bullets continued to roll, moving the bigger men about the court with rapid-fire passing. McKenna assisted on Washington's last four baskets and the Bullets increased their lead to 24 points, 99-75, after three periods.
"It was fun to have the other team reacting to our moves for a change," said Shue. "The players were absolutely incredible. We were making the right passes, hitting the shots. We had complete control." Celtics 129, Pistons 109
Larry Bird scored 35 points, Danny Ainge had a career-high 27 and Kevin McHale and Ainge led a surge late in the third quarter that boosted Boston over visiting Detroit, ending the Pistons' franchise-record 10-game winning streak.
The victory was the Celtics' fifth in a row and 17th straight at home, four shy of the club record. They are 26-1 at home this season.
The Celtics broke open a close game by taking a 98-89 lead after the third quarter. In the final period, Boston clinched it with a 16-0 run as Bird scored 11 points.
The lead had changed hands 30 times before Boston went ahead to stay by closing out the third quarter with an 11-2 run. It capped a 21-6 burst that began on Bird's scoop shot after the Pistons had gone in front by 83-77.
Reserve Greg Kite gave Boston a lead it never lost with a layup, making the score 89-87 with 2:41 left in the third period. McHale hit two foul shots before Detroit's Bill Laimbeer sank a jumper. The Celtics then scored the last seven points of the quarter on two baskets by McHale and a 15-foot shot and free throw by Ainge, who ended a slump in which he had averaged 6.2 points on 33 percent shooting in his last 11 games.
Boston finished off the Pistons by scoring 16 consecutive points, seven of them by Bird, to make it 126-101.
"I've been reading how Bird's the player of the century," said Detroit Coach Chuck Daly. "Well, if he isn't, he's pretty close."
McHale, who was 10 for 10 from the field and five for five from the foul line, had 25 points. For Bird, it was the 32nd time in his last 33 games that he scored 20 or more points.
The Pistons, who led, 65-62, at halftime on the strength of 69.8 percent shooting, were led by Isiah Thomas with 25 points and Kelly Tripucka with 20. Pacers 129, Clippers 112
Herb Williams scored 24 points and Wayman Tisdale had 19 to help Indiana win in Los Angeles. The Clippers, who have lost four straight, made only two baskets and in the first eight minutes and fell behind by 28 points late in the first half.