The Washington Bullets, already worried about the rebounding might of the Philadelphia 76ers, had their worst fears confirmed today as the 76ers scored 13 points off offensive rebounds in the final seven minutes and rallied to win, 102-97, in an NBA playoff game at the Spectrum.
The victory tied the best-of-five first-round series at 1-1. Game 3 will be played Tuesday night at Capital Centre.
After surviving a pair of earlier flurries by Philadelphia, the Bullets seemed to be in control, leading by 88-81 with just under eight minutes to play. It was beginning to look as if Washington would complete a two-game road sweep by controlling 6-foot-6, 260-pound power forward Charles Barkley, thereby staying in contention on the backboards.
Barkley, who scored 26 points and had 22 rebounds in Washington's 95-94 Game 1 victory, was held scoreless in the opening 12 minutes today. At the end of three periods, he had only 13 points and 11 rebounds.
With 7:45 remaining, Barkley hit a three-point field goal from the top of the circle. After that, the bulk of his damage -- and that of the other 76ers -- came from the inside.
"The whole season was riding on this game," said Barkley, who finished with 27 points and 20 rebounds. "For us, it was a life-or-death situation. They didn't put too much emphasis on this game."
The Bullets felt they accomplished what they had hoped for -- a split. However, the idea of taking a commanding lead in the series was tantalizing.
"A 2-0 lead was right there for the taking," said Washington Coach Kevin Loughery. "We stole one on Friday night, and they won today , and we're 1-1, which probably is how it should be."
According to Philadelphia forward Julius Erving, some of the Bullets didn't quite see it that way.
"Around halftime, they were confident, maybe a little too much so," he said. "They started talking sweep . . . That's out of the window now."
In building their 54-42 rebounding advantage, the 76ers seemed to manhandle Washington, at times turning the inside game into a free-for-all, for which the Bullets are ill-equipped physically.
"When things get rough, you'd like to be able to throw people around," said Roundfield. "And if you weigh 260 pounds, you can do that. If you weigh 200 pounds, you have to try and finesse it."
Philadelphia guard Maurice Cheeks weighs only 181 pounds, yet he was able to get through a thicket of larger bodies to tip in a missed free throw by Terry Catledge and draw his team within three, 92-89, with 5:30 left. Forty seconds later, Barkley powered his way for a rebound basket, then added a free throw to tie the game.
"Some of the things that were going on out there were just incredible," said Roundfield. "I can't say anything about it the officiating right now. That wouldn't get me fined."
The play that most infuriated the Washington players came with 1:45 remaining and the 76ers clinging to a 98-97 lead. In one instant, center Manute Bol grabbed a missed Philadelphia jump shot. In the next, Bol was falling out of bounds and the ball was in the hands of Catledge with no call. A short time later, Catledge, a rookie, was laying in yet another inside basket to effectively seal the win for his team.
"People could pick out a lot of plays in this game," said Williams, who scored 22 points and had 12 assists. "But that was the one we'll remember and they'll remember and their fans and our fans will remember."
Catledge said he didn't remember much about the play. "I just went for the ball. I guess I might have hit his hands, but the refs didn't call a foul."
The lack of a whistle was more than Bol could understand.
"I had the ball and he pushed me in the back and out of bounds," he said. "They tell me I'm too big, and every time I go to block a shot they call a foul, but they have to give me my calls, too." By Tuesday night, Bol's complaint will have evaporated into the air between here and Capital Centre. Of far greater substance to the Bullets is the knowledge that they have the home-court advantage in the series, returning to a building where they have defeated the 76ers in their last four meetings, including all three this season.
"We just have to hope the momentum is changing," said Barkley.
"We haven't played a good game yet. They're still in the driver's seat." Cheeks concurred. "All they wanted was to get one win, and they did. We haven't won there this year. We have to start thinking we're capable of doing that."
The Bullets, meanwhile, having established control of the tempo and overall style of both games, will try to convince themselves that they are capable of taking out one of the NBA's dominant powers.
"We just need to get on a good roll there," said guard Jeff Malone, who led the Bullets with 25 points but hit only 10 of 23 shots today. "I know that I play better at Capital Centre."
Added forward Cliff Robinson: "We just have to regroup and play a tough style of play when we get back to Washington."
Particularly underneath the boards.