Establishing dominance from the outset with a fabulous first quarter, the Philadelphia 76ers eliminated the Washington Bullets from the National Basketball Association playoffs today with a 134-109 victory at the Spectrum in the decisive game of their first-round series.
The 76ers scored the first six points, opened a 10-1 lead and had an 18-point lead after the first quarter. They had seven men in double figures in a game played before 15,162.
Leading the way was rookie center Terry Catledge, who scored 27 points, 21 in the first half, starting in place of injured center Moses Malone.
Catledge was more than ably assisted by forward Charles Barkley, who registered a triple double of 19 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists, and guard Maurice Cheeks, who had 24 points and 11 assists.
The 76ers won the best-of-five series, 3-2, advancing to the Eastern Conference semifinals, where they will face the Milwaukee Bucks in a best-of-seven series beginning Tuesday in Milwaukee.
The 76ers, one of the league's preeminent teams for the past decade, today showed how they attained that lofty status.
"They came at us from the opening whistle and never stopped," said forward Cliff Robinson, who led the Bullets with 30 points. "I think if they began the game again right now, they would play the same way.
"They played for 48 minutes at a level that was unreal. We played good -- not the way we should have or were capable of -- but they were great. We couldn't break them down at all."
In the first quarter, the 76ers hit nine of their first 11 field goal attempts, shot 68 percent from the field and took a 40-22 lead over a Bullets team that was trying to move past the opening round of postseason play for the first time in five years.
From that point on, the Bullets' only chance of winning might have been to produce a comeback on the order of the series' opening game, in which they erased a 17-point deficit with 18 consecutive points in the final 3:49 of the fourth quarter to win on a last-second desperation shot by Dudley Bradley.
Today, however, there would be no such miracle. The Bullets were unable to score six consecutive points at any time during the game. From the 1:57 mark of the first period, Washington would draw no closer than 12 points as the 76ers -- 56 percent shooters for the game compared to 45 percent for the Bullets -- never relented.
There were any number of tell-tale signs as to the kind of day it would be for the Bullets. Center Manute Bol controlled the opening tip but was charged with a turnover for grabbing the ball. At the end of the period, Dan Roundfield appeared to score a basket just before the buzzer but the shot was disallowed by referee Jake O'Donnell.
At the 8:18 mark of the second quarter, Cheeks drove the lane and dished off the basketball while being fouled. O'Donnell and his partner, Darell Garretson, however, ruled that the guard was in the act of shooting, creating an uproar on the Washington bench. Moments later, Coach Kevin Loughery and reserve Kevin McKenna were hit with technical fouls.
It would be stretching a bit to label that sequence as the turning point, though Cheeks converted the four foul shots to put the 76ers up by 52-30.
The Bullets got themselves in deep trouble by missing their first six shots from the field and didn't score a basket until 2:55 had elapsed in the first quarter. By that time they were behind, 10-3.
"I felt good before the game. I thought I was ready," said Washington guard Jeff Malone, who scored 19 points and made only seven of 21 shots from the field. "I only had one good night in the series. I just didn't perform the way I should have."
Bullets veteran Jeff Ruland, playing his second game since returning from knee surgery, had 15 points, five rebounds and five assists in 28 minutes. But today's game was the first time such Washington players as Malone, Robinson and Bol had played in a decisive playoff contest, a factor Philadelphia's Julius Erving thought might have played a part in the game.
"It seemed like we were in tune earlier and were able to jump right on them," said Erving, who scored 19 points with seven assists. "They've got some people who haven't been in games of this magnitude. Maybe our experience helped us to be better prepared at the start."
That was not the case with the rookie Catledge, a 6-foot-8, 230-pounder from South Alabama, playing in place of injured Moses Malone, who will miss the entire playoffs with a fractured bone beneath his right eye.
Said Erving: "Maybe what he didn't know or didn't feel helped him out. He just got the ball and went."
Catledge had six points in the 76ers' opening 10-1 run, then another four as the team extended its lead to 20-9.
Taking the play directly to Bol and the other Bullets, the only thing that slowed him down was foul trouble, another byproduct of his aggressive play. It was also reminiscent of Moses Malone.
The strong start by Catledge and the rest of the 76ers changed the complexion of the game. For the first time in the series, Philadelphia was able to control the overall tempo, and the pace it chose was blistering. The team scored 42 points on the fast break; Washington managed 10.
The Bullets finally seemed poised to make a run at their sizable deficit with 6:31 to play in the third period. A driving layup by Gus Williams cut the lead to 82-68, but the 76ers responded with a long jumper by Erving and a pair of fast-break baskets by Cheeks and Barkley to extend their lead to 20.
Robinson scored consecutive baskets to make the score 114-101 with 5:37 to play in the game, even forcing the 76ers to spend a timeout to regroup. When play resumed, however, Sedale Threatt and Barkley each got three-point plays as part of an 11-3 run that sealed the game.
"They weren't ready for our transition game and they couldn't offer a defense that couldn't be beat," said Erving. "They would have some successes on offense. For them 110 points is a high game, but it didn't do them any good to look up at the scoreboard and see that they were still down by 14 or 16 points."
"It was really very frustrating," said Loughery. "We dug ourselves such a deep hole in the early going that we just could not get over the hump. Usually in a game as big as this you can usually muster one last run as a team, but we just did not have it today.
"They dominated today, but when you look back on the series you have to say we had our chances. We could've won Games 2 and 3. . . . We could say it should have never come down to a fifth game but so could they, so you know it was a great series."
Still, said Robinson, as he handed his sneakers to a locker room attendant for the final time this season: "It feels awfully sad to lose."