SI Vault
Curry Kirkpatrick
June 05, 1978
As they headed back home, the SuperSonics (state) held a 2-1 lead over the Bullets (district) in their playoff for the NBA title
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June 05, 1978

Whatever Happens, It'll Be Washington

As they headed back home, the SuperSonics (state) held a 2-1 lead over the Bullets (district) in their playoff for the NBA title

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By the time the War Between The Washingtons—the D.C. Bullets vs. the Seattle SuperSonics—for the basketball championship of the world finally concludes sometime next November, Wes Unseld and Paul Silas will eminently deserve to be jointly commemorated with a monument. It should be constructed of brick, in keeping with their shared shooting touch. It should be anchored firmly to the ground—none of this newfangled light and mobile stuff—just as the 6'7�" Bullet center and the 6'7" Sonic forward are when they deploy themselves under the backboards. And it should include statues of a couple of fat, over-the-hill, can't-shoot, can't-jump, can't-do-anything-but-survive-and-win NBA graybeards bumping and grinding and pounding the opposition and each other as they become the key men for their respective teams in this physical and exhausting series.

"People look at the box scores for every player in this league except two," said the Bullets' Elvin Hayes before the championship round commenced. "Paul and Wes never need no stats."

Hayes entered the discussion the way he usually does, not so much to praise others as to point out what a heavy hitter he is in the statistics columns. Yet little did the Big E realize how meaningful his words would become as Washington (the Seattle bunch) came back east last week to take a 2-1 lead in the series.

It was both Unseld's and Silas' third appearance in the NBA finals. Unseld came into this one at age 32 with knees going on 62; Silas arrived at 34, shortly after becoming a grandfather. In the first two games their shot lines read: Unseld six for 15, Silas four for 11—and those numbers do not reflect all of the outrageous rocks they hurled at the basket, or their bewildering array of misses from the three-foot range. Nor do they indicate how greatly Silas' defensive effort on Hayes (plus 12 rebounds) contributed to Seattle's 106-102 victory in Game 1, or how Unseld's stolid presence, his rebounds (15) and assists (5), his picks and screens and his absolute shutdown of 7'1" Seattle Center Marvin Webster (three for 11 shooting) in Game 2 saved a 106-98 decision for the Bullets.

In Game 3 last Sunday afternoon, however, Unseld was unable to contain Webster—Marvin scored 20 points to Wes' deuce—and Hayes was defused by Silas, who applied a whole lot of grizzly-bear fronting and siding defense in addition to pulling down a team-high 14 rebounds. Seattle took the lead for good in the fourth period and was able to survive bonehead plays by its two heroes—Dennis Johnson and Silas—to hold on for the 93-92 breakthrough victory.

The potentially disastrous events for the Sonics occurred barely six seconds apart, at the very end of what up to that time had been a rough defensive struggle (Johnson, for example, held Kevin Grevey to 1-for-14 shooting and knocked seven shots back at the Bullet guards). With nine seconds remaining, the Sonics leading 93-90 and the ball under their own basket, Johnson threw an inbounds pass directly to Washington's Tom Henderson, who hit the breakaway layup going the other way to make the score 93-92, with five seconds to go. Next Silas, hurrying an inbounds pass with three seconds left, was called for stepping over the end line, and Washington had one more chance. But Bobby Dandridge's jump shot from deep in the corner curled around the rim and out; Hayes, way up there for the tip-in, never got a chance to make it. The scenario was all too typical of the Bullets; their two stellar forwards, after scoring 44 points between them through three quarters, converted only two of eight in the final period.

"I'm not thinking philosophy or destiny out there," said Dandridge, "but nobody does more pushing than Silas."

" Silas is a hatchet man. I'm being chopped to death," said Hayes.

There were other odd aspects to this series, not the least of which was that it matched third-and fourth-place teams, which is where the Bullets and Sonics finished in their respective conferences in the regular season. There was the weird schedule, too, which dictated that the series start with one game in Seattle, then two games in Landover, Md., two in Seattle, one in Landover, one in Seattle. It was something like the tie-break court switch in tennis, which nobody can figure out either.

Then there was the spectacle of the Bullets, having upset the fussin' and feudin' 76ers in the previous round, becoming the splittin', spittin' image of those same 76ers.

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