It was approximately one year ago that the Washington Bullets, who were on their way to the end of the rainbow, found out that the Atlanta Hawks, who were just back from oblivion, had a talon or two. That important discovery obviously passed unheeded or was forgotten, or both, for it wasn't until last Sunday, at the end of seven breathless, tough playoff games, that the defending champion Bullets could breathe freely once more, having somehow survived the Hawks in the NBA's Eastern Conference semifinals. The Bullets are still trying to figure out if they won or lost the most punishing playoff series this side of the National Football League.
After Washington and Atlanta had flogged each other through six memorable contests, perhaps it was simply inevitable that the older, wiser and more experienced Bullets would prevail in the deciding game in Landover, Md., where, among 19,035 others, Jimmy, Rosalynn and Amy—the dribbling Carter family—watched the home team gasp to victory by a score of 100-94.
For the winners, this meant the opportunity to gather their weary bones and bruised egos and attempt to walk upright to the next round in defense of their NBA title. For the Hawks, well, Heaven can wait.
Like every other game in this playoff, the seventh was contested in a rather savage corner of hell until Elvin Hayes and Bob Dandridge took control just when it seemed the hustling visitors were ready to steal away with another thoroughly amazing victory.
First it was Hayes scoring 13 points in the third quarter to hold off the Hawks and give the Bullets a 75-69 lead. Then it was Dandridge taking over for 17 points in the fourth. While the pitiful Bullet guards were being shuttled in and out and shooting 6 for 29—"I felt like the Easter bunny looking for eggs," said Washington Coach Dick Motta—Hayes and Dandridge were collecting 39 and 29 points and 15 and 10 rebounds respectively.
Still the courageous Hawks came on. They tied the score 13 times before the end of the third period. They fell behind by eight points early in the fourth, but with their two shooting purists, John Drew and Terry Furlow, sharing 45 points, they tied it up again at 83-all with 6:35 to go. That is where they stalled, only because Hayes dropped another one of those marvelous turnaround jumpers, Dandridge made two free throws, and then Dandridge swished another high-arching jumper from the corner, making it 89-83 Washington. Sayonara, Hawks.
"I told E he was the greatest to ever do it," said Furlow, the squawking Hawk himself, after the game. "And Dandridge—he wasn't making shots. He was burying those babies."
And so he was. Three times in the final four minutes the visitors managed to come within four points. Each time Bobby D took the Hawks by the feathers and shook them to their souls with an incomprehensible basket—once on a running, kicking one-hander that Drew still may be trying to track down.
Later Hayes called the Hawks some things. "Winners, terrific players, a great team," Hayes said. "It is tough somebody had to lose this series."
It should not have taken the Bullets so long to realize that their tormentors, ballyhooed as the mechanical creation of that raging martinet, Hubie Brown, were instead a collection of dogged, talented opportunists; that these Hawks could scratch and peck; and that this was a hungry, dedicated and dangerous bunch simply itching to prove something at somebody's expense.