As professional basketball's championship series wanders across days, nights and time zones, there is no cause for alarm if the Washington Bullets appear cold, arrogant, unhappy and disinterested. You know, the current gas-station-attendant look. That is their style. Also, it will hardly be unexpected if the Bullets struggle to a distant seventh game after either 1) pounding out a huge lead over their old friends from last year's championship series, the Seattle Super-Sonics, or 2) falling behind by an equally wide early margin.
That is what Washington did while squandering a 3-1 lead before disposing of Atlanta in the seventh game of the Eastern semifinals. And that is what the champions did in their next escapade when they rallied from two games behind in the Eastern finals to sweep three straight from San Antonio.
"This is history. I love history," Elvin Hayes bubbled after the Bullets' dramatic, come-from-behind 107-105 victory in Landover, Md.
The 6'9" Hayes could have been referring to a couple of you-could-look-it-up items. The Bullets had just become only the third team in league history to win a series after trailing 3-1 (the '68 Celtics and 70 Lakers were the others). And they had just become only the second defending champion in a decade to win their way back into the finals (the '73 Lakers were that other one). More appropriately, Hayes could have been talking about himself. Long known as the quintessential "choker" who disappeared in the big moments, the turn-around-shooting, glass-crashing Big E must have realized that this seventh game, combined with his seventh game in the pulsating series against Atlanta, had buried that notion for good.
Three weeks before, when the Bullets had their backs to the wall, Hayes scored 39 points in Game 7 against the Hawks, while his teammate, the marvelous money player, Bob Dandridge, added 29. Then last Friday night Dandridge poured in 37 points and Hayes 25 in the final game against the Spurs. That is 130 combined, for those with scorecards, and that is not to mention what the two did to the stunned Texans in the last eight seconds, namely Dandridge firing the game-winning jumper from 16 feet out, followed by Hayes contributing the game-winning blocked shot (his seventh of the evening, this one on James Silas) from, say, 116 feet up.
Suffice it to say that after San Antonio's amazing George (Iceman) Gervin had put in 42 points; after Washington Coach Dick Motta had called time-out with 25 seconds left (his team having made up a two-game deficit in seven days and a 10-point deficit in 10 minutes); after Motta said to Dandridge in the huddle, "Bobby, it's your ball. Go out and win the damn game"; and after Dandridge did just that, and Hayes had saved the game; after all of this, the most harrowing week in Bullets' history was finally over.
"I about passed out," said Motta. "Now I know what Vince Lombardi meant. To get there is tough. To stay there is tougher." And nothing could have been tougher than the first game of the finals against Seattle last Sunday. The Bullets lost an 18-point lead in the last quarter only to prevail on Larry Wright's two free throws after time had expired, winning 99-97.
For a major portion of the semifinal series, the implacable Iceman and his loosey-goosey Spurs had kept the slumping Bullets on edge. After the teams had split the opening games in Landover, Gervin went back home to San Antonio for some exquisite ice dancing. In Game 3 he scored 29 points as the Spurs won 116-114 and as, unbeknownst to her husband, Mrs. Ice gave birth to a premature daughter named Tia.
Even before anyone could ask if the baby's middle name could possibly be Maria, Ice Daddy had exploded in Game 4 with a 42-point number—including an astounding 18 in a row—as the Spurs ran the Bullets out of the HemisFair Arena by 118-102.
When the affable Gervin was not hurling forth incomprehensible baskets or passing out obligatory cigars—these were said to be his first passes of the week—he somehow found time to delineate his impressions of the round so far. Gervin on his philosophy: "Ice's game is to put it in the hole." On the psychological aspects of the battle: "The Bullets know they can't stop Ice. Ice knows he's got them on the run." On a bygone quarrel with a journalist with whom he once refused to speak about such matters: "It's all still cool. Jesus Christ forgave. Why not Ice?"