Washington had already escaped two brushes with defeat, having won seven games after losing its home-court advantage to both Atlanta and San Antonio. And the feeling was that Hayes, upon whom the team depends so much, was stronger than ever, even though during the San Antonio series he was heard to wonder, "How did Bill Russell stand the pressure enough to win 11 championships in 13 years? Will somebody please tell me? How?"
Hayes' 11 points in the first quarter of Game 2 were enough to keep the Bullets close for a while. But he scored only one point in the second period, and he and Dandridge were held to a collective 14 in the second half, and the Bullets lost their home-court advantage yet again, 92-82.
The last vestiges of Bullet optimism were swept away not long after the opening tip-off for Game 3 in Seattle's Kingdome. With a crowd of 35,928 Sonic fans making a gleeful din, the Sonics played their finest single quarter of the postseason, shooting 65% and opening a 13-point lead on the way to a 105-95 win. The double-teamed Bullets shot 30% in the first period and 20% in the second.
"At halftime I saw we shot 25% and I thought the stat man had gone haywire," Bullet Coach Dick Motta said after the game. "Twenty-five percent? I thought we at least shot twenty-six."
Hayes missed 15 of 20 shots in the game and said, "Oh, no. There's nothing to worry about. I was just missing." So, too, were Kevin Grevey and Wright, who were held by D.J. to two baskets in 12 shots, which forced Motta to move Dandridge to guard for a spell. He had no real success against D.J. either, who scored 17 points with nine rebounds and two blocks. He and Williams, who scored 31, had so much fun that during a third-quarter timeout they stayed on the court laughing and shooting hoops.
Watching Seattle toy with his Bullets from his perch on one knee in front of the bench, Motta wore the look of a man who had seen the future and found it grim. "What can I change?" he said. "I change knees every once in a while. My guard combinations? I'm into next year's already. I'm taking probably the best forward in the league and moving him right out of position. That's scrambling."
With the exception of Hayes and Unseld, who ran on what Motta calls his "62-year-old knees" for 47 minutes only to have Sikma score 21 points and grab 17 rebounds, the Bullets were no longer trying to hide their concern. "I'm being asked, 'What's wrong with the guards?' 10 times a day," said Grevey. "If we need points from outside, let's run a few plays for us. Why is Motta complaining about the guards when all our plays are for the forwards?"
Said Dandridge, "When I have to play guard we're conceding that we can't handle their big guard. I can do basically whatever I want from the forward position, but out there I'm hampered. And they've got Elvin figured out. Lenny Wilkens has done his homework. And it might seem that Lenny Wilkens is ahead of us, two games to one."
Game 4 turned out to be the big one. " Frazier and Ali," said John Johnson. "The Tha-rilla in See-attle." Before it ended with the Sonics winning 114-112 in overtime, 59 fouls would be called, and Hayes, Dandridge, Unseld and Sikma all fouled out.
It was while Hayes, who scored only four of his 18 points in the second half, was on the bench in the fourth quarter that the Bullets came from seven points down on hot shooting by Charles Johnson, a guard, and a final get-out-of-the-way layin by Unseld. That put the game into overtime at 104-104.