Old Warrior Leads Bullets to Win
By Richard Justice
The thing about Chris Webber is that his special games aren't simply special. They're spectacular.
They are full of dazzling dunks and dizzying fast breaks and a newly acquired outside shot. They are the kind of performances that ignite a crowd and lift a team, and that's exactly what Webber did last night in leading the Washington Bullets to a 115-94 victory over the Golden State Warriors in front of 18,756 at USAir Arena.
He put the whole package on display, registering a career-high 40 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists in 39 of the more amazing minutes the Bullets (13-13) ever have gotten from a player.
"He was sensational," Bullets Coach Jim Lynam said. "He did it all."
Webber stole the spotlight in a nationally televised game that marked the return of former University of Maryland star Joe Smith, the first pick in last summer's draft. Webber's performance was so overwhelming that Smith was hard to find on the floor despite scoring 15 points.
Smith scored nine of his 15 in the first quarter, then went quietly into the evening as the Bullets broke open a close game late in the third quarter, then ran up a 27-point lead with a 22-4 run at the start of the fourth quarter.
When it had ended, Webber said it had been special. There had been the usual incentive from facing his former teammates, a team he hadn't beaten since the Warriors traded him to the Bullets just over a year ago. Webber had suffered through a blowout defeat last week in Oakland, Calif., suffering not only the loss but also the assorted catcalls and boos from the audience.
"You could tell by the way he played that this was special," Bullets guard Tim Legler said. "Before the game, he always looks the same, but when you watched him, you knew he had some extra incentive."
There was also national television, and there was Smith returning to his college town. Webber didn't want Smith to come into his home arena and do more than see some old friends, including Maryland Coach Gary Williams, who had a front row seat.
"A lot of people teased me about Joe doing so great against me," Webber said of Smith's 27-point performance last week. "This is his home. But it's my house. It's Juwan's house. I'd lie if I'd say I wasn't on top of the world. I feel great."
Legler helped Webber complete his best night in the NBA, taking a pass with 5:33 remaining and nailing the three-pointer that gave Webber his 10th assist. It assured him of his fifth career triple-double -- that is, double figures in three statistical categories in the same game.
"It's very special," Webber said. "We took a beating out there, but we kept saying in five or six days you got to come back. Revenge is sweet."
He had plenty of help. His University of Michigan teammate, Juwan Howard, scored 24 points, and Legler came off the bench to score 20 as guard Calbert Cheaney sat out the game with a sore leg. The Bullets forced the Warriors (10-17) into 25 turnovers (which they converted into 32 points) and won most of the little battles, as well as the big one.
Mostly, there was Webber. This night, there wasn't one Webber highlight or two of three. There were a dozen of them. He began the night by grabbing the rebound of his own miss and scoring over Smith to start a 16-4 run. He and Howard scored 17 of Washington's first 18 points. In the second quarter, he finished a fast break with a 360-degree dunk, then drove the baseline and viciously dunked over forward Chris Gatling.
Late in the third quarter, with the Bullets leading by four points, Smith rose inside and rejected a shot by Webber. Webber grabbed the ball back and jammed it through, then ran back down the floor shaking his head and smiling as if to say: "This is my game."
He had 32 points after three quarters, and got the final eight in a two-minute rush of the fourth quarter. He got out front on fast breaks. He drove inside and drew fouls. He hit a beauty of a baseline jumper.
Legler opened the fourth quarter with a three-pointer, and the Bullets began to pull away. Clifford Rozier scored for the Warriors, but the Bullets got seven in a row to open up a 92-75 lead. Legler started the run with a free throw. Jim McIlvaine scored on a feed from Webber, then got one on a feed from Howard. Webber's 33rd and 34th points made it 92-75.
Finally, needing just the one assist for the triple-double, he got it by tossing the ball to Legler for the jumper. "I told him I'd kill him if he missed that one on national television," Webber said, smiling.
Webber said that finally getting a victory over the Warriors seemed to bring his career there to a kind of closure. He had said as much last week before the game, but admitted that another night of boos and another lopsided victory had stung him.
"I hope this kind of closes the door on that," he said. "It's like I said last week, the people in Oakland have to let it go. I hope all that bluster is settled. It's always going to be special because these games are going to be big for Joe Smith. He's going to be around a long time, but hopefully, he won't come here and celebrate too many times at the expense of the Bullets."
© Copyright 1995 The Washington Post Company