Phil Chenier hit a 22-foot jump shot over Billy Knight with five seconds left and Leonard Gray made a free throw two seconds later to give the Washington Bullets a 108-107 victory over the Indiana Pacers tonight and move them back into the lead in the NBA's Central Division.
Chenier's basket broke a 105-105 deadlock and Indiana called time-out immediately to get the ball at midcourt. Don Byse, the National Basketball Association's leading assist man, panicked as his allotted five seconds to put the ball in play ran down. He fumbled the in-bounds pass to Gray.
The big Bullet forward bear-hugged the ball near midcourt and waited to be fouled by Wil Jones.
It was a backcourt foul and the Pacers were in a penalty situation, so Gray had three chances to make two shots. He made the first and missed the next two, but the Bullets had a safe 108-105 lead with three seconds to play.
Knight hit a long jumper at the buzzer to account for the final score.
The Bullets now hold a half-game division lead over Cleveland and Houston. Cleveland was idle tonight, and Houston lost in Atlanta.
The Bullets' victory was their seventh in a row, their longest winning streak of the season. It also was their fourth straight on the road and 13th in their last 15 games.
Washington plays the Kansas City Kings at capital Centre at 7:35 p.m. Sunday before taking off on a seven-game road trip.
Chenier led the Bullet scorers with 26 points. Elvin Hayes added 23 points, 12 rebounds and seven blocked shots.
"This game was so important because we have to keep our momentum going," coach Dick Motta said.
Kevin Grevey matched his career high of 19 points and Gray added 14.Knight and Darnell Hillman each had 24 for Indiana.
It was a tough, close game all the way. There were 24 ties and the lead changed 20 times. The Bullets' biggest lead was six points early in the first period.
Indiana led by four, 73-69, in the third period. Grevey then got hot and scored the game's next seven points to give the Bullets a three-point lead.
Indiana took another four-point lead at 103-99 with two minutes left in the game on a tap-in by Hillman.
Chenier canned a baseline jumper, Hayes blocked a Knight shot and gray scored on a nifty drive for a tie at 103 with 1:03 left.
Hillman put the Pacers back on top with a 20-footer with 50 seconds left, but Wes Unseld tied the score at 105 20 seconds later on a pair of free throws. Unseld was fouled by Hillman after he got the offensive rebound of a Chenier miss.
Indiana had a chance to take the lead with 20 seconds left, but dan Roundfield's jumper missed and Hillman knocked the rebound out of bounds. The Bullets called time-out to set up the game-winning play.
They called a "2" play, designed for Unseld to set a pick for Chenier and roll to the basket.
After taking the in-bounds pass, Chenier held the ball at midcourt until only 10 seconds remained before he started the play.
Unseld set the screen on Knight, and when Roundfield switched out on Chenier, preventing him from going outside, Chenier cut back inside on the dribble and was open for a split second. He put in the jumper.
"Phil did everything right, but I would have liked for him to have waited another four seconds," Motta said. "We wanted either a win or an overtime situation, I felt we could win if we went overtime."
Rookie guard Larry Wright, the Bullets' top playmaker, sustained a bad thigh bruise in the third quarter and could not come back in the final period. That left Tom Henderson to run the offense down the stretch, and he impressed Motta with how he did it.
Wright was limping after the game and his status for Sunday's game is uncertain.
The game was scheduled to be televised on WTOP-TV-9 tonight, but the crew couldn't get its equipment into the arena because of the cold and ice and the telecast had to be canceled.