Wes Unseld sank a short hook shot off an improvised play with two seconds remaining tonight to give the Washington Bullets a 92-91 victory over the New Jersey Nets.
The Bullets were down by 20 points early in the third quarter and by 12 going into the final quarter to set the stage for their most impressive comeback of the season.
Roger Phegley, who scored 13 points the fourth quarter, one more than the New Jersery team, lifted the Bullets to within one point with an 18-foot jumper with 32 seconds remaining.
The Nets, who shot six for 31 in the final quarter, botched their next possession when Rich Kelley missed badly on a 15-foot jump shot with Unseld in his face. Gus Bailey rebounded for the Bullets and quickly called a timeout with 10 seconds left.
Sensing that the Nets would defense Phegley closely, Coach Dick Motta called for a play to get Greg Ballard a jump shot from the side.
That play did not materialize and the winning basket came off a simple pick and roll between Larry Wright and Unseld.
Unseld inbounded the ball to Ballard, who gave it to Wright. With the clock ticking down, Wright drove to his right as Unseld cut across the lane and set a screen on Eddie Jordan, the man guarding Wright.
When Unseld's man, George Johnson, jumped out to stop Wright, the Bullet guard bounced a pass to Unseld and his five-foot hook swished in.
The Nets called a timeout and set a play, but Jordan's 25-foot attempt at the buzzer was short and the Bullets had their third straight victory and evened their record at 7-7.
"The play was set up so if they defensed Roger and Greg, we could go to Larry and let him improvise," Motta said. "He ended up getting a simple pick and roll play with Wes."
"I was supposed to try to get the ball to Roger," Wright said, "but the play broke down and I had to do something."
Unseld who couldn't remember the last time he scored a winning basket, said he was just "running through and happended to pick off Larry's man.
"When that happened, I just turned toward the basket. When I got the ball I knew there wasn't time to do much passing so I shot it."
The Bullets played without forward Bobby Dandridge, their most effective player lately, who was home with a stiff neck. With him out of the lineup, they looked disorganized and hesitant the first half.
They scored 17 points in the first period and only 16 points in the second. Those quarter scores and the halftime total of 33 were season lows.
The Bullets shot 27 percent that half and were down 51-33.
The Nets went into the game as the poorest-shooting team in the National Basketball Association and showed why in the second half, missing 40 of 55 shots, including their last nine. They were not the choicest shots, either.
The Nets' best pressure shooter, guard John Williamson, is feuding with the team's management and was benched tonight.
Ballard who started for Dandridge, went zero for six in the first half, but scored 14 points in the third quarter to help cut the Nets' 18-point lead to 12.
The Bullets opened the fourth quarter with a 17-4 spurt and took an 84-83 lead with 5:43 left. Phegley had eight of those points, and sent the Bullets ahead on two free throws.
After going without a point for four minutes, the Nets scored on a turn-around jumper by Calvin Natt and, after a Bullet miss, scored again on a 20-footer by Mike Newlin.
Phegley made two more free throws, but the Nets countered with back-to-back baskets by Jan van Breda Kolff and Natt to go on top, 91-86, with 2:43 remaining.
Phegley hit an 18-footer to cut the lead to three and, after five straight New Jersey misses and a Bullet turnover, made the 18-footer that got Washington to 91-90.
The Bullets will go for four in a row and a chance to go above .500 for the first time this season Saturday night against the lowly Utah Jazz at Capital Centre.