The Washington Bullets blew a 20-point third-quarter lead tonight and needed two free throws from Kevin Porter with eight seconds left to salvage a 105-103 victory over the Houston Rockets.
Calvin Murphy, who finished with 32 points, tied the score at 103-103 on a 22-foot jumper with 28 seconds to play.
The Bullets called a timeout to set a play, but when Wes Unseld couldn't get the ball inbounds, they were forced to call another timeout.
Unseld threw the ball inbounds to Porter on the second try. Porter passed it to Bob Dandridge, who gave it back to Porter. As Porter drove to the basket from the top of the key, Murphy slapped him on the wrist.
Porter swished both free throws.
"The play was designed to get the ball to Bobby in the corner," Porter said. "When he got it, he was triple teamed, so he gave it back to me. I saw an opening and I penetrated. I was going to try to get the ball to Roger (Phegley) for his jumper."
"We wanted Bobby to get the ball with about 10 seconds left on the shot clock and then work for his shot," Coach Dick Motta said. "A majority of the time, though, a play like that will break down and you want the ball to go to an innovator like Kevin."
The Rockets called a timeout after Porter's free throws and set a play for Robert Reid, but the Bullets defensed him and the inbounds pass went to Murphy. Chenier was on him. Murphy held the ball outside for three seconds and then drove to his right, around Chenier.
Gus Bailey, who was inserted into the game for defensive purposes, and Elvin Hayes, who moved over to help, forced the 5-9 Murphy to shoot a running hook.
It missed and Bailey grabbed the rebound just as Moses Malone got it. A jump ball was called at the Houston free throw circle with one second left.
Malone controlled the jump, but the ball went to Unseld as the clock ran out.
"I was going for the ball as soon as it went up," Bailey said of the big rebound. "I grabbed for it and then Moe grabbed it and we both held on. I would have held onto it for two weeks if I had to.
"On the jump, I just didn't want him to tip the ball wherever he wanted to, so I got my hand in his face" Bailey said.
The victory snapped a two-game Bullets' losing streak and evened their record at 9-9.
Porter finished with 18 points and 11 assists.
Elvin Hayes led the Bullets with 20 points and Unseld had 15 and 19 rebounds. Roger Phegley had three critical fourth-quarter baskets to help set the stage for Porter's winning free throws.
The Rockets took the lead for the first time at 85-84 on a layup by Dwight Jones with 8:20 to play. They increased their lead to three on a turnaround jumper by Malone. Unseld tied the score at 87-87 on a three-point play with 7:35 left.
After a Murphy miss, Phegley drilled an 18-footer for an 89-87 Washington lead.
Reid, who finished with 20 points, made a baseline jump shot to tie the score, 101-101, with 1:05 to play, but Phegley put the Bullets back on top, 103-105, when he banged in another 18-footer with 50 seconds left.
The Bullets started out as if they were going to bury the Rockets. They scored the game's first eight points and were ahead, 40-16, early in the second quarter.
They went into the third quarter with a 12-point lead and quickly increased it to 20 before the Rockets made their charge.
"It's funny how you can squander a lead like that when you relax," said Porter.
The Rockets played without forward Rudy Tomjanovich, who was put on the injured list just before the game.
Tomjanovich sprained his ankle in Houston's 113-102 loss to Philadelphia Friday night.