The Washington Bullets, their confidence low and their ranks thin, played their hearts out today, but still came up short when their minds, more than their bodies, failed them.
They blew a five-point lead in the final 42 seconds of regulation and a four-point lead in the final two minutes of overtime and lost, 108-106, to the Kansas City Kings.
A turnaround jumper by Elvin Hayes with 42 seconds left gave the Bullets a 98-93 lead, but they couldn't score again in regulation.
Phil Ford, who scored Kansas City's last nine points in the fourth quarter, scored on a drive to cut the Bullet lead to 98-95 with 37 seconds left.
Then, as Greg Ballard tried to find someone to pass to, Reggie King knocked the ball away from him at midcourt. Ford picked it up and took off with Ballard chasing him.
Just seconds earlier during a time-out, Bullet Coach Dick Motta had preached to his players, telling them not to give the Kings a three-point play "under any circumstances."
Ballard went for the block, however, and as Ford went up for the layup, he fouled him and fouled him hard. But the shot still spun in with Ford lying on the floor under the basket.
He made the ensuing free throw to send the game into overtime.
"He should have just let him go or else fouled him so hard he had no chance of making the shot at all," Motta said of Ballard. "But Greg played a heckuva game and he's playing hurt. I feel bad for him."
Ballard, who has a severely sprained left thumb and a sore right foot, has helped carry the Bullets many times this season.
"Ford slowed down a bit and waited so I went in to foul him hard to prevent him from scoring," Ballard said. "I thought I did, but he still made the shot somehow.You've got to give him credit."
The Bullets still had a chance to win in overtime as Kevin Porter, playing his most impressive game in two months, scored back-to-back baskets and Ballard canned a 15-footer to put the Bullets on top, 106-102, with 2:07 left.
King made a layup to cut the lead to 106-104 and, after a Porter turn-over, Bill Robinzine made one free throw to cut the lead to a single point.
Porter, who had played all of the fourth quarter and most of the over-time, was gasping for breath and asked to be taken out.
A cold Jim Cleamons replaced him and found himself with the ball and an open 15-footer almost as soon as he got into the game. He shot an air ball and the rebound trickled off Wes Unseld's fingers and out of bounds with 1:02 left.
Otis Birdsong, who led the Kings with 32 points, then made a difficult baseline jumper, despite heavy pressure from Kevin Grevey, to put the Kings ahead, 107-106, with 42 seconds remaining.
The Bullets got only one more shot.
Ballard took it from the left side of the basket, but it bounced off the rim to Sam Lacey with 23 seconds left.
The Bullets' only hope to win was to foul, but inexplicably, no one fouled until Hayes grabbed Robinzine with one second left.
It was too late. Robinzine made one free throw and the game was over.
Motta was nearly to half-court pleading with his team to foul any King they could. With 18 seconds to go it looked like Cleamons fouled Ford, but there was no call and the Kings played keep-away until Hayes caught up with Robinzine out near midcourt.
"I foulded him (Ford) three or four times right in front of the ref, but he wouldn't call it," said an angry Cleamsons.
"He should have knocked him to the ground or grabbed him and held him so there would be no question it was a foul," a befuddled Motta said.
"This is such a tough loss because we had control of the game. Greg never should have fouled Ford and then when we were supposed to foul we didn't."
Hayes, who played the entire 53 minutes, scoring 27 points and grabbing 22 rebounds, also was upset.
"We lost this game with mental errors," he said. "You just aren't supposed to do those sorts of things. This was one of our best team efforts of the year and then to lose like this really hurts.
"On that last play, it was just a mental lapse. We knew we had to foul, but no one reacted."
The Bullets, who have now lost four in a row and 11 of their last 14, were again without Bob Dandridge, who is home with a pulled calf muscle, and Mitch Kupchak, who became ill this morning and stayed in bed.
With only nine men in uniform and one of them, John Williamson, hobbling on a pulled groin muscle, the Bullets still hung in with some clever sustitutions by Motta.
He started Grevey at guard and used him as his backup small forward. He used Unseld at foward some, too, left Hayes in the entire game and used Porter.
Porter responded with 15 points and three assists and kept the Bullets in the game, both in the fourth period and in the overtime.
Ford scored 16 points in the third quarter, including 14 straight at one point, and finished with 26 points.
This was Kansas City's last game in Municipal Auditorium where they have a 23-7 record this season. They will move back into Kemper Arena for their next game.
The roof at Kemoer caved in last summer forcing the team to play elsewhere while repairs were made.