Rookie Darwin Cook's last-second, 20-foot fallaway jump shot gave the New Jersey Nets a haunting 100-98 victory over the Washington Bullets this Halloween night.
As has been the case in so many of the Bullets' eight losses in 10 games this season, they failed to hold a seemingly safe lead; they couldn't make the big shot when needed and they had enough mental blunders and turnovers to aggravate any coach.
"What happened tonight is going to happen to us a lot more," Coach Gene Shue said. "We're not smooth and we're having trouble doing the right things."
The Bullets, down 10 points in the first half, appeared to be in control when they took a 10-point lead, at 88-78, with six minutes to play. But the Nets, with Coach Kevin Loughery scrambling to get the right combination of players on the court, came up with a three-guard, two-forward offense that won the game.
Mike Newlin, who led all scorers with 37 points -- 17 in the first period, 20 in the fourth and 15 in the last six minutes -- moved to forward for most of the final quarter and teamed there with Maurice Lucas and Jan van Breda Kolff. The guards were Cook, the Portland player cut in rookie camp by the Detroit Pistons, and seldom-used Eddie Jordan.
For that lineup, the Bullets had no antidote.
"the key was that three-guard offense and they hit the key shots," Shue said. "They went to those three guards and trapped everywhere, which threw us out of everything we wanted to do. We couldn't adjust our lineup to theirs."
Newlin, guarded by Bob Dandridge, repeatedly worked free for shots. His three-pointer from beyond the top of the key cut the Bullet lead to 93-89. After Kevin Grevey sank a jump shot, van Breda Kolff made a three-point shot from the left corner. That made the score 95-92 with 2:57 to play.
After Dandridge missed a jumper, he fouled Newlin. Newlin made both free throws and the score was 95-94. Then Greg Ballard missed a jumper, Dandridge fouled Newlin again and his two free throws made the score 97-96.
Wes Matthews was fouled by Jordan with 58 seconds left, but he made only the first of two foul shots for a 98-96 Bullet lead. With 44 seconds left, Newlin popped out from behind a screen for a wide-open 18-footer that tied the score 98.
On the Bullets' last possession, the 24-second clock running down, Matthews took a 15-foot jumper from the right of the basket. The shot was long, Lucas outbattled Wes Unseld for the rebound and the Nets called time with 18 seconds to play.
They wanted to run the same play Newlin had just scored on, with the second one going to Lucas.
Newlin was covered and the ball never got to Lucas, as van Breda Kolff passed to Cook. With Grevey almost hanging on him, the rookie drilled in the winning shot, falling down as the final horn sounded.
"You have to be able to put the ball in the basket and shoot the outside shot to win," Loughery said, adding that this was the first time this season he had used a three-guard offense.
This was the third game this season the Bullets have lost by two points and the second to the Nets. Mike Gmiinski beat them with a tap-in at Capital Centre two weeks ago.
Ironically, this was the Bullets' best shooting night of the season. They made 53 percent for the game, 65 percent in the fourth quarter.
"But we didn't hit the shots that counted," Shue said.
They will try to break their four-game losing streak Saturday night at Madison Square Garden against the hot New York Knicks. The game will be televised on WDCA-TV-20 starting at 8 p.m.