The Bullets must have overslept yesterday. By the time they got into the early afternoon basketball game at Capital Centre, it was too late and they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks, 102-93.
Washington, down by 16 at the half, cut the lead to vie points at the end of three quarters, to one early in the fourth and to two with 1:46 to play. But every time the Bullets got close, they let the game slither away. The Bullets seemed to be slipping and sliding all afternoon, but it was mistakes and the Milwaukee defense that tripped them up.
"It was slippery out there," said Kevin Porter, who led the Bullets with 24 points and eight assists. "But that was not the reason we lost. We had a really bad first quarter. It's hard to come back unless you fight back. Any little mistake will hurt you down the stretch when you're down that much."
In the forth quarter the Bullets had seven turnovers, three in the last three minutes. Twice they gave the ball away with a chance to cut Milwaukee's lead to a basket. Mitch Kupchak finally did reduce the lead to two points on two free throws off Brian Winters' loose ball at 1:46 to go.
With 1:08 remaining and the Bucks leading, 95-90, Kupchak threw the ball away. He had a shot down low but passed off to Greg Ballard. The ball bounced off Ballard and was controlled by the Bucks as 9,823 customers groaned in unison. Quinn Buckner's 18-foot jumper gave Milwaukee a seven-point lead. Game.
"I'm not into comebacks," Washington Coach Gene Shue said. "When you play catch-up, you usually lose and that's what happened today. Our forwards were struggling but you have to be able to win games like that. We dug such a large hole we weren't able to get out of it."
Still, the Bullets did not lose ground to Chicago in their race to make the playoffs. The Bulls, who lead the Bullets by 1 1/2 games for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, lost to Atlanta.
From a Bullet standpoint, the first half was a case of too little, too early. The Bucks took the lead for good with 4:38 remaining in the first quarter. In the second quarter, the Bullets went 5:18 without scoring; in the next 2:07 they made one basket. The Bucks outrebounded the Bullets in the half, 36-21, including 15-7 at the offensive end, and outscored them, 18-8 (31-14 for the day), on the fast break.
"We took them out of what they wanted to," said Buck forward Marques Johnson, who totaled 19 points. "It was one of the best first halves we've had in a long time."
Ballard, a 20-point man for the game, said, "It would be fair to say we got off to a slow start, a very slow start."
The slow start grew slower when Ballard picked up his third foul midway through the first quarter. He sat down with the Bullets down, 16-15. He did not return until the start of the third period, with the Bullets 16 behind.
"I got three quick fouls and boom, bang, I was out of the game," lamented Ballard, who has averaged 21.3 points and 8.8 rebounds in the last 16 games. "I was ready to go too much. I was too aggressive. As a group, once we got down, we didn't concentrate as well as we are capable of. Maybe that's what made us look like we weren't ready to go."
Don Collins, Ballard's replacement, had four points in 17 minutes.
"Their bench did not perform very well tonight," appraised Sidney Mohcrief, the Buck who led all scorers with 25 points. "They are capable of it but I think our bench gave us the edge."
Ballard said, "Usually when you play catch-up you use the whole bench. If you play the same six or seven, it's hard to play catch-up. You get tired in the end."
At the start of the fourth quarter, the Bullets did not seem sluggish.They scored two quick baskets to close to 77-76, the nearest they had been since the outset. They got the ball back, with a chance to go ahead. Kevin Grevey shot and missed.
The Bucks went up by six on a 19-foot jumper by Buckner, a steal by Buckner and a basket by Marques Johnson, who was fouled by Collins and made the score 82-76. The Bullets, who were trying -- in both senses of the word -- pulled within two again, 82-80. With a chance to tie, Elvin Hayes missed a shot and the Bucks ran the count to 87-82.
Still, Washington hung in, closing to 92-90. Here Moncrief converted a followup into a three-point play. The Bullets, exasperated, virtually stood watching as the Bucks went up by seven and for good.
"It's tough to forget, particularly when you're in the running for the playoffs and need to win," Ballard said, "It was very important particularly after the (Friday night) loss to New York. Things just aren't going our way."