The Washington Bullets lost the championship game of the Urban Coalition summer league yesterday to a team with a distinctly Bullet look. Led by Bobby Dandridge on offense and former Bullet Joe Pace on defense, Smirnoff won the title, 121-117, before an overflow crowd at Dunbar High School.
Former Bullet Phil Chenier scored 15 points for Smirnoff. Wes Matthews, now an Atlanta Hawk in the winter, was outstanding at both ends for the Bullets.
Trailing, 91-86, after three quarters, Smirnoff took control by playing strong interior defense.
"We played a helping defense and tried to keep their big men from hurting us inside," explained Dudley Bradley of Smirnoff, a member of the Phoenix Suns who finished with a game-high 31 points. "As good as our team played defense it was big Joe Pace who was the real difference."
After Pace, the former Bullet draft pick out of Coppin State, blocked a Charlie Davis layup, Smirnoff scored 10 straight points to lead, 96-91. Dandridge, a free agent still on the Bullet roster, scored seven in that stretch. He finished with 26.
The Bullets called timeout, but Smirnoff went on to outscore them, 19-3, for a 110-98 lead with six minutes remaining. During that time, Bradley scored 10 of his 12 fourth-quarter points on breakaway finger rolls following steals by Eddie Jordan (Los Angeles Lakers) and Matthews, effective with their double-teams.
Ed Odom (14 points), an impressive free agent for the Bullets, was the primary victim.
"He (Odom) was so steady that we decided to gamble some and apply pressure to make something happen," said Jordan, who finished with only 10 points but made several steals.
Before Smirnoff could celebrate, the Bullets rallied to take a 117-116 lead on a three-point play by center Jeff Ruland, who scored a team-high 25 points.
But Dandridge came back in with a minute remaining and made a running hook shot to put Smirnoff back in the lead with 30 seconds remaining.
Then Pace blocked back-to-back shots by Gary Witz (19 points) and Davis (23).
The game often appeared to be an alumni affair for Bullet fans. There was Chenier coming off screens and converting his once-feared jump shot to go with Dandridge's magic and Pace's strong defense.
But the most exciting player was an ex-Bullet: Matthews. The 6-foot-1 guard dazzled the standing-room-only crowd by blocking several shots, dunking over taller opponents on alley-oop passes and showing a few look-the-other-way, between-the-leg passes.