The Bullets pushed the Boston Celtics to the brink last night, but seven-footer Robert Parish rescued the defending National Basketball Association champions, leading them to a 99-98 victory before 11,413 at Capital Centre.

Parish made all seven field goal attempts and had six rebounds in the fourth quarter as the Celtics overcame a 12-point deficit in the last period to beat the Bullets for the fourth straight time. Parish finished with a season-high 32 points.

The Bullets still had a chance to win with two seconds to play, but Frank Johnson's jump shot from the left corner was short and the Celtics improved to 19-5, the best record in the NBA. They have won eight straight games at Capital Centre.

Ten straight points, the last six by Parish, gave Boston a 93-91 lead with 5:58 remaining. The go-ahead basket came on a dunk by Parish after he received an excellent pass in the lane from Larry Bird.

A jumper by Parish, followed by another from Bird, gave Boston a 99-94 lead with 1:58 left.

Jeff Ruland, who scored 20 points and led the Bullets with 11 rebounds, made one of two free throws. The Celtics missed their next two shots and Johnson made a 30-foot three-point shot to make the score 99-98 with 36 seconds left.

Bird missed a jump shot from the side with 11 seconds left. Greg Ballard got the rebound and threw an outlet pass to Johnson, who was racing down the left sideline with Ruland in front of him.

Bullet Coach Gene Shue was off the bench yelling at Johnson to "go ahead, take it," but in the din of Capital Centre, Johnson thought his coach was telling him to call a timeout. He did.

"There were only nine seconds left and we had a two-on-one advantage, so I was yelling at him to take it on in," said Shue. "He thought I wanted a timeout. It's by no means his fault, though. He's still learning and in time he'll read things like that. He played such a great game tonight, too."

During the timeout, the Bullets decided to run a play designed to get Ruland the ball down low.

Kevin Grevey passed the ball inbounds at midcourt to Johnson, who dribbled it to the left corner, looking for Ruland. Ruland came across the lane and was in position to get the pass, but teammate Rick Mahorn wandered over near him. That brought along Parish, preventing Johnson from getting the ball to Ruland.

Johnson held the ball as long as he could, waiting for the traffic to clear and finally had to attempt a long jumper as the clock ran out.

"It was a good shot, but it just didn't go in," said Johnson.

The Celtics started as if they were going to make short work of the Bullets, cruising to a 34-19 lead.

"Maybe things were coming a little too easy for us for a while," said Celtic Coach Bill Fitch.

The Bullets closed the gap to 49-43 by halftime as Johnson scored 10 points in the second period and Ruland seven.

The third quarter was a jewel for the Bullets. They scored 39 points, their greatest output of any period this season and shot 70 percent, taking an 82-73 lead into the last quarter.

The catalyst in that period was rookie Gary Witts, who scored eight of his career-high 13 points.

The Bullets appeared to be in control when John Lucas scored a three-point play 30 seconds into the fourth period to give them an 85-73 lead.

"That's when we shortened our offense," said Fitch. "We kept getting the ball into Parish."

Parish scored on two turnaround jump shots, a dunk, a follow shot and three layups. Said Mahorn: "A seven-footer with a jump shot is hard to check."

"We did all right when we got out and ran and made them take the outside shots," said Johnson, "but their inside game was too tough. When they went to their bread and butter -- Parish -- we couldn't keep up."

Shue did some interesting things with his lineup last night. Spencer Haywood, who had started the three previous games, wasn't in uniform because of a sprained ankle sustained in Cleveland Wednesday night and Brad Holland was out with the flu.

Jim Chones started for Haywood and Shue also started Grevey for the first time in seven games. Grevey missed three games with a groin muscle pull and had been a reserve the previous four games because his replacement, Don Collins, had been playing well.

Collins didn't get off the bench last night.

"I started Kevin because I think he plays better as a starter," Shue said. "I intended to use Don, but the game got out of hand and I used Gary and he played well. I saw no reason to take him out."