reg Ballard made a three-point, 25-foot shot from beyond the top of the key with one second left in overtime tonight to give the Bullets a 129-126 victory over the New York Knicks.

It was a surprising finish to a dramatic game. The ball was supposed to go to Kevin Grevey, and Ballard, once he got the ball, didn't intend to shoot a three-pointer.

He did, and it swished through the net at the buzzer for the Bullets' third three-pointer of the five-minute overtime period.

Ballard, who finished with 27 points, had made two free throws with 27 seconds left in regulation to force the extra period.

New York took a quick four-point lead in the overtime as Maurice Lucas and Michael Ray Richardson made fielders. But with 2:26 left in the period and with the 24-second clock running down, Jeff Ruland made his first three-point shot of the season from the top of the key. The Bullets trailed, 122-121.

After Ruland forced Bill Cartwright to miss a short jump shot, the Bullets' Frank Johnson, who scored 24 of his season-high 26 points in the second half, scored on a drive that covered three quarters of the length of the court. That gave the Bullets a 123-122 lead with 1:39 to play.

Campy Russell's back-to-back 20-foot jumpers put the Knicks ahead, 126-123, with 47 seconds left.

Ten seconds later, Johnson made a three-point basket from the top of the key and it was 126-all.

New York worked the clock down to 15 seconds, then Randy Smith, open on the left side, took a 12-foot shot. It hit the side of the rim and rebounded to Kevin Grevey.

The Bullets called time with 11 seconds left and set a play. But Smith knocked the ball away from Johnson with three seconds to go.

The Bullets' Don Collins got the ball out of bounds at midcourt. His first option was to Grevey in the corner and his second was to Johnson coming off a double screen.

Neither man was open.

"I was just about to fall in bounds when Greg popped open," Collins said.

Ballard caught the inbounds pass, turned as the 7-foot Cartwright came after him and then arched a perfect shot that fell through the net as the horn sounded.

"I was definitely the third option on the play," Ballard said, "no question about it. I didn't realize at the time that it was a three-point shot, but with three seconds left, all you can do is turn, square and fire.

"Cartwright might have even helped me on the shot because he forced me to get it up high over him. I had a clear look at the basket, though."

"That wasn't supposed to be a three-point shot, but it was there," Gene Shue, the Bullets' happy coach, said. "We hit some big three-pointers, but the big play of the game might have been Ruland's three-pointer because it was at a critical time and the clock was running out."

Ruland made 10 of 15 shots, finishing with 24 points and 17 rebounds.

Cartwright finished with 26 for New York and Lucas had 23 points and 18 rebounds. Richardson had 19 points and 15 rebounds.

The Bullets trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half, but got back in the game with a 12-0 spurt midway in the third quarter.

Grevey, scoreless in the first half, had six points, two assists and a rebound in that spurt that left the visitors with a 75-73 lead.

The Bullets took a 108-100 lead, but couldn't hold it as Lucas scored six points within 90 seconds to put the Knicks on top, 113-111, with 32 seconds left. But Russell fouled Ballard going for a rebound and Ballard's free throws sent the game into overtime.

The Bullets' second victory in two tries against the Knicks made Shue extremely happy.

"This is one of the teams we have to beat to get into the playoffs," he said. "This was a great win for us."