The Bullets' seven-game winning streak is over. They were beaten at their own game by the struggling New York Knicks.
In winning nine of their previous 10 games, the Bullets blended aggressive team defense with a well-executed offense that stressed inside shooting. And that's exactly what the Knicks employed to rally for a 102-98 victory last night before 10,195 at Capital Centre.
"We showed some poise in the fourth quarter," said Red Holzman, after his 600th victory as coach of the Knicks. "We've been getting beat a lot in close games, and I guess it was just our turn."
Holzman has been criticized because his talented team had lost nine of its previous 11 games, but he insists it's just been a matter of being beaten by some great shots at the end of games.
Despite the victory, the Knicks (20-24) still trail the third-place Bullets by three games in the Atlantic Division as the teams break for Sunday's All-Star Game in New Jersey.
"We got in foul trouble and that hurt our continuity," said Coach Gene Shue. "We had total control of the game until late in the third quarter. Then we got some key players in foul trouble (Rick Mahorn and Greg Ballard), and with Frank Johnson hurt, it was just too much to overcome."
The Bullets led throughout the first half and held a 68-59 advantage with five minutes left in the third quarter when they hit a cold spell. The Bullets went 3 1/2 minutes without a point, and the Knicks took the lead for the first time, 69-68, on Bill Cartwright's layin with 2:34 left in the third period.
Jim Chones' free throw tied it at 71 at the quarter's end, and there were three more ties before the Knicks went in front for good, 81-79, on Maurice Lucas' power move at the 7:50 mark.
"You don't want to get into a close game with the Knicks because they can isolate and go one on one with you," said John Lucas, who played 43 minutes in Johnson's absence and contributed 14 points and a game-high six assists.
One of the Bullets' problems was that they couldn't get the ball inside to Jeff Ruland until the fourth quarter, when the 6-foot-11 rookie from Iona scored 15 of his 19 points.
"The second time around in this league, teams are becoming more and more aware of Jeff," said Lucas. "They were ready for him tonight. They played a good defensive game."
Ruland didn't get his first points of the fourth quarter until the 6:29 mark, when Rick Mahorn's pass set him up for a stuff. He made two stuffs, two layins, a hook and five free throws in the final minutes. However, New York was shooting exceptionally well.
"It was mostly my fault," Ruland said when asked why he had only three shots in the first half. "They were double-teaming me, but I didn't get in the flow of the game. When (Marvin) Webster was on me, he forced me away from the basket. At the end, Cartwright was guarding me and he's not as good a defensive player."
The Knicks made 13 of their 19 shots in the fourth period, including three successive long jumpers by Campy Russell that put his team ahead, 89-84.
The Bullets still were within three, 95-92, when Russell lowered his shoulder and drove up the middle. A blocking foul was called against Ruland. Instead of gaining possession, the Bullets lost three points, two on the free throws by Russell and another because a technical foul was called against trainer John Lally for throwing his papers onto the court.
"That was a big call, a three-point play," Shue said. "It was a charge, but what are you going to do? That's not what lost the game for us. We just had people in foul trouble and couldn't overcome it."
After the call, Ruland made the last six points, but Maurice Lucas sank a short turnaround and Russell made another basket from long range to give the Knicks their first victory over the Bullets in three tries.