In perhaps their most inspired performance so far this season, the Bullets made up a 20-point deficit in an eight-minute stretch of the third quarter and came away with an important 110-105 victory over the Indiana Pacers last night at Capital Centre.
With the victory, the Bullets (29-31) have the fifth-best record in the Eastern Conference of the NBA. The top six teams make the playoffs.
The Bullets have two other important games the next two days. They play the New York Knicks tonight at Madison Square Garden (WDCA-TV-20 at 8), then return to Capital Centre Sunday afternoon to play Atlanta. Last night's victory put the Bullets one game ahead of the Hawks.
"All three of these games this weekend are like two games each because they are against the teams we're trying to beat out to get into the playoffs," said forward Greg Ballard.
Early in last night's game, it looked as if the Bullets had left their best stuff back at the Bowie State gym, where Coach Gene Shue held an exhaustive, training camp-like practice Thursday. Kevin Grevey scored 17 points in the first 16 minutes, but the Bullets were outscored, 19-3, the last 5:12 of the half. They went into the dressing room down, 58-42, as many in the crowd of 7,211 booed.
Forty-five seconds into the third period, they were down by 62-42. Shue called time, and when the Bullets came back out on the floor, things were different. John Lucas scored seven points and had two assists, and the Bullets cut the deficit in half in three minutes. Then Spencer Haywood, who led the Bullets with 26 points, took over. His dunk after an offensive rebound cut the Pacer lead to 65-57.
"That was a big, big play," said Shue.
"When I got that rebound, I said to myself that I didn't care what happened and I was going to tear the basket down. I hook-dunked it and jumped in the air like a kid," said Haywood. "I could feel the lift it gave us."
The Bullets kept coming and the Pacers had nothing to hold them off. Coach Jack McKinney called timeouts and changed his lineup and tactics, to no avail.
A 15-footer by Charles Davis, followed by two free throws from the rookie, tied the score at 71 with 3:10 left in the quarter. The Bullets had made up 20 points in 8:05.
In that span, the Bullets made 12 of 19 shots and Indiana missed 12 of 16.
"All I told them at halftime was to keep playing hard," said Shue. "That was a great comeback by us and very meaningful. This could give us some momentum and it might make us understand what it really takes to win."
"We just became more aggressive," said Ballard. "We wanted the rebounds so we took them; we overplayed them on defense and our shots were going in."
Indiana's Louis Orr had 20 points and six offensive rebounds in the first half, but scored only two points and didn't get another offensive rebound in the second half.
One reason for that was the Bullets often played Haywood and Jeff Ruland at forward and Rick Mahorn at center. "When we went to that big front line, it took away their inside game," said Shue.
Offensively it worked, too, as in one stretch of the half, Haywood made five in a row and Mahorn seven straight.
The Pacers bounced back with six straight points, four of them by Johnny Davis, after Charles Davis had tied the score, and it started to look as if the Bullets had spent all their energy catching up.
But Grevey, Haywood and Ruland scored after getting offensive rebounds in the final minutes of the period, and the Bullets trailed by only 81-80 going into the final quarter.
The lead changed four times in the fourth period before the Bullets regained it for good after six straight points by Don Collins. Collins made a layup after getting an offensive rebound to tie the score at 90, and then scored on a fast-break basket after a miss by the Pacers. He finished his run with a steal off Jerry Sichting and two free throws when he was fouled by Herb Williams. That put the Bullets on top, 94-90, with eight minutes to play.
Indiana cut the margin to 106-105, on a three-point play by Johnny Davis with 1:18 remaining. Ruland made two free throws, and after a miss by Orr and Ruland's rebound, Ballard made two free throws.
In other NBA games, Cedric Maxwell's three-point play with 1:18 left broke a 103-103 tie as Boston defeated host New Jersey, 113-109, for its 10th straight victory; rookie Kelly Tripucka scored a career-high 49 points to lead Detroit to a 121-117 victory over Golden State in Pontiac, Mich.; Gus Williams scored 30 points, including the game-winner at the buzzer, as Seattle defeated Milwaukee, 112-100, giving the hosts their fifth straight loss.
Kelvin Ransey and Jim Paxson led a 13-0 run late in the fourth period to help Portland defeat host San Antonio, 112-108; Kiki Vandeweghe scored 23 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, as visiting Denver held off a last-minute rally to defeat Houston, 130-115.; Chicago outscored Los Angeles, 35-16, in the third period en route to a 111-105 victory in Inglewood, Calif.