Rick Mahorn wasn't even supposed to get the ball. But when he did, two of the worst possible things happened: he missed a two-foot shot with two seconds left and the Washington Bullets trailing Indiana by one point, and he fouled the Pacers' George Johnson, who made both free throws. The result was a 93-90 loss tonight for the Bullets in a ragged season opener.
"We wanted to get the ball into Jeff (Ruland) in the post," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "He couldn't get it, but Rick came around and was open."
With the Bullets trailing, 91-90, Mahorn got the ball from Greg Ballard 10 feet to the left of the basket. He drove on Herb Williams, dribbling twice before trying to lay the ball in instead of banking it. The 6-foot-11 Williams went up with Mahorn and the shot rolled off the rim to Johnson, who was fouled by Mahorn on the rebound and made both free throws.
"I was just trying to score," said Mahorn. "I don't know if I changed my shot because I was just trying to get it up. I don't have any answers for anything. This was just a bad game."
The Bullets struggled throughout the game, witnessed by only 3,622 at Market Square Arena, and every time they got rolling, they let the game slip away.
They trailed by 13 points in the first quarter, but managed to tie the score at 40 at halftime. They were outscored, 35-19, in the third period and trailed, 81-70, with 7:05 remaining, yet managed to hold an 88-87 lead after a jump shot by Frank Johnson with 1:39 to play.
Guard Billy Knight, who finished with 28 points and a career-high nine assists, scored on a 17-footer to give the Pacers an 89-88 lead. After rookie Bryan Warrick missed a jump shot for the Bullets, Knight lost the ball and fouled Mahorn trying to get it back with 40 seconds remaining.
Mahorn missed both free throws and Johnson fouled Jerry Sichting at the other end with 24 seconds left.
Sichting, starting at point guard because free agents Johnny Davis and Don Buse are unsigned and not with the team, made two free throws for a 91-88 advantage.
Warrick scored on a drive down the middle to make the score 91-90 with 19 seconds to play. The Pacers immediately called their last timeout to get the ball at midcourt, but rookie Clark Kellogg couldn't pass it inbounds in the allotted five seconds and the Bullets had it back.
Spencer Haywood led the Bullets with 19 points and Ruland had 18.
Mahorn didn't score in the first half and Johnson was shut out until the final period. A third starter, Ballard, missed 10 of 12 shots and Don Collins, starting at guard, took only one shot in 11 minutes. In the first six minutes of the game, Collins had three fouls while Knight, the player he was guarding, had seven points.
"I was disappointed with the way we played in the first and third periods," said Shue. "We dug ourselves into holes and didn't get the production I wanted from the first unit. We didn't rebound, either."
The Pacers outrebounded the Bullets, 49-37, with Williams and Clemon Johnson getting 11 apiece. Mahorn led the Bullets with seven.
"We're usually a rhythm team," said Frank Johnson, "but we were herky-jerky tonight. Even when we came back it was helter-skelter and that's not our game. We weren't on at all, and if it weren't for the second group, we wouldn't have been in the game at all."
Warrick started all six preseason games, but incurred a pulled groin muscle in practice Monday. He was unable to work out until Thursday, so Shue decided to start Collins tonight.
Warrick played 36 minutes, anyway, more than any other Bullet, and had 12 points, six assists and five rebounds. Shue said he probably will start when the Bullets play Saturday at Chicago.
Kellogg, the Pacers' heralded rookie, had averaged more than 20 points a game in the preseason, but made only two of 17 shots tonight. Williams had 19 points and Sichting had 14 points and 11 assists.
"If there's anything good, it's that we get to play again tomorrow," said Johnson. "We can't be this bad two nights in a row."