George Gervin missed the first five shots he took last night at Capital Centre, but once he found the range, he was virtually unstoppable. Gervin finished with 40 points, including the game-winning basket on a driving left-handed hook with 41 seconds left, as the San Antonio Spurs beat the Washington Bullets, 114-112.
It was the only time all night that San Antonio (7-4) led, but the Bullets never scored again, enabling the Spurs to break their three-game losing streak. It was the fourth loss in a row for the Bullets (3-7).
The Bullets had two chances to win after Gervin's basket, but Charles Davis missed a five-footer from directly in front of the basket with 28 seconds remaining. After the Bullets got the ball back following a charging foul on Gervin with four seconds left, Billy Ray Bates' three-point potential game-winner went in and bounced out as the final horn sounded.
Jeff Ruland and Rick Mahorn fouled out of the game and the only other center on the roster, rookie Dave Batton, sprained his right ankle. That left the Bullets with only rookie forward Steve Lingenfelter, who had played a total of two minutes all season, to play center in the final minute and 14 seconds.
Spencer Haywood, who has played center, had been placed on the injured list with a strained calf and the Bullets decided to replace him with Carlos Terry, strictly a forward or guard.
The Bullets said Batton will be X-rayed today, but will probably not be with the team when it leaves for a four-game road trip later today.
"We're in trouble now," said Coach Gene Shue. "Jeff and Rick commit a lot of fouls and now, without Dave, we'll have to go out and get a player. We need another big body. What I feared would happen if we didn't have another big man when we put Spencer on the injured list happened tonight. We went for the three-point shot at the end because there was no way we could win in overtime. We didn't have any big people left."
The Spurs trailed by 11 points after a three-point play by Charles Davis with 5:19 to play, but Artis Gilmore, who scored 12 of his 16 points in the fourth period, and Gervin, who had 15 in the quarter, led them back. The Spurs made 13 of 18 fourth-quarter shots. A layup by Gilmore followed by two free throws by Gervin and a hook by Gilmore cut the Bullets' lead to 109-108 with 2:35 remaining.
Greg Ballard got the Bullets' lead back to three with an 18-foot jump shot, but he fouled Gene Banks on San Antonio's next possession and Banks made two free throws to cut the margin to 111-110.
Ballard missed a jumper on the Bullets' next possession and Mahorn committed his sixth foul, hacking Bill Willoughby at the other end. Willoughby made only one of his free throws and the score was tied at 111.
Frank Johnson was fouled with 57 seconds remaining and he too made only one of his shots to put the Bullets back on top, 112-111.
Johnson then fouled Johnny Moore with 45 seconds left. Moore made his first shot, but missed the second. Three Bullets and Banks went for the ball, but it rolled off one of the Bullets' feet and out of bounds, giving the Spurs possession.
After a time out, San Antonio cleared out a side for Gervin and he drove by Ballard and threw in a soft eight-foot left-handed hook shot.
"I got off to a slow start, but I knew there was a lot of time left," Gervin said. "I got my confidence going in the fourth quarter."
Gervin came into the game as the second highest scorer in the NBA with a 29.6 average. This was the third time this season he has scored 40 or more points in a game.
"Me and Don did all we could on him," said Bates. "It was tough finding him sometimes, though."
Bates started his first game as a Bullet and scored 14 points and his backup, Don Collins, made seven of eight shots and also had 14 points.
Rookie Bryan Warrick, the starter the last six games, didn't play. "Statistically," said Shue, "what our guards did looked good . . . but we still lost."