The Washington Bullets ran with the Boston Celtics early, but when the game was on the line, slowed down and came away with a 104-101 overtime victory last night before 10,841 at Capital Centre.

It was the Bullets' sixth victory in eight games after a nine-game losing streak, and improved their season record to 23-25.

The Celtics still have the third-best record in the National Basketball Association (37-12), but last night the Bullets took it right to them.

"That's the only way to play Boston," said forward Spencer Haywood. "You can't back off."

Center Rick Mahorn scored six points in the overtime, including a layup with 1:13 left that gave the Bullets a 100-98 lead, a lead they never relinquished.

Robert Parish, the game's leading scorer with 34 points, made one of two free throws with 56 seconds remaining for Boston.

Don Collins scored on a base line drive around Gerald Henderson for a three-point Bullets' lead with 40 seconds left, but Parish cut the lead back to 102-101 with a layup with 11 seconds left.

The Celtics had no timeouts left, so they pressed full-court. Greg Ballard, slipping behind their defense, scored on a breakaway on a pass from Mahorn and was fouled by Archibald with six seconds remaining.

Ballard missed the free throw, but Archibald's three-point attempt at the buzzer bounced off the front rim and Washington had beaten the Celtics for the second time in 16 days.

The Bullets had lost a 14-point third quarter lead and scored only 12 points in the fourth quarter, four in the last 8:48, which let Boston back in the game. The Celtics did collapse at the foul line, missing 10 of their last 15 attempts and making only 17 of 36 for the game. But the Bullets won because they controlled the boards by being more physical than the bigger and deeper Celtics.

Mahorn had 17 rebounds and Ruland 15 as the Bullets outrebounded the visitors, 56-42.

Ruland was also the Bullets' high scorer with 21 points. Ricky Sobers had 19, Ballard 18 and Mahorn 16.

"We knock heads. That's our style," said Ruland, who fouled out with two minutes left in the overtime.

"We were blocking them out real well, so they didn't get many offensive rebounds and we got a lot of uncontested ones."

"We played about as well as we can play in the first half and we had great control," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "In the third quarter we just lost it. We got careless."

The Bullets, with their fast break working, took a 60-49 halftime lead and increased it to 14 points early in the third period before the Celtics started their charge.

Boston scored 13 straight points, six by Parish, to cut the lead to 64-63 with 7:17 left in the quarter.

They took the lead three minutes later on Parish's turnaround jumper.

The Bullets scored the final six points of the quarter, four by Frank Johnson, to take a 78-72 lead into the fourth period. They led by nine with 8:48 remaining.

The Bullets made only one field goal the rest of the quarter, missing 10 of 11 shots and turning over the ball four times.

A layup by Larry Bird cut the lead to 89-88, and after Ruland made one of two free throws, Parish scored on a five-foot running hook to tie the score at 90 with 12 seconds left.

The Bullets called timeout to set up a play. Johnson, driving on Henderson with three seconds left, fell down and lost the ball and the Bullets didn't even get off a shot.

A three-point play by Cedric Maxwell gave the Celtics a 95-92 lead in overtime, but Ruland made two free throws and Mahorn a 10-footer to regain the lead for the Bullets.

Maxwell then missed two free throws and Mahorn, after being fouled by Parish, made two for a 98-95 Bullets lead.

Parish cut the lead to two with one free throw. After Ballard was called for traveling, Henderson banked in a 12-footer to tie the score at 98 with 1:34 left. Then Mahorn took over.

"We're a lot better than we were a couple of weeks ago," said Shue, "and this win proves it."