The Bullets had a bad case of the post-Philadelphia blues last night and struggled most of the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers before they finally pulled out a 95-92 overtime victory at Capital Centre.
They had lost two close, tough games to the 76ers over the weekend and they showed the effects of that series.
The Bullets needed three key plays by Don Collins in the final 68 seconds and 26 points and 18 rebounds from Jeff Ruland to get by the lowly Cavaliers, who had beaten them two of three meetings before last night.
With the Bullets leading, 93-92, Collins, who finished with 16 points, scored on a layup after taking a pass from Ruland with 68 seconds remaining, and then, with 49 seconds to play, Collins forced World B. Free into a traveling violation.
With the 24 second clock running down, Free went up for a jump shot from the left corner, but Collins, three inches taller at 6-foot-6, went up with Free to block the shot and Free couldn't get it off and came back down with the ball for the violation. Free, nevertheless, finished with 35 points, the second-most points anyone has scored against the Bullets this season.
The Bullets ran the 24 second clock down, but Ruland missed a short jump shot. Collins was there to grab the rebound, however, and the Bullets ran out the clock.
The victory enabled the Bullets to move within three games of Atlanta in the race for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Hawks lost to New York, 119-97, allowing the Knicks to move into sole possession of fifth place in the conference, 4 1/2 games ahead of seventh place Washington.
"This was a struggle," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "Cleveland's style is very similar to ours. We wanted to play a speeded-up game, but they wouldn't let us. They controlled the boards and the game most of the night."
The Bullets will play the Atlanta Hawks tonight at the Omni (WDCA-TV-20 at 7:30) and then play the Knicks at Capital Centre Friday and at Madison Square Garden Saturday.
The Bullets fell behind by 13 points in the second quarter, and trailed by eight at halftime, but outscored the Cavaliers, 23-11, in the third quarter.
They appeared to have the game sewn up when Ruland made two free throws to give them an 88-82 lead with 59 seconds remaining in regulation.
Geoff Huston sank a three-pointer, however, and then, after Ruland missed a jumper with 25 seconds left, Huston scored on a drive, cutting the Bullets' lead to 88-87 with 19 seconds left.
Free deflected a Don Collins pass on the Bullets' next possession and as Ruland and Jeff Cook dove for the ball, it went out of bounds off Ruland and the Cavaliers had it back with 11 seconds left.
Huston tried to drive by Frank Johnson and was fouled. He made only the second of his two free throws, however, to tie the score with four seconds to play.
After two timeouts, the Bullets got the ball to Frank Johnson, but Free blocked his 17-footer as the horn sounded, sending the game into the extra period.
Huston made one of two free throws after he was fouled by Collins, but Ricky Sobers scored on an 18-footer and then added two free throws after a 24 second violation against Cleveland, and the Bullets never trailed again.
Greg Ballard, who missed both the Philadelphia games with a sore back, started last night and said his back was fine after he warmed up. He had 16 points in 42 minutes.
The Cavaliers played without forward Cliff Robinson, their second-leading scorer and the sixth-leading rebounder in the NBA. He had the flu.