Whenever Gus Williams sat down during the fourth quarter of the Washington Bullets' 93-88 victory over the Los Angeles Clippers tonight at Capital Centre, it was on ice.
Supposedly hindered by a pulled muscle in his posterior, the Bullets wisely didn't give Williams any chance to cool off. Playing the entire quarter, he took control of the game in the final two minutes, scoring six of his team-high 19 points.
Working one on one out of a one-four offensive arrangement, Williams made a jumper from the top of the key with 1:18 to play and another 45 seconds later to, ahem, ice the win.
The first basket came at the expense of 6-foot-2 Norm Nixon (22 points). The second was over Derek Smith, who stands 6-6. According to Williams, who is 6-1, it didn't matter in either case. "Once a player gets hot in this league, it's hard to stop him without help," he said. "Fortunately, tonight I was able to deliver."
It was surprising that the Bullets found themselves in a position in which they needed clutch performances down the stretch.
Trying to end a four-game losing streak, Washington (3-5) appeared in the early going to be headed for a rare rout. At one point, the Bullets led, 62-44.
Then the Clippers began doing what every other opponent the Bullets have faced has done, isolating their players against Washington's. With Nixon and forward Marques Johnson leading the way, the result was a 36-18 run that tied the score at 80.
"We started getting sloppy with the ball and they got momentum when we slowed up," forward Greg Ballard of the Bullets said.
"I think that's something that we're going to see all year," said Coach Gene Shue. "We just have problems with it. We had control of the game the whole night and then you look up and they have a three-point lead."
And with the momentum on their side. Fortunately for the Bullets, the Clippers, another team trying to find itself -- both on and off the court -- following some offseason trades and a move from San Diego, haven't been overly successful in their quest for identity.
Los Angeles seemed to be in control after tying the score, but fell victim to a cerebral play by center Rick Mahorn of the Bullets.
Called for an illegal defense earlier in the game, rookie forward Michael Cage gave up outstanding defensive position when Mahorn hollered, "Zone, zone" to referee Earl Strom.
The moment Cage left his spot outside the lane, Mahorn cut to the basket for a dunk after a pass from Jeff Ruland (17 points, 17 rebounds).
"That's something I haven't done since last season," Mahorn said. "When the player turns his head, I'm gone and Jeff knows that. That's the kind of thing you know from playing together."
The basket gave the Bullets a short-lived 83-82 lead and set the stage for some more fine play from Ruland.
After the assist to Mahorn, the forward scored on a layup and a tipin, giving the Bullets a lead they never lost, thanks to Williams.
Even Mahorn can appreciate the contributions made by the newcomer, despite Williams' late arrival in Washington.
"He's a great open-court player," Mahorn said. "You can trust him like you can trust money in the bank."
Nixon, who used to spar with Williams on a regular basis when Williams played in Seattle, thinks there's a lot more to come from the Bullets' guard.
"They don't emphasize finesse in the East, with teams like Boston and Philadelphia," said Nixon. "But the people out here better get used to it. He can do it and it's exciting to see."
Maybe for the Bullets. For their opponents, the habit is likely to become a pain in the rear.
"Gus did just what he's supposed to do," said Shue. "It feels great. Things haven't been that way too often this year."
When asked how the Bullets know when to run and when not to run, Ruland said, "It's a very simple process. Gus is the only one of us who's allowed to run. So if he's out on the break, we're runnin'; if he's not, we're walkin'."
Forward Cliff Robinson is expected to be back in the lineup for the Bullets when they meet Boston at Capital Centre Saturday night.