The Washington Bullets used some long-range shooting by Jeff Malone late in the fourth quarter tonight to overcome the New York Knicks' pressure defense and come away with a 116-108 win, their third consecutive victory.
Gus Williams led the Bullets with 25 points and Jeff Ruland made 23. But it was Malone who scored six of his 22 points, all from the ozone, in a key stretch of the fourth quarter that spelled victory for Washington.
Wilting in the face of the Knicks' full-court press that cut a 15-point margin with 6:03 to play to six less than two minutes later, Malone's long shots enabled the Bullets to right themselves and go on from there.
"He's killing that shot right now," said his coach, Gene Shue. "It's just like a layup to him."
Malone agreed. "I thought I was open a lot in the third quarter, too, and we couldn't rotate the ball over to me, but I'm deadly right now," he said. "When I've got my confidence going, I'm not worried about missing when I shoot."
Reserve Darren Daye scored 21 points for the Bullets, eight of them in a fourth quarter in which the team made 15 of 18 field goal attempts.
Washington (19-13) also got some help from Rick Mahorn in trying to stave off the scoring forays of the Knicks' Bernard King, who led all scorers with 37 points. But King, who entered the game with a 35-point average over his last nine contests, wasn't enough to overcome Washington's balance.
"We did let the press bother us by not doing the right things with the ball, but the game shouldn't have been that close and as it was we had total control of the game," Shue said. "We could become quite a good team, but there are quite a few things we have to refine."
Apart from the fourth-quarter scare, even Shue had to admit that there wasn't much wrong with the Bullets' game tonight. The team, thanks to 14 rebounds by Ruland, held a 45-36 edge over the Knicks. The Bullets made 77 percent of their shots from the free throw line and shot 53 percent from the field.
The Bullets broke this game open at the start of the second half. Entering the third period with a 57-52 lead, Washington increased it to 69-54. Williams, on a bit of a scoring streak of his own, was the catalyst, scoring seven of the points in that stretch, while the Knicks went more than five minutes without scoring.
That was surprising, given the King's presence. After riddling the Bullets for 22 first-half points, the league's leading scorer wasn't really heard from until late in the game, thanks to the defensive efforts of Mahorn and Daye.
"It's always a challenge going against the great players, the (Larry) Birds, Kings and (Julius) Ervings," said Daye. "It's nice until they start scoring, then it's not so nice, not so much fun."
It's hard to say whether the Knicks rebounded when King regained his touch in the fourth quarter or vice versa, but King and forward Louis Orr (22 points, all in the second half) were at the forefront of New York's fourth-period rally.
Hassled by the pressure, the Bullets made four turnovers in a little more than a minute, enabling the Knicks to draw to 102-96 with 4:22 to play. But then Malone scored six of Washington's next 10 points.
"I guess a lot of it has to do with starting," he said after the game. "I know I can take the shot when I have it and I'm not gonna get pulled from the game. That gives me confidence and I just go from there."
With the rest of the Bullets, at least on this night, going right along with him. Said an impressed Orr, "When you've got a shooter like him spotting up in the corner . . . that's an excellent press breaker."