Consider this: for the first three quarters of tonight's game against the Milwaukee Bucks -- a full 36 minutes -- Washington Bullets center Jeff Ruland went scoreless. For the game, he totaled six points. Also, leading scorer Gus Williams had only 10 points, playing only the final five minutes of the last period.

Add to this the fact that Milwaukee entered the game with the NBA's leading defense in terms of both points allowed and field goal percentage, a defense that held Washington to 79 points in a game earlier this season.

Consider all of that, along with the Bullets' two-game losing streak and the fact that the team was once again playing without injured forward Cliff Robinson, and ask yourself the following question:

How did the Bullets earn a 99-95 victory?

Certainly not by being calm and collected. Ahead by 89-72 with 5:34 to play, Washington barely weathered a run that moved the Bucks to 93-91 with 1:08 left in the game.

The Bullets (20-15) survived because of a jump shot by Williams with 46 seconds to play and a layup by Greg Ballard 14 seconds later, following an ill-advised three-point attempt by the Bucks' Paul Pressey.

Ballard led the Bullets with 20 points, two more than Jeff Malone. Milwaukee's Sidney Moncrief led all scorers with 34 points, but his teammate, Terry Cummings, who had a 24-point average entering the game, was held to 10.

"Our defense was just sensational," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "We thought we should have had a big lead after the first half (Washington led, 47-44), then we came out and played even better in the last two quarters."

The most outstanding Bullet defensively was Rick Mahorn, Robinson's replacement in the starting lineup. Although he scored only eight points, Mahorn had 14 rebounds, and, although credited with just one blocked shot, had at least four pins that resulted in jump balls.

All that in addition to hounding Cummings into a five-of-25 shooting night, a performance the forward from De Paul called, "My worst shooting night ever as a professional."

"I just wanted to win tonight, that's all," said Mahorn. "Before the game, the big thing was to stop Cummings and frustrate him. I guess I did that but then everyone started playing good 'D' and the whole team got into the flow."

That was definitely the case in the first 42 1/2 minutes of the game. After a slow start for both teams, the Bullets took control in the third period, holding the Bucks to 18 points to take a 71-62 lead.

But after outscoring Milwaukee, 18-10, at the start of the final period, the roof nearly fell in. Led by Moncrief's seven points and Pressey, who scored eight, the Bucks went to a full-court press that resulted in three turnovers in less than a minute, each resulting in a score for Milwaukee.

"We did become a little unglued by their pressure," said Shue. "We just weren't sharp with the ball."

"You just want to get the ball and go over the midcourt line with it," added Ruland. "But after you get there, you have to keep going with it and try to score. If you stop and get tentative, you're playing right into their hands."

After Pressey made the second of two free throws with 1:08 to play, cutting the Washington lead to 93-91, it looked as if the Bullets couldn't hang on. The Bucks continued their pressure and almost forced Washington into a 24-second-clock violation.

But with just two seconds remaining on the shot clock, Williams attempted a 20-footer from the right side that fell cleanly through.

Then, disregarding any set play, Pressey fired away from the top of the three-point circle. The shot fell short and was scooped up by Malone, who passed to Ballard for the basket that effectively clinched the game.

Bucks Coach Don Nelson said after the game: "It was a tough shot to take. If he thought he could make it, I'd have to give him the benefit of the doubt."

And, although his six-point effort came after a sub-par, 10-for-22 shooting night Saturday against Detroit, perhaps the Bullets' biggest smile tonight belonged to Ruland. "Tough game? Not really," he said. "The thing is, we won the game."

Somehow, someway.