Even after the Bullets started last night's game at Capital Centre against the Golden State Warriors with a 13-4 spurt, one couldn't help shake the feeling that something wasn't quite right. After all, Washington was playing the game without its three leading rebounders, Rick Mahorn joining fellow Beef Brother Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson on the sideline.
The feeling persisted throughout the game. Nine times in the first three quarters, the Warriors closed within a point of the Bullets. And when Purvis Short hit a three-point jumper to give the Warriors a 77-76 lead, it looked like Washington's good fortune had come to an end.
But that vision was as illusionary as the idea that the Bullets have been hopelessly overmatched in the last 10 days.
After Short's shot, Washington went on a 14-5 run to regain control and hung on for a 109-104 victory. It was Golden State's 12th consecutive defeat.
The victory was the fourth in six games for the Bullets (24-19) and perhaps the sweetest because of their collective health. "We are not supposed to win games like this one," Bullets Coach Gene Shue said. "It was just an incredible team effort."
Gus Williams had 26 points and 13 assists for the Bullets and Jeff Malone scored 22 points. But the the team's star was forward Tom McMillen.
Slowed by back spasms, McMillen played the entire 48 minutes, scoring a season-high 26 points. And many of McMillen's baskets came at opportune times for Washington.
With the score tied at 80 with 55 seconds left in the third quarter, McMillen contributed a driving dunk. With the score tied at 98 with less than five minutes left, McMillen passed to Greg Ballard, whose three-point shot gave Washington the lead for good.
"Tom was sensational tonight. He hit his outside shot, played great defense and was just remarkable the entire game," Shue said. "That was probably the first time he played 48 minutes."
Not so, said the 6-foot-11 veteran. "There was a game when I played 56 minutes once," he said, "but that was a long time ago."
Last week against the Utah Jazz, McMillen played 45 minutes.
"My actuarial table is rising rapidly," he said. "I was stiff and couldn't get loose, but the worst thing was the pounding on my back when I'd try to block out their players. I kept thinking, 'Geez, I wish this would stop.' "
There was little chance of that happening. En route to a 41-30 rebounding advantage, the Warriors wasted no chance at bullying the Bullets.
And, although credited with only two rebounds, 6-11 center Chuck Aleksinas was undoubtedly the most physically imposing presence on the floor.
As they've done throughout their injury spell, the Bullets succeeded by slowing down the game's pace.
The Warriors entered the game with the worst shooting percentage in the league, and they have allowed their opponents to make 53 percent. Last night, the Warriors made 52 percent of their shots, but the Bullets hit on 55 percent and committed only 10 turnovers.
"That's the interesting thing," McMillen said. "By not making turnovers, you can beat any team in the league because you're maximizing your offensive efficiency."
"What we've been able to do is take advantage of every possible situation," Shue said. "Mac's outside shots, Gus' penetration. We're trying to play against their weaknesses and up to our strengths."
That was something Golden State, 10-31 at the season's halfway point, was not able to do, according to Coach John Bach.
"We were trying to bring the ball inside and go hard to the boards and I think we were successful with it," he said. "What you have to do, though, is get a mixture of inside and outside and put it all together. We didn't do that tonight."
Short, the NBA's second-leading scorer at 29.1 points a game, scored only 14 points on four-of-13 shooting.
While Shue called his team's injury situation "crazy as hell," McMillen considers it just a part of the game.
"I didn't think I could play last night but when Rick went down I knew I had to gut it out tonight," he said. "If I were 100 percent, I might have made two more shots but you have to play with the aches and pains."