With Tom McMillen scoring a career-high 37 points, the undermanned Washington Bullets held off the Phoenix Suns, 110-105, in overtime last night at Capital Centre before 10,215 to run their winning streak to four.
McMillen, who started because Jeff Ruland and Cliff Robinson remain injured, made two consecutive jump shots late in the extra period to help bring the Bullets back.
"I'm tired. They're really trying to kill me out there," said McMillen, who played 50 of a possible 53 minutes last night and has taken on the trappings of some sort of Ageless Wonder over the last week. "After 10 years in the league, you learn how coaches go about doing things. Most of them have been around that long, too. That helps when you're out there."
John MacLeod is in his 12th year as the head man for the Suns, but it only took one night for him to see the havoc McMillen could wreak upon his team. "We watched him the other day against Dallas (a 15-point, 15-rebound performance) and he turned around and did the same thing against us.
"McMillen, Greg Ballard and Jeff Malone were all awesome tonight. What's happening for them is that they're getting some people to step forward and go way above the line, to play better than they usually play."
Given the team's collective play, that is something that can't be denied. Despite McMillen's heroics, the Bullets wouldn't have been in the game were it not for Ballard's 20 points and 15 rebounds, Rick Mahorn's 13 rebounds or the 19 points Malone scored after a cold first half (four for 12) en route to a game total of 27.
The Suns were aware of the Bullets' ability to overcome their recent adversity. Although Mahorn returned to the lineup after hurting his right wrist earlier in the week, Ruland and Robinson remained on the sideline with a sore right shoulder and right leg, respectively.
The visitors wasted no time in trying to both increase the tempo of the game and go after McMillen. The strategy worked for much of the first half, with 6-foot-9 Alvan Adams, 6-10 Larry Nance and 7-1 James Edwards instrumental in getting Phoenix a 55-48 lead.
"They came after us and went straight at Tom," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "They tried to run him all over the place."
After scoring 21 points in the first two periods, McMillen said he found a second wind at the half, something that was sorely needed by the Bullets. With Gus Williams shooting six for 22 for the game (no baskets in the final 17 minutes of the game), Malone scored 11 points in the third period as Washington drew to 75-73.
In the final period, McMillen scored nine points and Malone another six as the Bullets moved into position to take the game in regulation. After Nance (team-high 21 points) hit one of two free throws to tie the game at 91 with 2:56 to play, both squads were scoreless for the next 2:02.
It was then that McMillen converted two foul shots to give the Bullets a two-point lead. Then, after Kyle Macy's basket, he scored one of his own with 28 seconds remaining to put the Bullets up, 95-93.
Twelve seconds later, Nance scored again to tie the score at 95. Following a timeout, the Bullets set up in their one-four alignment but Williams was short with a three-point attempt at the buzzer.
Things looked grim for Washington in the overtime when the Suns scored eight straight points and took a 105-102 lead with 1:59 remaining. But the Bullets responded with eight consecutive points -- the first four from long jumpers by McMillen -- to take the game.
After those baskets and a pair of free throws by Darren Daye, Phoenix got two chances to hit a game-tying three-point shot, but Rod Foster misfired twice before Williams sank two free throws to seal the win.
"We're playing with great confidence now," said Shue after the game. "Who knows? We'll probably go on and beat Detroit. That's who we play next, isn't it?" Neither Ruland nor Robinson will be back in the lineup for that game tonight (7:30, WDCA-TV-20) but, whenever the pair returns, according to Shue, "They'll hear the word 'turnover' a lot.
"They have to come back and build upon what we're doing. I keep emphasizing turnovers a lot because, when you protect the ball, it makes it a helluva lot more difficult for the other team to get a shot at their basket."
For the game, the Bullets had just eight miscues, but their careful handling of the basketball helped account for the 110 shots they attempted from the field, a total that helped overcome their 42 percent mark from the field.