There are battles and then there are wars.
While severely losing the battle to rookie sensation Michael Jordan, the Washington Bullets came out on top in the more important area last night, defeating the Chicago Bulls, 106-95, before 18,484 at Capital Centre.
Jordan showed why he's become perhaps the best player in the NBA, getting 38 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
But his glittering effort couldn't make up for Washington's collective balance. Gus Williams led the Bullets, now 27-21, with 29 points, and Greg Ballard had 19 points.
Jeff Malone, in the unenviable position of guarding Jordan most of the night, scored 18 points, including six straight in the fourth quarter that gave the Bullets an 85-83 lead. The Bullets had trailed by 13 points.
"Yep, that's what the NBA's all about," said Rick Mahorn (16 points, eight rebounds). "That was a great show Jordan put on in the first half. He was nice."
"That was the first time I saw him play in person and he can get 30 points easy every night, and I mean real easy," Malone said. "But late in the game, we started rebounding and our defense came around and stopped him. We weren't doing that early in the game."
Indeed, for nearly the entire first half, the Bullets seemed no different from the fans in the stands, except they had a better view of Jordan's show. As the Bulls took a 57-49 lead at intermission, Jordan had 24 points, four rebounds and six assists.
But with Orlando Woolridge, the Bulls' second-leading scorer, out due to a back injury and fellow forward Steve Johnson in foul trouble, Chicago relied almost entirely on its back court for scoring.
"We probably went too much in that direction," said Bulls Coach Kevin Loughery after his team's seventh straight loss on the road. "We needed someone to pick up the slack but we really didn't have anyone inside to do it."
That became apparent in a 10-minute stretch spanning from 3:55 of the third period to 5:18 of the fourth. In that spell, Jordan went scoreless and the Bullets went on a 23-8 run, changing a 75-66 deficit to an 89-83 lead.
Jordan ended the streak with his third dunk, but, by then, it was too late for Chicago. Ballard scored six of the Bullets' next eight points and Mahorn controlled the rebounding.
"We tried to slow the tempo down so we could get in a situation where we could win the game with one shot at the end," Loughery said. "The beginning of the fourth quarter hurt us, though, and that is where we lost the game."
In the final minutes, the Bulls ran their offense almost entirely to Jordan and Quintin Dailey (20 points). But Jordan was victimized more often than not. With 3:53 to play, Williams beat him for a back-door layup, and 12 seconds after Jordan was called for traveling, Mahorn's short jumper put Washington ahead, 97-87.
As it was, in the fourth quarter, Jordan scored only four points, the prime factor in Washington's 33-16 edge. Another factor: the Bullets had one turnover and the Bulls five in the final period. For the game, Washington had nine, Chicago 22.
Given the outcome, there was little surprise in the Bullets' magnanimous praise of Jordan. "He's supposed to get every great thing that's said about him," said Bullets guard Dudley Bradley. "It's great for the league. In a sense, he's keeping us employed. But the thing is, we won the game."