Playing their best all-around game of a six-game road trip, the Washington Bullets beat the San Antonio Spurs, 105-104, at Hemisfair Arena tonight on a three-point field goal by guard Dudley Bradley with six seconds to play.
The victory ended the Bullets' three-game losing streak and an eight-game loss string away from Capital Centre.
In addition, balanced scoring helped the Bullets (29-27) avoid falling to the .500 mark for the first time since Nov. 13.
According to Coach Gene Shue, there was no question in his mind that the Bullets would go for a game-winning three-point shot in the final 13 seconds.
But just how it came that Bradley would be the man to take -- and make -- the shot is another story.
According to Shue, the idea was to take the ball out of bounds at the end line, allowing enough room for Gus Williams to penetrate and perhaps kick the ball out to Greg Ballard or Tom McMillen for the shot.
But the Spurs spoiled that strategy almost immediately, double-teaming Williams. The move left Bradley wide open, however, and after dribbling a few steps, he let fly from the right side of the floor for the basket.
"I didn't expect things to break down like that," Bradley said. "But as long as the shot falls, I'll take that situation any day of the week."
To hear Shue tell it, though, the basket was just the last step in an overall master plan. "You know me, we were definitely going for the win," he said. "In the timeout before we went back out on the floor, I asked Dudley what side of the court he liked to shoot on. He said the right side, so that's where we had him positioned."
Given the nature of the Bullets' fortunes in the initial three games of their road trip, that the ball didn't spin around and fall out of the basket was a mild surprise.
In fact, just 19 seconds earlier, with the score 103-102 in favor of the Spurs, the team had run the same play. But Ballard (23 points on 10-of-14 shooting from the field) missed the wide-open jumper, causing Shue to drop-kick a chair on the bench away and jump up and down in disgust.
After Bradley's shot was made, there was still the matter of playing defense in the final six seconds of the game. Guard Johnny Moore of the Spurs penetrated the middle, but instead of feeding, say, George Gervin, the game's high scorer with 31 points, he was only able to pass off to Marc Iavaroni deep in the right corner. Iavaroni, in turn, shot an air ball that Rick Mahorn rebounded at the buzzer.
"I knew that being on the court it was possible that I'd get the ball," said Iavaroni. "I had been struggling during the game but in a situation like that you have to feel like you can hit the shot." Tonight, however, he missed all seven shots from the floor.
Bradley's was just the last in a night of strong performances for Washington, his effort being no greater than that of Ballard, or perhaps Cliff Robinson, who entered the game when Mahorn and McMillen got into early foul trouble and scored 17 points and got 12 rebounds.
Williams also scored 21 points, but the biggest lift of the game was provided by forward Charles Jones. Jones got his opportunity when Robinson also picked up some quick fouls. In a 15-minute stint, Jones, whose 10-day contract is due to expire shortly, scored six points, got four rebounds and blocked three shots.
"Charles did a very nice job," said Shue. "I'm very glad we picked him up. He definitely earned some more playing time."
The collective effort by the Bullets just barely overcame the offensive show by Gervin. Held to six points and without a field goal in Washington's 125-106 victory over the Spurs on Nov. 14, the Iceman paid back the visitors with a dazzling array of finger rolls and bank shots.
Yet, in the final 13 seconds of play, he let Washington off the hook by missing the first of two free throws that could have put the Spurs ahead by three. It was after he made the second shot that Washington called timeout to set up the last play.
That Nov. 14 date is also significant in that it gave the Bullets an overall record of 6-5, one game over the .500 mark. Had Washington not given the Spurs just their seventh loss in 28 games here, they would have fallen back to the break-even point.
"This should make the guys feel good about themselves," Ballard said. "Some of us were down after playing well but losing to Portland and Golden State. Now we're up attitude-wise and, hopefully, that will carry over to the next game."