There was much more than a shoulder-full of pain for the Washington Bullets last night at Capital Centre as they lost to the Milwaukee Bucks, 107-96, to fall under .500 for the first time since the ninth game of the season, Nov. 10.
This was full-court misery, especially in a stone-cold fourth quarter that saw the Bullets shoot 28.6 percent and fall from an 86-86 tie to a 99-87 deficit in only 3 1/2 minutes.
As center Jeff Ruland watched from the bench, his strained right shoulder still hurting too much to allow him to play, the Bullets could not keep up with the Bucks' overplaying, jump-switching defense and fell to 35-36 with 11 games to play.
"At one point in the fourth quarter, it was a very close game," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "Then we just fell apart for a very short period. Up until that point, I thought we had a good chance to win."
Now, their chance to break a two-game losing streak will come tonight at Philadelphia.
"And that won't be a cakewalk," said Gus Williams, who scored 27 points, including a spectacular four-point play to end the first half. Terry Cummings had 22 points and Paul Pressey 21 to lead Milwaukee.
But Williams could not do it alone. Shue lamented his "one-man fast break," saying, "That's great when you're at full strength."
But the Bullets aren't. As evidence, let's approach the bench: the Bucks, now 52-21, got 33 points from their reserves, led by Ricky Pierce's 14, all but two coming in the second half. The Bullets' substitutes scored 12 points.
"The bench is playing more in order to get them ready for the playoffs and to give our starters a rest," said Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson. "They are playing very well."
Meanwhile, Shue was left to say, "We looked very sluggish."
The horrid fourth quarter was freshest in his mind. It began with the Bucks holding a two-point lead on Pierce's layup off an inbounds pass as the buzzer sounded to end the third period.
The Bullets, who played catch-up most of the evening, tied the game at 86 on Greg Ballard's three-point play with nine minutes to play. Moments later, Washington called a timeout with Milwaukee leading, 87-86.
After Williams hit one of two free throws a minute later, the Bullets just ran out of steam and didn't score for more than two minutes. In the meantime, Pierce, Pressey and center Alton Lister took turns burying the Bullets in a 12-point binge.
The Bullets also were not picking up on obvious mismatches left by the Bucks' switching, gambling defense.
"They don't care who they end up playing -- they'll have a big guy on a guard . . . We've got to be able to take advantage of that," Shue said.
Last night, they could not.
"The Bucks got the momentum and their defense picked up and went from there," Williams said. "You have to make some adjustments, and we didn't."
As usual, the Bullets were outrebounded, 54-42, including a 31-18 margin in the first half.
The Bullets stayed close in the first half because of the beat-the-clock heroics of Williams, who led all scorers at the half with 17 points.
At the end of the first quarter, the Bullets were behind, 28-24, with one minute remaining when Williams hit a 16-foot jumper. After an offensive foul by Sidney Moncrief, Williams' 20-footer with 16 seconds left tied the game at 28.
The Bullets, plagued by six-for-11 shooting from the foul line in the second period, scored only six points in the first 6 1/2 minutes of the quarter and later fell behind by eight, 48-40, with three minutes to play.
But a Williams drive drew a goaltending call on the Bucks' 7-foot-3 center, Randy Breuer, to cut the margin to 48-44 at 2:11.
Nearing the end of the half, the Bullets fell behind by seven on Breuer's tip-in with six seconds to play. But Williams, dribbling outside the circle, double-pumped when he lost control of the ball over two defenders and launched a one-handed, 30-footer that fell in with two seconds to play.
Fouled by Craig Hodges, Williams converted the four-point play to bring the Bullets back to within 56-53 as the crowd of 5,116 stood and cheered.
The Bullets came back to take two short-lived leads in the third quarter before the Bucks pulled away in the fourth.