On any level, much of basketball's beauty comes from five players working together. Tonight at the Coliseum, however, the Washington Bullets won their second consecutive game, beating the Cleveland Cavaliers, 97-90, with a different twist.
Throughout the game, the Bullets looked to individuals, with the finished product being a victory for the whole. On offense, the team almost exclusively ran one-on-one and two-on-two isolation plays, with the ballhandler either scoring or passing to an open teammate when double-teamed.
Dan Roundfield and Gus Williams each scored 17 points for the Bullets, 13 of Roundfield's points coming in the third period. Jeff Malone and Jeff Ruland each had 14 points and the team also got a lift from first-round draft choice Kenny Green's 12 points in his NBA debut.
Green, in fact, played a key role in the game. Washington trailed, 14-5, early in the opening quarter when Coach Gene Shue yanked Williams, Malone and Charles Jones, replacing them with Green, Darren Daye and Perry Moss. The Cavaliers quickly increased their lead to 17-5 with 6:21 to play, but from then until the end of the period, Washington went on a 21-5 tear.
"We were getting killed off the boards," said Shue. "That group got us back into the game."
Daye and Green each scored six points during the run. Green's points were especially significant because, coming from the guard position, they helped counteract a torrid start by Cleveland's high-scoring guard, World B. Free.
Free, who finished as the game's high scorer (24 points), had nine by the time Green got into the game. Almost immediately, Washington began running isolations for Green on the low post, causing Free to use more energy at the defensive end of the floor.
"It was really simple, I just went out there and played," said Green, who was the only Washington player not to play in the team's 100-91 opening night victory over Atlanta. "Coach Shue came to me before the game and said we'd run some plays for me. I'm just happy that I could help us win. It'll be easier to practice tomorrow."
Entering the third quarter with a 49-46 lead, the Bullets extended it to 16 points, mainly because of Roundfield. The 10-year veteran dominated the action at both ends of the floor.
"I don't think it was any breakdown by them. I just got some baskets," he said. "You're out there playing and something starts to click. I got a tip-in, hit a jumper, nothing really special."
Every bit was needed, though, to head off a rush at the finish by the Cavaliers. The home team was down, 77-59, with 11 minutes remaining but closed to 93-89 with 57 seconds to play.
Cleveland Coach George Karl felt the comeback was the truer indicator of his ballclub, which has lost all three of its games this season.
"We need to win a game, to get the monkey off our back," Free said.
"When you're losing, everybody can pinpoint somebody or the coaches (as the problem). We don't want to do that. Once we get a victory under our belts, we'll feel a lot better."
"We still have to realize that a game lasts for 48 minutes, that every possession has its value," said Karl. "There were too many times tonight that, for whatever reason, we just got outworked."
When it wasn't Green that was doing the work, it was Ruland. The center passed for nine assists for the second consecutive game, four of them in the fourth quarter.
"We just played great defense," he said. "Anytime you hold someone to 90 points you have to be playing great.
"On offense, we're moving the ball around and getting balanced scoring, you can't ask for more than that."
Not to be forgotten in the victory was Manute Bol. The 7-foot-7 rookie center scored his first NBA basket tonight. The points came on a slam dunk of a miss by Moss. There was also a sequence in which Bol blocked a shot then hustled down to the other end of the floor to throw in another jam.
"I feel like I can play in the NBA," Bol said. "I've made it right now. But I've still got a lot to learn."
He finished with six points, two rebounds and the block, giving credence to some postgame words from Roundfield:
"We're going to win as a team or lose as a team and winning feels much better."