The Washington Bullets finally found the balance of fast break and set offense they had sought for so long and, as a result, emerged with a workmanlike 115-106 victory last night over the Chicago Bulls at Capital Centre, their third straight win.
In improving to 6-8, the Bullets relied on balanced scoring and some intense defense late in the game. Jeff Ruland led Washington with 27 points, Jeff Malone had 26 and Gus Williams 25.
Chicago's Quintin Dailey scored 27 points and Orlando Woolridge 26, but those totals included only 10 and seven, respectively, in the second half.
Washington, which scored 20 fast-break points in the first three quarters, executed so well in the final period that its last 13 field goals were layups.
The Bullets controlled the boards, 40-27, and had a staggering 30 assists, many of them long outlet passes to a streaking teammate, usually Williams.
"I think Gus has put two very good games together -- we had a strong offensive game," said Washington Coach Gene Shue. "We knew that they wouldn't get back on defense and that we could score on them. I was afraid that we would be outscored."
That fear came to pass in the first half of the game. Working almost entirely from a one-on-one offense, both Woolridge and Dailey consistently scorched the Bullets. They combined for 36 points, two-thirds of Chicago's total, as the visitors took a 54-53 halftime lead.
"Woolridge did whatever he wanted to do and Dailey was doing whatever he wanted to do," said Shue. "Fortunately, (George) Gervin wasn't able to do whatever he wanted to do.
"You can only try to make a guy take tough shots," said Dan Roundfield. "We were doing that to them, but they were making them anyway. That's when you really get frustrated."
There were a lot of frustration on the court today. There was a rarely called double foul, five technical fouls and at least twice as many icy glares among the participants. By the fourth quarter, however, the Bullets had begun to vent their collective frustration by dominating Chicago.
The first of their 13 consecutive layups was by Malone, giving Washington an 86-84 lead with 9:10 to play in the game. In the next four minutes, the Bullets scored six more to take a 99-92 lead.
But what appeared to be total control by the Bullets began to unravel in a few horrifying moments. Washington led, 108-101, with 1:06 to play when Dailey was called for an intentional breakaway foul against Williams. The Washington guard hit the first of two free throws and Washington was given the ball out of bounds.
Fourteen seconds later, however, Chicago's John Paxson stole the basketball from Darren Daye. Hot in pursuit close to the basket, the Bullets' forward knocked the ball away but also rammed Paxson into the basket support.
As his player writhed on the floor in pain, Chicago Coach Stan Albeck went wild and was given a pair of technicals and ejected. Paxson was taken to a nearby medical center, where his injury was diagnosed as a severely sprained left wrist. X-rays were inconclusive and will be retaken Monday. But Albeck had no doubts after the game.
"I saw how the bone was hanging. I'm sure it's broken," he said. "I couldn't believe it wasn't a flagrant foul call, or at least a breakaway. Which one was more flagrant, that one or the one they did call against Quintin?"
Daye said he meant no harm.
"We had the game in hand. Why would I try to hurt the man?" he asked. "It was a situation where the guy was driving for the basket. You want to make a play, maybe send him to the line. But I didn't try to trip him up. I was going for the ball."
Malone made one of the two technicals called against Albeck to put Washington in front, 110-101. At that point Shue had to choose a player from the Bulls' bench to shoot the two free throws for the injured Paxson. The coach selected center Jawann Oldham, shooting 45 percent from the line entering the game.
Oldham, who hadn't played for the previous seven minutes, made both shots and stole a pass five seconds later. With 40 seconds to play, Dailey added two free throws and suddenly the score was 110-105. "I guess picking Oldham was good coaching strategy on my part," Shue said wryly.
Two seconds after Dailey's points, Daye was fouled and made two free throws to effectively clinch it.
"We just couldn't execute or get our shots at the end," said Woolridge. "They got a lot of good shots and controlled the boards and that's the name of the game in the fourth quarter."