The Washington Bullets stepped on the gas last night, coming up with their largest point total of the season, to blow past the normally speedy Detroit Pistons, 133-119, in front of 7,836 at Capital Centre.
The Bullets' previous high this season was 122 on Nov. 12 -- also against the Pistons, but in Detroit.
Jeff Ruland, who kept the Bullets in the game early with 24 first-half points, finished with 29, along with 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Cliff Robinson, who scored 19 points in the third quarter when the Bullets went ahead for good, also finished with 29, a season high.
Jeff Malone, who gave the Bullets their first lead at the beginning of the third quarter, had 22. Kenny Green had 16 points, although 12 were in the fourth quarter, when the Bullets were in control.
Vinnie Johnson was the high scorer for the Pistons with 25 points, and Kelly Tripucka had 24.
"Tonight was fun," Bullets Coach Gene Shue said. "Everybody had their offense rolling. Lots of times we come in here and we've had the offense sputtering. Ruland was sensational, and I think it was his best game of the year. And Robinson was terrific."
But it may have been Shue's decision to go with a trap in the second quarter that turned the tide in favor of the Bullets, who broke a two-game losing streak and improved their record to 7-10. The Pistons were without Isiah Thomas, who stayed home with a hyperextended right knee, and it showed. They didn't go to pieces at the sight of Manute Bol at the back of the trapping defense, but they didn't give a clinic, either.
"The trap was slowing us down," said Johnson, who had 18 points in the first half. "We're not a set-up team as much as they are. We like to go."
The Pistons led by two, 67-65, at the half, but they slowed in the second quarter from their torrid pace of the first. They had hit eight of nine shots at one point, but they missed the mark as the game neared halftime.
"I think the key was when Manute came in in the second period and we started to trap," Shue said. "They only scored 27 points in the second quarter (after scoring 40 in the first). They were just coming in and killing us with the jump shot. They are an offensive team. They come down and shoot it. But they also give up easy points."
True enough. In the third quarter, when they took the lead for good, the Bullets had 12 points off the fast break, and the Pistons had none. For the game, it was 33-16.
"That's how you break a game open," said Ruland, who had his first triple double (points, rebounds, assists) of the year. "Unfortunately, we don't have enough of it around here.
"More important than the points was that we won. The last two times we played them, we played well early, but they had Isiah and came back to win. This time they didn't have Isiah."
Rookie Joe Dumars, from McNeese State, made his first NBA start in place of Thomas. Dumars had an excellent first quarter, directing the Pistons and getting seven assists. Johnson came off the bench and immediately started filling the hoop.
The Pistons led by 40-32 after the first quarter, but with the trap starting to have its effect, the Bullets climbed back in. Ruland made his seventh shot in a row to close the gap -- which reached 11 at one point -- to one at 62-61 with 47 seconds left in the half. Malone and Green scored, but baskets by Johnson and Kent Benson gave Detroit the lead at the half.
The momentum had shifted, though. Malone's three-point play put Washington up at the start of the third and began a string of nine lead changes. The Pistons forged a five-point lead at 89-84 with 4:59 to go in the third quarter, but Ruland and Robinson took over.
Ruland, on a feed from Gus Williams, made it 89-88. Tripucka's jumper made it 91-88, but that would be Detroit's last lead. Ruland responded, again on a feed from Williams, and was fouled. He made the three-point play for a 91-91 tie. Robinson then hit a 15-foot turnaround and the free throw for a 94-91 lead, and Washington was on its merry way