Over the past 10 NBA seasons the Washington Bullets had compiled a woeful 5-27 record at the Spectrum, but, if there ever was a time for a victory in this house of horrors, tonight was it.
With forwards Julius Erving and Bobby Jones, and guards Andrew Toney and Sedale Threatt sitting out because of injuries, it was the Bullets -- missing forwards Dan Roundfield and Darren Daye -- who were the healthier team for a change. However, not unlike Washington -- which without Jeff Ruland beat the 76ers at Capital Centre last month -- what was left of the Philadelphia team rallied together and defeated the Bullets, 115-110, in overtime, extending the visitors' losing streak on the road to seven games.
The game wasn't decided until the final five seconds of the extra period. With 1:35 to play, the 76ers' Charles Barkley converted a three-point play -- following his team's third offensive rebound of the possession -- to put Philadelphia ahead, 112-108. But the Bullets, who were led by Ruland's second triple-double of the season (28 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists), came back.
A free throw by Paul Thompson (team-high 24 points) made the score 113-108 in favor of Philadelphia with 52 seconds to play. But Thompson fouled Ruland in the act of scoring with 39 seconds to play. Ruland missed his free throw, but the Bullets still were in a position to tie the score 22 seconds later when Moses Malone was called for traveling.
Bringing the ball down the floor, Washington got the ball to guard Gus Williams. But Williams, on the bench for most of the fourth quarter, missed a three-pointer with five seconds to play. Leon Wood was fouled and the 76ers' guard put the finishing touches on the victory with two free throws.
"That's been our story all season. We just can't catch a break," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "We played really well, well enough to win. But when it came down to it at the end, when we needed a big rebound or to get a loose ball, we didn't."
The Bullets can't seem to adjust to playing away from Capital Centre, where they've won their last six. A victory tonight might have gone a long way in bringing the total picture together.
"I don't know about that, but it would have been a very nice one to win," said Ruland. "On the road you only get so many chances to win. And we definitely had our shots, we just didn't capitalize on them."
There were any number of points at which the game could have turned. With the score tied at 102, the Bullets had the ball with just nine seconds to play in regulation, but couldn't get it inbounds. A pass from Kenny Green, who scored a career-high 20 points, was deflected by Barkley off Jeff Malone and out of bounds.
When the 76ers brought the ball into play, Moses Malone missed a short fadeaway jumper, the result of the presence of Manute Bol (seven rebounds and six blocked shots in 27 minutes).
After a brief scramble, Ruland came up with the ball and forwarded it to Jeff Malone, who only had time to get off an awkward three-point attempt. The shot fell away from the rim at the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.
"You play 48 minutes, so the game doesn't come down to any one play," said Ruland. "We could've very easily won this one, though. That's what makes it frustrating."
The game was very similar to the Bullets' 118-97 rout of the 76ers on Nov. 16. In that game, Ruland didn't play because of a bruised shin and Washington more than survived. That also was the case with the 76ers tonight.
"It's a job. You have to play night in and night out no matter who's out there or not," said Thompson. "If someone's missing you'll play harder. You may not even be thinking about it, but you're trying to make up for that loss."
Initially, Erving, hampered by a sore knee, wasn't going to play. Then it was thought that he would. It wasn't until shortly before game time that a final decision was made.
The Bullets might have been better off concerning themselves with people such as Greg Stokes and Thompson. Stokes, a rookie forward from Iowa, started for Erving and scored 14 points and got seven rebounds.
Thompson, a third-year guard from Tulane, had 12 rebounds, which was only the third best on his team. Moses Malone had 13 and Barkley finished with 18.
"The significant thing is that Manute and Kenny played very well. That's important in terms of the team's future success," said Shue. "The whole team played well tonight. Maybe we're not going to get any sort of breaks at all this season."