Out of necessity, the Washington Bullets unveiled 7-foot-7 rookie Manute Bol as their starting center last night, and the National Basketball Association may never again be the same.
Cliff Robinson's 18-foot jump shot from the right side with one second to play provided the Bullets with a 110-108 overtime victory over the Milwaukee Bucks at Capital Centre.
But the Bucks and a sparse crowd of 4,643 will forget Robinson's shot. They will forget Frank Johnson's perfect pass to set it up. And they will forget that Robinson, Dan Roundfield and Jeff Malone each scored 21 points to help overcome Jeff Ruland's absence long before they forget the way Bol helped the Bullets give new meaning to the phrase "tight defense."
In 48 minutes, Bol scored 18 points, blocked 12 shots and had nine rebounds -- all career highs for the 204-pound Dinka tribesman from the Sudan. "That was the most dominating performance by one player I've seen this season," said Milwaukee Coach Don Nelson.
Without Ruland, who is out six weeks with a chip fracture of his right ankle, Coach Gene Shue tried to keep the offense simple and the defense tight. "We told our players just to get all over your guy," Shue said. "If a player wants to drive, who cares? Manute will be back there."
So it was in the Bullets' fourth straight victory and ninth in the past 12 games. Bol is averaging 3.19 blocked shots per game, third best in the league, while averaging only 14 minutes playing time. He had seven blocked shots in the first 9 1/2 minutes last night and a Bullets record 11 by halftime, threatening the NBA record of 17, set by Elmore Smith in 1973.
Nelson got to know Bol this summer, and when the teams came back on the floor for the second half, the Bucks coach told him, "You're not going to set the record against me."
The Bucks got 35 more shots than the Bullets, but made only 37 percent of them. Shooting mainly from outside, Craig Hodges had a career-high 29 points, including a three-point goal that tied the game at 108 with eight seconds to play, and Paul Pressey had 26.
But forward Terry Cummings, the Bucks' second-leading scorer, missed 21 of 25 shots, including a rushed attempt from the outside near the end of regulation that provoked Nelson somewhat.
"He made us make quite a few adjustments in our shots," Cummings said of Bol. "A few of those shots, I guess, weren't even close, and you can blame him."
Said center Alton Lister, "The sky is the limit for him. He's just great on defense, just incredible."
Coming into the game, Bol had made only two of 17 free throws, and Nelson told Bol he would have the Bucks foul him if the game was close. That happened in the fourth quarter, but hardly perturbed Bol. He missed his first four, but made eight of his last 10, and the Bucks stopped fouling him after he made six in a row.
"When I missed four in a row, I was mad at myself," Bol said. "At halftime, Frank Johnson told me to shoot some foul shots. They thought I wasn't going to make them. But I took my time. I make them three times, and they stopped because they knew I'd make them."
Bol was dominant from the first possession of the game, when he got an offensive rebound and an assist, to the last, when he pressured Pressey's inbounds pass from midcourt and forced him to throw the ball away. Bol's 10-foot-3 reach could not be overcome.
Only one possession previously, the Bullets had held a 108-105 lead with 10 seconds to play, and the Bucks had possession at midcourt. Shue used Roundfield to pressure Pressey's inbounds pass. But Pressey was able get the ball to Hodges, who made a three-point shot from beyond the key.
The Bullets called time out, getting possession at midcourt. Johnson, starting his third straight game because Gus Williams had flu, penetrated past a screen by Tom McMillen.
Johnson said assistant coach Fred Carter had told him to look to pass off, not shoot inside. Robinson, cognizant of this, sagged outside instead of going toward the basket: "I popped out, and he made a good pass." It completed a game for Robinson in which he also had 14 rebounds, eight assists and four steals.
The Bullets had a 100-95 lead with 1:51 left in regulation, but failed to score on their final four possessions, getting three shots on the last one. Much of the problem was due to confusion over where Bol should be stationed on isolation and post-up plays for Roundfield and Robinson.
Baskets by Hodges and Pressey and a free throw by Pressey with 52 seconds left in regulation tied the score at 100. The Bullets missed 10 of 25 free throws in the final quarter, including two by Johnson with 33 seconds to play and three by Robinson in the final five minutes.
"There was so much pressure after Manute made (six in a row) that Cliff and I went up there and banged it," Johnson said.
Going into last night's game, Bol had played just 250 minutes. But he said he wasn't tired afterward. "I played 48 minutes every night in the USBL," he said. "I wasn't tired. They don't take the ball inside."