The Washington Bullets wrote a happy new ending to a sad old story against the Atlanta Hawks Friday night at Capital Centre.
After watching a 15-point lead dissipate to seven by halftime and to one after three quarters, then falling behind by six points with just 4:37 to play, the Bullets -- who often have succumbed under similar circumstances -- rallied for a 111-109 victory to even their record at 14-14 before 8,176.
Besides the win, there were a number of strange, improbable sights. Atlanta's Dominique Wilkins, the NBA's third-leading scorer entering the contest, had a game-high 35 points, but the league's slam dunk king misfired on a pair of his specialties. At the other end of the floor, Darren Daye, the Bullets' version of the Unknown, or at least the Unused Soldier, was freed from the Washington bench, where he had spent every minute of the past 10 games, and scored seven points in 12 minutes.
"I really didn't expect to go in there and perform great," Daye said. "I did think that I played pretty good defense."
On that score, he was joined by the rest of his teammates. The Bullets scored the first five points of the fourth quarter, each generated by the quick defensive hands of Dudley Bradley. However, the team then went cold, as the Hawks went on a 21-5 tear over the next seven minutes.
A pretty, spinning move by Wilkins capped the run and put the visitors in front, 101-95, with 4:37 to play. From that point, depending upon who is doing the speaking, either the Bullets got tough, or the Hawks just got going in the opposite direction.
"Under the pressure of the game the players really responded," said Washington Coach Gene Shue. "We hit the shots when we had to. There were a lot of free throws made down the stretch, and that's not the easiest thing to do sometimes, standing there and hitting those shots."
In those last four-plus minutes, the Bullets were 10 for 12 from the line, with all but four of the shots being made by guard Frank Johnson, who finished with 20 points and seven assists. The high scorer for Washington was backcourt mate Jeff Malone, who made 13 of 21 field goal attempts and finished with 31 points.
"We played really good defense down the stretch," said Malone. "We shut them down when we had to. We had to stop them, not trade baskets with them, and we did that."
From the 4:37 mark, the Bullets went on a run of 11 straight points to regain the lead, if not control of the game. Atlanta Coach Mike Fratello, although acknowledging the Bullets' defense, felt his squad contributed to its own demise.
"From the time they started that run, they made a couple of great plays, like forcing us into a 24-second violation," he said. "But we took one terrible shot on the baseline, had a fast break with two guards and a forward in front but a seven-footer dribbling the ball, and then we foul Frank Johnson with seven seconds left on the 24-second clock. We just don't do things like that here."
And yet there they were. A bad pass by Wilkins led to a steal by Dan Roundfield and a layup by Malone to give the Bullets the lead at 102-101 with 2:32 to play. Less than a minute later came the ill-advised fast break to which Fratello had referred, with center Tree Rollins throwing the ball away. Thirteen seconds after that, Malone was putting in a short jumper to extend the lead.
But the Hawks' lapses were just in keeping with the night's other oddities, and the Bullets weren't about to give the victory back.
"We're just tickled to death to win," said Shue. "I wish we had a team soon where we'd be in control of a game, but we're struggling again.
"When a team is in control, the other team can make a run and then you just burst by them. We're not capable of doing that right now."
Washington played without Gus Williams and Kenny Green, who were sidelined with the flu. Cliff Robinson scored 19 points and Roundfield 16 for the Bullets.
Freeman Williams, playing his first game for the Bullets after signing a 10-day contract, played seven minutes and scored four points.
One who apparently feels that he is capable of rising to that level is Malone, who had averaged 23 points over the last 22 games before last night and has gotten to the point where his offensive capabilities are almost taken for granted.
"I'm feeling real good right now," he said. "I feel like I can go out and get 20 to 25 points every night without really worrying about it. It's a funny feeling, but that's just the flow I'm in now." Cavaliers 119, Pistons 105
World B. Free scored 29 points and Roy Hinson 22 as Cleveland won in Pontiac, Mich.
Detroit dropped its third straight and 10th in its last 13 games, falling under .500 (15-16) for the first time this season.
Mel Turpin scored 17 points for the Cavaliers. Isiah Thomas led Detroit with 21. Trail Blazers 142, Mavericks 133
Jim Paxson scored 29 points as Portland won in overtime in Dallas for its fourth straight victory.
Kiki Vandeweghe led Portland with 30 points and Sam Perkins led Dallas with 26. SuperSonics 114, Warriors 102
Gerald Henderson scored a season-high 24 points and had 11 assists in Seattle as the SuperSonics beat Golden State to end a four-game losing streak.
The Warriors, who got 20 points from Purvis Short, have lost 12 straight on the road and are 1-15 away from home this season.