Despite being weakened by a bout with the flu that had sidelined him for the previous three games, Gus Williams scored a season-high 32 points and had 12 assists in a virtuoso 40-minute performance to lead the Washington Bullets to a 115-109 victory over the New York Knicks tonight at Madison Square Garden.
But by no means was Williams alone in his excellence. Back-court mate Jeff Malone tied his season-high with 37 points, and Cliff Robinson fell just a point short of his, scoring 28 to go along with a team-high 13 rebounds. The forward added a career-high 10 assists to complete the first triple double of his career. Together, Williams, Robinson and Malone accounted for 97 of the Bullets' 115 points.
"We just had a good flow all night long," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue of his team, 16-15 and a winner of four straight games on the road. "I just love it when players come out and put everything aside and just play hard, and that's what we did tonight. I yell and scream at them a lot when they don't play well, but I definitely want everyone to know how proud I am of the job they've been doing."
So dominant was the Washington threesome that only two other teammates -- Tom McMillen with 14 points and Dan Roundfield with four -- scored. Then again, there weren't that many members of the team available. Besides missing Jeff Ruland and Frank Johnson, who are out with injuries, the Bullets also were without Kenny Green and Darren Daye, who stayed in Washington with the flu. Newcomer Ennis Whatley has practiced with the team only once and didn't play tonight.
Not that he was really needed on this occasion. Williams, who, in his estimation, was only able to practice about 10 minutes on Wednesday, conducted a virtual clinic on beating the press. Whether dribbling through what seemed like the entire Knicks team or darting and streaking to the basket time after time, Williams seemed anything but tired and drained.
"I just tried to go all out," he said. "In the second half, I felt much better physically and got my second wind. It was just a matter of us getting together and giving each other a pat on the back and doing what we had to do with the guys we had."
Tonight's win was even more improbable, considering two factors: the team's lackluster effort in Monday night's 97-80 loss to the Indiana Pacers and the Knicks' defense. Since New York gives up an average of only 96 points per game, the best in the NBA, you might expect its trapping, grinding defense to engulf the visitors.
But that was far from the case. The Knicks took a 20-14 lead with 5:07 to play in the first quarter, but that lead evaporated in a 9-2 Washington run over the remainder of the period. After that, the Bullets led by as many as 19 points and never allowed New York to get closer than six.
The Bullets did more than just outscore the Knicks; they frustrated them. At the end of the third quarter, for example, Williams connected on a three-pointer to stifle a mini-run by the Knicks. Early in the fourth quarter, Malone scored on a jumper just before the 24-second clock expired.
What made the play even more damaging was the fact that just before shooting, Malone pump-faked with the basketball, drawing the Knicks' Patrick Ewing (11 points) up into the air and then down upon teammate Darrell Walker. As the two crashed to the floor in a heap, they could only look at each other, with Ewing -- playing his first game after missing three with a knee injury -- smiling in bemusement.
"It just destroyed us," said Walker. "It's tough to try and come back. You make some progress and you see a guy hit a 20-footer. It's tough."
New York Coach Hubie Brown added that the Bullets made a lot of difficult shots. "They needed that, so you have to give them credit. They've got guys who've been there before, and they score and score big."
The Bullets have no time to savor the win, as they face the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday night at Capital Centre. Center Manute Bol, who blocked seven shots tonight, will be on the court despite becoming the most recent flu victim.
Not that the Bullets are complaining about their misfortune.
"That's life in the NBA. There are no excuses," said Williams. "We went through this last year and did well, and right now it feels like a case of deja vu."
Team physician Steve Haas removed the cast on Ruland's broken right ankle today. Ruland, who sustained a chip fracture and a severe ankle sprain Dec. 11, is scheduled to begin motion and strength therapy on the ankle and may return to action in about three weeks. Celtics 122, Pacers 104: Dennis Johnson had 29 points to lead Boston at Indiana. Steve Stipanovich pulled the Pacers within 94-90 on a jumper with 5:04 left in the game, but Boston outscored them, 19-10, down the stretch. Bulls 131, Pistons 122: Quintin Dailey scored 14 of his 26 points in the final seven minutes and Orlando Woolridge scored 12 of his 26 points in the final quarter to lead Chicago over visiting Detroit. Rockets 120, Warriors 115: John Lucas scored six points in the final minute as Houston won at Golden State. Lucas led Houston with 27 points and 10 assists. Kings 114, Spurs 106: Mike Bratz scored a season-high 10 points to help Sacramento defeat visiting San Antonio.