It was only fitting that the Bullets' 111-109 overtime loss to the Detroit Pistons last night at Capital Centre was Washington's final game before the midseason all-star break because it was a perfect microcosm of the team's play during the first half of the 1985-86 season.
Missed shots, missed free throws -- missed opportunities, in general -- abounded in the game, which was played before 7,197. Throughout the game, Washington was in position to come away with its 24th win of the season and move to within a game of the .500 mark. Instead, there was only a fifth consecutive loss and more than a few "What ifs?" and "Why nots?".
The Pistons were led by Joe Dumars and Kelly Tripucka, with 19 points each. The game's high scorer was Bullets guard Jeff Malone, who had 33 points before fouling out with 2:34 to play in regulation. Cliff Robinson added 25 points for Washington.
If basketball is, indeed, a team game, there was plenty of blame to go around for the Bullets. For example, there were the 10 free throws missed by Washington in 22 attempts over the last 6:48 of the fourth quarter. Those were accompanied by three turnovers in the final 1 1/2 minutes, as well as several ill-advised shots and passes.
"We really played a very good game," said Washington Coach Gene Shue. "It was those turnovers and mistakes down the stretch that killed us. That really hurt us. That, as far as I'm concerned, is what lost us the game. Period."
But somehow it didn't seem that cut and dried in watching what was a 96-87 lead with 3:19 to play in the fourth period slip away. That margin was built on some fine play by Darren Daye and Dudley Bradley, who excelled after the Pistons had overcome an early Washington lead and threatened to take control of the game.
However, things began to change in the final minutes and Shue appeared unwilling to adapt to what was transpiring on the court.
On the one hand, the move to Bradley was a great answer to an early hot hand by Dumars, which came mainly at the expense of Gus Williams. However, after Malone had fouled out, Willaims was nowhere to be seen with the game on the line, having played but eight minutes in the game.
Bradley's defense remained constant but the guard, who is just a 47 percent shooter from the free-throw line, missed two of four free throws in the last minute of regulation.
Then there was Robinson. The forward scored 21 of his points in the first three quarters but was then placed on the bench for the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. Again, it was an either/or situation. Daye had been playing well offensively for the Bullets, but turned the ball over twice in the last 1:23 of regulation.
Then again, hindsight vision is always going to be 20/20 and, as far as Shue was concerned, nothing was wrong with either his eyes or his choices.
"Gus has not been shooting well and tonight his defense wasn't good," said Shue. "We were just getting beat when he was in. The other lineup was working so I stayed with it. There is nothing I would have changed as far as that's concerned."
Detroit Coach Chuck Daly, however, saw an opportunity for his team against the group of Dan Roundfield, Manute Bol, Daye, Wood and Bradley. First, he inserted three guards -- Isiah Thomas, Dumars and Vinnie Johnson -- into the game with five minutes to play and began to press, throwing the game into an almost chaotic situation.
Then, still trailing, 96-89, with 2:57 to play, he instructed his players to make a number of strategic fouls. Three times, the Pistons fouled Bol, a 46 percent free throw shooter entering the game. Manute missed five of the six attempts.
With Bradley missing two of his four shots along with Daye's two miscues and another by Wood, Detroit positioned itself for the overtime and eventually the victory. Two baskets by Johnson made the score 101-100 with 42 seconds left.
Roundfield (16 points, 10 rebounds) hit a pair of free throws for the Bullets with 18 seconds to play. Four seconds after taking a timeout, however, Detroit tied the game on a three-point shot by Dumars.
Now it was Washington's turn to set up a last-second play, but whatever was planned failed miserably. First, Wood brought the ball up the floor at an almost excessively deliberate pace and was then forced to scramble to get off a shot at the basket. The attempt was blocked by Thomas but the ball went right into the hands of Roundfield, who missed an open jumper just as the buzzer sounded.
In overtime, the Bullets scored the first six points and took a 109-103 lead. Four of the points were by Robinson, but a jumper and free throw by Tripucka cut the lead in half.
But then an air ball by Dudley Bradley was turned into a layup by Dumars after a length-of-the-floor pass, making the score 109-108 with 1:27 to play.
Following another Washington miss, Isiah Thomas found Earl Cureton underneath the basket for a stuff that gave the visitors the lead for good.
On the Bullets' subsequent possession, Wood missed a jumper, as did Robinson after an offensive rebound. Bill Laimbeer gathered the second miss and was fouled by Daye with three seconds left.
"I really thought we had it won, but the mistakes down the stretch killed us," said Shue. "This is a really hard loss because we wanted this game badly." 76ers 111, Cavaliers 103
Charles Barkley scored 14 of his 23 points in the fourth quarter to help Philadelphia win in Richfield, Ohio. The victory ended a three-game road losing streak for the 76ers and was only their third victory in their last seven games. Cleveland lost its eighth straight.
The 76ers led, 49-45, at the half and expanded that to 77-70 entering the final period. Barkley scored Philadelphia's first eight points of the fourth quarter as the 76ers made it 85-74. Bucks 117, Bulls 97
Ricky Pierce scored 18 points to lead a balanced offense that overpowered Chicago in Milwaukee. The Bucks had six players in double figures, including Sidney Moncrief, who scored 14 of his 17 points in the first half. He sat out the fourth quarter.
Randy Breuer's three-point play with 7:29 left in the first quarter gave the Bucks a 14-11 edge. Milwaukee never trailed again, leading 37-27 at the end of the quarter and 69-50 at halftime. Hawks 100, Pacers 86
Dominique Wilkins scored 32 points to help visiting Atlanta end Indiana's four-game winning streak. The Hawks led almost the entire way, building their advantage to 20 points in the third quarter. Led by Wilkins, the Hawks kept the margin between 11 and 19 points in the fourth quarter. Nuggets 100, Spurs 95
Alex English scored 23 points as Denver, playing at home, beat injury-plagued San Antonio. San Antonio, which had learned that starting guard Wes Matthews may be lost for the season with a kidney problem, played with just eight healthy players. Jazz 119, Knicks 101
In Salt Lake City, Adrian Dantley scored 20 of his 36 points in the third period to lead Utah over New York. Thurl Bailey had 24 points and Karl Malone 19 as Utah took the lead early in the second quarter and breezed to victory. Suns 116, Clippers 104
Larry Nance scored 29 points and Walter Davis 20 as host Phoenix held on to beat Los Angeles. The Clippers, down by 20 early in the third period, used eight points by Marques Johnson and six by Cedric Maxwell to cut the deficit to 88-81 entering the fourth quarter. Mavericks 115, Trail Blazers 111
In Portland, Mark Aguirre scored 29 points and Rolando Blackmon 19, nine in the fourth quarter, for Dallas.
Portland moved close after trimming a 15-point third-quarter Dallas lead. However, Blackmon and strong free-throw shooting allowed the Mavericks to prevail.
Dallas made 25 of 32 free throws while the Trail Blazers were just 10 for 14.
Derek Harper and Sam Perkins each had 20 points for Dallas, which has won six of its last seven. Kiki Vandeweghe scored 22 points for Portland, which has lost five of its last six.