How ironic that after struggling in back-to-back games to execute offensively against the New York Knicks, one of the poorest teams in the NBA, the Washington Bullets should find their game while playing against the best in the business. Combining precision patterns with outstanding individual play from Darren Daye, Cliff Robinson, Jeff Malone and Gus Williams, the Bullets defeated the Boston Celtics, 110-108, in overtime before a sellout of 19,135 at Capital Centre.
In improving to 31-33 and closing to within a half game of the third-place New Jersey Nets in the Atlantic Division, Washington overcame a dominant performance by the Celtics' front line last night.
Despite the absence of super-sub center Bill Walton, who suffered the 13th broken nose of his career late in the second quarter, the Boston starting front line -- forwards Kevin McHale (33 points) and Larry Bird (24) and center Robert Parish (16) -- scored all but nine of the visitors' 46 points after halftime. In addition, Parish grabbed 25 rebounds.
However, all of that wasn't enough to overcome a three-point field goal by Williams with five seconds remaining in the overtime. The long-distance basket from the left side of the floor broke a 107-107 tie and gave the guard a team-high 24 points. The shot was made possible by a great hustle play by forward Robinson, who scored 22 points.
Kevin McKenna was working around the perimeter with less than 30 seconds to play in overtime, and the ball found its way into his hands just outside the top of the key. His shot rattled down into the basket but wormed its way out again. The miss was batted around and seemed to be headed out of bounds off of one of the Bullets, but Robinson, flinging himself over the end line, whipped the ball back into McKenna's hands.
He quickly shuttled it to Williams, who barely hesitated before drilling the winning basket.
"It was really just a busted play, but Cliff made a great play and got it to Kevin," said Williams. "I knew there were only five or six seconds left so I decided to take a chance. It went in but it's not a shot that you hit every day."
There were a number of unusual occurrences in the game. In stopping an eight-game winning streak by the Celtics, the Bullets also accounted for only the 12th loss by the squad with the NBA's best record: a still-glittering 50-12. The win also was Washington's first over the Celtics since November 1984 and ended a string of nine losses to them.
"That was such, it was just so, the best . . . out of any victory this year, that was definitely the sweetest," said an obviously elated Robinson, who also had 10 rebounds and seven assists. "Boston is just so good."
The best of the Celtics is Bird. Tonight, though, the two-time league MVP missed 20 of 30 shots and was in the almost-unheard-of position of being the late-game victim rather than victor.
Throughout the game, when the Bullets isolated a player one-on-one on offense, often times they were going against Bird. In the first half, Daye scored 13 of his 20 points in such fashion and in the closing minutes of the game it was forward Dan Roundfield who made Bird pay.
Trailing, 103-101, with 2:07 left in overtime, Roundfield hit a turnaround jumper over Bird. With 45 seconds to play, the scene was repeated, this time giving Washington a 107-105 lead that was a prelude to the last-second heroics.
"It's hard when they keep calling plays for him and then he gets to rest on defense," said Daye. "That way you're just getting it but not able to give anything back."
Said Roundfield: "The thing is, you have to make him guard someone so he can't help out the other players and you always know where he is."
In the opinion of Bird, getting burned by Roundfield was the least of several possible evils.
"I just didn't put enough pressure on him," said Bird. "But if we were going to lose, I wanted him to be the one to beat us rather than Gus penetrating or Malone hitting a jumper or Daye going one-on-one."
On defense, Washington succeeded by almost making the Celtics play one-on-one rather than using their whippet-like ball movement and rotation. Although McHale, who was guarded by Manute Bol, got those 33 points, the rookie center blocked eight shots. Parish, guarded by Robinson, had 16 points to accompany the highest rebound total in the NBA this season.
In the back court, though, Boston's triumvirate of Dennis Johnson, Danny Ainge and Jerry Sichting, which entered the game averaging nearly 38 points, totaled only 21.
"The team really did an outstanding job," said Bullets Coach Gene Shue. "Having Manute play McHale one-on-one and Cliff on Parish was effective for us because we didn't get beat by Ainge or Sichting. Usually when you drop down to double-team their big people, they pass back out and those guys just hit from the outside." Hawks 111, Bucks 109
In Atlanta, Glenn Rivers hit a 17-foot jumper with two seconds left to lift Atlanta to its fifth straight victory.
Paul Pressey's second three-point shot in 20 seconds gave the Bucks a tie with six seconds left before Rivers banked in his game-winner. Pressey had 30 points.
Foul trouble kept Rivers on the bench for much of the game, but reserve John Battle scored 22. Rockets 126, Spurs 117
Ralph Sampson scored 27 points -- 13 in the fourth quarter -- and had 16 rebounds to rally Houston to the home victory over San Antonio.
Houston was ahead, 91-90, going into the fourth quarter, but Sampson led a Houston charge that put the Rockets in control of the game by midway through the quarter.
San Antonio hit 19 of 20 shots from the field in the first quarter, missing for the first time 7:06 into the game. Mike Mitchell led the first-quarter shooting exhibition with 18 points as the Spurs led, 46-27, going into the second period. Trail Blazers 104, Jazz 90
Kiki Vandeweghe scored the 10,000th point of his NBA career as Portland, at home, won its fourth straight. Vandeweghe finished with 29 points.
The Jazz played without starting center Mark Beaton (sprained left ankle) and all-star forward Adrian Dantley, sent home earlier in the day for disciplinary reasons, according to Coach Frank Layden. Layden said he would not speak publicly about Dantley's situation until Monday. Warriors 138, Cavaliers 128
Terry Teagle and reserve forward Peter Verhoeven led a third-quarter rally as Golden State won at home.
Teagle scored six points and Verhoeven four as the Warriors stretched an 87-80 lead to 100-86 in the final 2:49 of the period. Teagle had 11 of his 18 points in the quarter.
Verhoeven scored a season-high 16 points and had eight rebounds in 13 minutes of play. The Warriors were led by Purvis Short's 39 points.
Cleveland's World B. Free (36 points) became the 27th player in NBA history to reach the 17,000-point plateau.