The Washington Bullets broke a 38-year-old National Basketball Association free throw record last night in their first victory of the season -- a 108-101 decision over the New York Knicks at Capital Centre.
The Bullets made 60 of 69 free throws -- including 30 straight at one point -- to break a record set by the Syracuse Nationals in a five-overtime game against Anderson, Ind., Nov. 24, 1949. Boston, in 1954, and Chicago in 1970 held the regulation record of 56.
The Bullets (1-3) made only one field goal in the fourth quarter.
The idea had been for 7-foot-6 center Manute Bol to rejoin the Bullets, block some shots and anchor the defense. The idea had been for forward Bernard King to score a bushel of points against his former teammates. Both plans went badly astray but the team won, anyway.
Heretofore one of the more passive teams in the NBA, the Bullets broke their season-opening, three-game losing streak by suddenly getting physical.
Washington didn't score its first field goal of the fourth quarter until 5:50 remained in the game. In fact, the shot by Jeff Malone provided its only field goal of the quarter (in 13 shots).
"It's remarkable that a team could win a game like that," said forward Mark Alarie, who had a career-high 11 rebounds in the game, played before a crowd of 9,731. John Williams, starting in place of Terry Catledge (jammed neck), also topped his career high with 14 rebounds.
In addition to their record number of free throws, the Bullets' 69 shots from the line set a team mark. The Knicks were just 18 for 30 from the foul line. Washington also set a club record by converting 32 of 36 free throws in the first half.
New York Coach Rick Pitino was ejected with 1:25 remaining in the first half, earning two technical fouls for vigorously protesting the foul situation. But the discrepancy helped the Bullets overcome a subpar performance from King, who scored 14 points but was just three of 18 from the field with 10 turnovers.
Bol, in his first action after missing the opening three games of the year with a sprained left knee, committed three personal fouls in a little more than a minute, limiting his playing time and effectiveness for the remainder of the evening.
Moses Malone led Washington with 30 points (18 of 21 from the line) in the game.
Guard Gerald Wilkins scored 22 points for New York (0-5), which scored more than 100 points for the first time this season. Former Georgetown star Patrick Ewing added 20.
"When you play against this team you have to make your foul shots because you're going to get fouled a lot," said Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery. "They're very aggressive. If you take the ball to the hoop you're not gonna get a layup. You're not going to be able to run set plays; it becomes a scatter-game situation."
Remarkably, given all they had going for them, the Bullets nearly lost the game in the closing minutes. Washington shot only 35 percent from the field and committed 27 turnovers. A 101-89 lead with five minutes remaining had dwindled to 103-99 after a three-point field goal by Wilkins.
"If you keep attacking them, you'll get layups and foul shots," said Loughery. "We were doing that, but then we started trying to eat the clock -- and that's when you get into trouble."
Rookie guard Mark Jackson stole the ball from King with 55 seconds to play, but missed a pair of free throws three seconds later. There were 11 seconds left when Washington rookie Tyrone Bogues scored the two points (on free throws, of course) that effectively iced the game for the Bullets.
The contest took 2 hours 25 minutes to complete, about 20 minutes more than the average time it takes to play an NBA game.
Another indication of the game's disjointedness was the squad's combined total of 33 turnovers, which are given after miscues such as loose-ball fouls, missed free throws and deflected passes.
Most of the credit (or blame) could go to the Knicks. When they weren't fouling the Bullets, they did make life difficult for them with their assortment of traps and presses.
"It was like that when we played them in the preseason -- a stop-and-go game," said Williams. "We were just trying to get the ball in before they set up. We wanted to get the ball in the middle and go from there."
The end result of such trips was usually two free throws, which in turn led to Pitino ending up in the visiting locker room.
"I just didn't like the way some things were going and I wanted to say my piece," he said. "Moses is great at getting free throws -- we noticed that about 80 percent of his average has been coming off the foul line. How do you stop him from going there? I can't say that."
Pitino was able to pinpoint his team's shortcomings, however.
"It's the little things that are sticking out, all the mental things that go with losing," he said. "I think that things will come in time."
Loughery felt the same way about his team, that more good things will come with time.
"We got a lot of good minutes from a lot of people," he said. "We're still not familiar with each other. I'd like to have a training camp but the league says these games count."
Three men did all of the scoring in the early minutes of the game. Wilkins had two short jump shots and forward Kenny Walker also scored two baskets by the 8:48 mark of the quarter. All the Bullets could muster in response was three free throws and a driving layup by guard Jeff Malone.
With seven minutes remaining, the Bullets took their first lead of the game, going in front 11-10 when Williams tipped in a Jeff Malone miss. The Knicks came back immediately though, Wilkins scoring on a driving layup.
King, who joined the Bullets this season after four years with the Knicks, didn't score until four minutes remained in the opening period. His two free throws made the score 22-18, New York. With 3:24 remaining, Bol entered the game for the first time.
The score at that point was 24-20, Knicks. New York's Bill Cartwright was called for an offensive foul a short time later and Williams converted a driving layup after the turnover to cut Washington's deficit to two. Bol grabbed a rebound on New York's next possession but missed a jumper on the subsequent trip up the floor.
By the 2:04 mark, Bol had picked up his third personal foul and was replaced by Moses Malone.
At the end of the quarter, the Knicks were in front, 30-26. Wilkins had 10 points for the visitors, Jeff Malone eight for Washington.
The Bullets were able to hold their own in offensive rebounding in the opening period, but were troubled by turnovers stemming from the Knicks' pressure defense.
Things really didn't get better for the team during the second quarter, but when the Knicks began to play worse, Washington was able to spurt to a 39-36 lead with 7:31 to play in the half. Leading the way in the Bullets run of eight straight points were reserves Alarie, Darrell Walker and Frank Johnson.