LOS ANGELES, NOV. 25 -- If his job was at stake, Kevin Loughery wasn't about to go down without a fight, whether it meant sparring with the referees, his team or even the opposing coach. Especially when the opposing coach, Gene Shue, was Loughery's predecessor as coach of the Washington Bullets.

In one of their most exciting games this NBA season, the Bullets broke a five-game losing streak, defeating the Los Angeles Clippers, 101-96, at the Sports Arena.

Perhaps more than most, Shue could appreciate Loughery's move less than five minutes into tonight's game. Trailing by 14-4, Loughery replaced all of his starters. Shue did such things when he coached the Bullets until his double-digit losses of March 1986.

Loughery found himself in the same predicament entering tonight's game, the last of a four-game trip through part of the Western Conference. Besides the indignity of the second-worst record in the NBA and a five-game losing streak, the Bullets' last three defeats were by 19, 21 and 17 points.

"The people who have to carry the team haven't done it," Loughery said. "If we're going to shoot 40 percent as a team, we could have people in who can play defense and trap. We're still trying to find an identity for the second unit. We managed to get them some work in Utah {Tuesday} and it helped tonight."

The wholesale substitution paid off immediately and set the tone for the rest of the game, which was won largely because of a 16-4 run four minutes into the fourth period. Leading the way were forward Bernard King and guard Jeff Malone, the Bullets' only two starters to play in the first 11 minutes of that deciding quarter. King scored 11 points in the period and Malone six, including two tough baskets in the last minute.

"That's the way I've played in the past," Malone said. "I've been thinking about why I'm struggling. I think it's a team thing. Moses {Malone} is still struggling. I'm still struggling. I won't think I'm out of it until I've had three or four good games in a row."

Guard Frank Johnson said: "The way we played the first three games . . . I never would have expected to get beat the way we did. It was just depressing."

That the styles of the two coaches aren't dissimilar was obvious when Shue called time 1:39 into the game. The surprising thing was that the Clippers were leading by 6-0. It wasn't too long after that that Loughery replaced his starters.

One of the replacements, Johnson, made a quick jumper, but Los Angeles guard Mike Woodson matched that. Manute Bol dunked an offensive rebound, though, and Johnson stole the ball and was fouled while shooting. He made one free throw to make the score 16-9.

The second unit's trap continued to give the Clippers trouble. John Williams' steal enabled Johnson to make a layup, then Bol got another offensive rebound, was fouled and made one of two shots. Darrell Walker rebounded the miss and Williams scored on a short jumper.

Soon, the Clippers' lead was 22-18 and former Georgetown star Reggie Williams, averaging 17 points, had entered the game for Los Angeles. (He hadn't started because he is recovering from flu.)

On the Bullets' next possession, Bol scored again on an offensive rebound. He was fouled while shooting but missed his chance for a three-point play.

With 12 seconds left and the score tied at 26, there was a problem with the 24-second clock. Meeting at the scorer's table, Loughery and Shue exchanged words, each coach raising his voice.

At the end of the period, the Clippers led by 28-26. Joe Wolf, one of five Clippers rookies, had 10 points, as did Woodson. Johnson led the Bullets with nine points and Bol had seven.

Wolf scored to open the second quarter, then Reggie Williams' basket gave the Clippers a 32-26 lead with 10:45 left. Washington got on the scoreboard on a tip-in by substitute forward Mark Alarie.

After falling behind 38-30, the Bullets rallied on a basket by Jeff Malone and a hook shot by Bol. With 6:11 left in the half, Moses Malone reentered, but in place of Alarie, not Bol.

This paid off less than a minute later when Bol scored on another offensive rebound, giving him 11 points and nine rebounds. With 3:30 left, Bernard King replaced him and converted a three-point play that got the Bullets within 44-41. After Woodson and King exchanged one free throw each, Wolf made two more for a 47-42 lead.

When Moses Malone and King each missed layups, the Clippers converted the rebounds into points that helped provide a 51-44 halftime lead.

Wolf had 14 points and Woodson 13 to lead all scorers. Bol's 11 led Washington and were a season-high for him. His points were needed, because Moses Malone had only two points, having missed all six of his shots from the field.

The Bullets made 40 percent of their shots but stayed close with 12 offensive rebounds, trailing by 25-24 overall in rebounding.

The Clippers went ahead by 55-46, but the Bullets got the next six points, four by King and two by Jeff Malone. Shue called time to try and slow down the run. On the first play after the break, the Clippers turned the ball over but King missed a jumper -- just his second miss in six second-half shots.

With 3:33 left in the quarter and the Bullets trailing by 68-62, Loughery inserted four substitutes. Shortly after Jeff Malone made two free throws, Johnson replaced him.

The Washington reserves scored the next five points, making the score 68-67. After the Clippers lost the ball, Washington had a chance to take the lead but Williams missed a jumper. But the visitors stole a pass and Alarie scored to give the Bullets nine straight points and a 69-68 lead, their first of the game.

For the game, the Clippers were led by Woodson's 26 points and a season-high 23 from Wolf.

Celtics 117, Hawks 102:

When Atlanta got within two points in the fourth period in Boston, the Celtics sent in a reserve, Larry Bird. Not surprisingly, they won by 15 points.

"It was very strange for me watching the game from the bench and waiting for the coach to call my name," Bird said. "He's the only one in the league who can stop me."

After being sidelined four games with tendinitis in both Achilles' tendons, Bird had played cheerleader most of last night's game. He had played 6 1/2 minutes in the second period without shooting, except to make two foul shots. With the Celtics up by 11 points in the third period, they didn't need him. But when the Hawks closed to 82-80 starting the fourth quarter, Coach K.C. Jones called his name.

With Bird, the Celtics went on a 14-4 run that gave them their 100th victory in their last 104 games in Boston Garden.

After scoring four points on two foul shots and a 16-footer and getting a rebound to set up another basket, Bird retired with the Celtics up by 13 with 6:46 left. In his 12 minutes overall, he was one for three from the floor, four for four from the foul line, and had four rebounds and three assists. It was enough to win, but it ended his streak of 98 games of double-digit scoring.

Darren Daye, who started in place of Bird for the fifth straight game, led all scorers with 26 points.

Knicks 104, Cavaliers 101:

In Richfield, Ohio, Mark Jackson and Kenny Walker led an 18-7 surge in the fourth quarter that won for New York.

Substitute Gerald Wilkins scored 20 points for the winners, who had lost 14 straight road games.

Cleveland's Mark West tied the game, 80-80, on a dunk with 9:02 left. Then Jackson scored seven points and Walker six to help provide a 98-87 lead. The Cavaliers closed to two points twice in the last 32 seconds. Cleveland's Dell Curry made a three-point shot but had gone out of bounds.

Pacers 133, Spurs 102:

In Indianapolis, Wayman Tisdale scored 10 of his 26 points during a 23-7 spurt in the second quarter that put away San Antonio.

Mavericks 113, Pistons 107:

Rolando Blackman scored 17 of his 30 points in the third period to give Dallas a 20-point lead over Detroit that it turned into a home victory.

Bulls 103, Bucks 101:

In Milwaukee, Michael Jordan's 33 points included Chicago's go-ahead basket with 1:19 to play.

Rockets 109, Suns 103:

In Phoenix, Akeem Olajuwon and World B. Free each scored eight points in the fourth period to help Houston come from behind.