If it had happened on a steamy spring night in April, say during the NBA playoffs instead of just another game played before an announced 5,433 on a chilly December evening, the closing 10 minutes or so of the Washington Bullets' 115-111 overtime victory over the Indiana Pacers last night at Capital Centre possibly would be something to savor.
In fact, if the Bullets recover from their 7-14 start and earn a postseason berth, it will be because of efforts like last night's, when they shot 70 percent from the field in the fourth quarter and overtime.
There was far more to the game than marksmanship. There was impressive defense, which led to serious jawing between the opposing players. The game stopped three times because players squared off.
There was clutch scoring and a special effort by Washington forward Bernard King. In helping the Bullets overcome a nine-point deficit entering the fourth period, he scored 23 points, 14 of them in the fourth period. Of Washington's last 10 field goals, he scored four and assisted on the other six. For the game, he finished with a season-high seven assists.
In the end, that rendered moot a 35-point effort by Indiana forward Chuck Person. He and King were part of the ongoing verbal battle, but King said he took no satisfaction from that.
"The talking was nothing outside the realm of any given night," he said. "It was a physical game. They wanted to win and we wanted to win. I don't get into one-on-one challenges. The team doesn't benefit from that."
The Bullets benefited from center Moses Malone's team highs of 31 points and 14 rebounds and from reserve guard Darrell Walker's superior effort. Contributing 12 points, six assists and three steals, he scored on a jumper after a pass from King to tie the game at 94 with 1:30 to play in the fourth period. Then, after Person's long jumper put Indiana ahead 15 seconds later, King tied the game with a tough jumper from the left base line.
On the subsequent possession, Indiana guard Vern Fleming seemed trapped in the lane but bounced a shot off the backboard to provide a 98-96 lead with 44 seconds left. Walker came back with another jump shot -- again on a feed from King -- to force overtime.
In the extra session, things went the Bullets' way early as they forced turnovers on the visitors' first three possessions. Even so, the game was tied at 108 with 30 seconds left. Then King knifed in from the right side and made a double-pumping shot from the lane to give the Bullets the lead for good.
Now 11-10 on the season, the Pacers entered the game on a campaign to establish themselves as a playoff, if not a title, contender. With 10 victories in their last 13 games against the Bullets, one could expect the Pacers to feel confident.
Behind Person, they controlled the game much of the evening, but in the end, said Coach Jack Ramsay, "we gave it to them; it was that simple. We played bad on the defensive end and we didn't execute on the offensive end. We played a great first half and in the second half we played like we were afraid to lose."
In addressing his team's 49-38 halftime deficit, Washington Coach Kevin Loughery chose the same theme.
"I just told them to relax," he said. "We're so tight as a group it looks like everyone's afraid to make a mistake. I told them to relax and shoot the ball, even if you're not an outside shooter.
"If it misses, it misses. We can't keep having other teams concentrating on the same people. Tonight they were double-teaming coming out of the locker room. They were flying after our guys."
For much of the night, it seemed like the ploy would pay off for the Pacers as they compounded every Washington mistake with a basket. During an early stretch in the fourth quarter, John Williams missed a driving layup and Person made a jumper on the other end. Then Williams double-dribbled and again Person made a jumper.
On the Bullets' next possession, Walker had a basket taken away when he was called for an offensive foul. This time, Person made a three-point basket for an 84-76 lead. Eventually King swept away that advantage.
"Maybe I could have played better defense on him," Person said. "Maybe I couldn't. He just did what he had to do."
As usual after one of their impressive outings, the question is, will the Bullets do it again the next time out, in this case, Saturday night at Capital Centre against the Chicago Bulls?
"It's such a different game when we're scoring," Loughery said. "Everything looks so much prettier, things go so much nicer. When we're not, it looks lousy and it just gets frustrating."