Where does one begin to assess the Washington Bullets' 114-110 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks yesterday afternoon at Capital Centre? The first-quarter ejection of the Bullets' Moses Malone? The frustration of seeing the Bucks' Jack Sikma hit jumper after jumper, while the home team mustered just two field goals from beyond 10 feet in the opening three quarters?
Both elements fueled excitement for many of the 9,564 in attendance, excitement capped by the Bullets' frantic rally to within 99-97 after inability to score from anywhere outside the free throw lane dug them an 84-54 hole with 5:34 to play in the third quarter.
Behind by 63-47 at halftime in this last game before an eight-game western trip, the Bullets made just two field goals in the first eight minutes of the second half. At wits' end, Coach Wes Unseld benched starters Jeff Malone, Bernard King, Steve Colter, Terry Catledge and Manute Bol for a shock troop of Tyrone Bogues, Frank Johnson, Charles Jones, Mark Alarie and John Williams.
"I thought we'd come out tougher than we did in the third quarter," Unseld said. "So I figured, what the heck, either we'd get back in the game or we'd get beat by 50."
Trapping relentlessly, the group pressed and hounded until the Bucks, who hit 63 percent of their shots in the first three periods, almost forgot to look at the basket. The Bucks had taken just four shots in the first 8:30 of the fourth quarter. In that stretch they turned over the ball 10 times, after losing it nine times during the third quarter.
"We kept making these unbelievable turnovers and they kept scoring and I kept saying to myself, 'When will this nightmare end?' " said Bucks guard Sidney Moncrief.
The Bucks got just five baskets in the last 17:30 and ended the half with 24 turnovers, but survived. Barely. They led, 91-78, with 10:41 to play but the Bullets kept driving, led by Williams, who ended with a career-high 28 points.
A jumper by Johnson made the score 99-97 with 4:23 left. However, with the Bucks ahead, 102-99, Moncrief blocked a layup by Bogues, and that play seemed to provide the Bucks some semblance of stability. They got layups from Moncrief and Paul Pressey and three free throws to take a 109-99 lead with 1:21 to go.
It still was close to not being enough. Bernard King scored on an offensive rebound, the Bullets stole the inbounds pass and Williams drove the lane for another basket. After a steal by Johnson, Williams scored again, making it 109-105 with :41 left.
Moncrief put the Bucks up by six with a pair of free throws, but Williams halved that on a three-point field goal at :24. But that was as close as it would get.
"These games are too much. I think someone's trying to make me go crazy and have to quit," said Bucks Coach Del Harris. "While we were building that 30-point lead it was some of our best basketball of the season. While we were giving up that lead it was one of my five or 10 worst experiences in basketball."
The Bucks start with a towering lineup of 7-foot-3 Randy Breuer at center; 7-foot Sikma and 6-9 Terry Cummings at forwards, 6-5 Pressey and 6-4 Moncrief at guard. Early on, the guard duo negated the use of Bogues, the 5-3 rookie. Yesterday, it was Sikma -- who scored a team-high 27 points -- who gave the Bullets fits. Sikma, the league leader in free throws, hit his first nine shots from the floor. That took away Bol's inside shot blocking. And that, in turn, might have compounded a problem begun when Moses Malone, who returned to action at center after missing three games because of a wrist injury, was ejected after barely getting his feet wet.
Malone entered with 6:17 to play in the first period. With 1:04 left in the quarter, he became entangled with Sikma under the Washington basket. When he freed his arms, Malone used them to fire off a number of punches at Sikma. After the flurry and subsequent holding and grabbing, referees Ed Middleton and Hue Hollins ejected Malone.
The all-star Bullet had departed the building by game's end, leaving Harris, his former coach with the Houston Rockets, to defend him.
"I have never seen Moses swing his fists," he said. "Nobody has seen Moses play more games than me . . . You won't find two nicer guys -- I couldn't believe my eyes."
In Phoenix, Larry Bird scored 14 of his 49 points in the fourth period and Danny Ainge sank two free throws with three seconds to play as Boston won, 107-106 . . . In Seattle, Rolando Blackman scored nine of his 28 points in overtime as Dallas won, 128-122. . . . In Salt Lake City, Thurl Bailey had 32 points and a career-high 17 rebounds as Utah beat Portland, 112-94 . . . In New York, the Knicks erased a 14-point third-quarter deficit and edged New Jersey, 97-96 . . . Detroit handed Philadelphia its 13th consecutive road defeat, 102-95 . . . Michael Jordan had 32 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists, leading Chicago, at home, past Atlanta, 126-107 . . .Cleveland foiled a Sacramento upset bid in Richfield, Ohio, 104-95 . . . Golden State rallied from 25 down in San Antonio to win, 126-122.