NEW YORK -- For the want of another proven scorer, a very winnable game slipped away from the Washington Bullets at Madison Square Garden last night.
The New York Knicks, in danger of losing their third straight home game, outscored the Bullets, 6-1, in the last 1 minute, 20 seconds for a 114-103 victory before 11,877 -- the smallest Garden crowd since April 13, 1988.
While the Knicks had a pair of go-to guys down the stretch, in Patrick Ewing (32 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks) and Kiki Vandeweghe (21 points), the youthful Bullets ran out of options when the Knicks increased defensive pressure on Bernard King, who scored the last of his 30 points to pull Washington to within 100-97 with just over three minutes remaining.
It was a situation in which the presence of John Williams or Ledell Eackles could have made a significant difference, but Williams, rehabilitating from a knee injury, still is a month away from being activated and Eackles remains a holdout.
The offensive cohesiveness just wasn't there, with veteran point guard Darrell Walker still getting acquainted with rookie A.J. English.
The unfamiliarity led to a Walker turnover as he tried to set up English for a three-point shot with the Knicks leading, 108-103, with 33 seconds remaining.
"I don't think the Knicks really wanted to play tonight," said Walker. "We really could have won this one. We were right there in the fourth quarter, but we missed a lot of free throws and open shots."
The Knicks (2-2), who have beaten the Bullets seven straight times, did just enough to win.
New York was out-hustled in the first half, when the Bullets played an uptempo game and capitalized on the effective shooting of newcomers Pervis Ellison (12 points), English (15) and Greg Foster (six) to gain a 64-63 advantage.
But, when the Bullets were forced to play a half-court game, the Knicks' defense tightened. On the other end of the floor, the undersized Bullets had no one to stop Ewing from posting down low and swooping to the hoop for dunks and high-percentage shots.
Charles Jones, who gives away three inches and about 30 pounds to Ewing, has seen it all before, but it was an education for Ellison and Foster, policing the Knicks' superstar for the first time.
"There's not much we can do when our biggest post defender is 225 pounds," said Bullets coach Wes Unseld, "but give New York credit. They ran a lot of plays in the fourth quarter to get the ball inside to Ewing. Doubling down on him doesn't help much. They spring him free with cross screens and down picks."
Unseld blamed himself for changing the tempo of the game in the second half.
"I started calling too many plays," the coach said. "It's not the style I want to play. We're just not the type of team that is going to take the ball out, walk it down the floor and score a lot of points."
King said it was simply a matter of being out-muscled on the boards by Ewing and Charles Oakley (13 rebounds) in crunch time.
"In the first half, we forced them out of a lot of things they like to do," said King, who plays small forward and is averaging 30.6 points in the first three games. "We outran them. But they got smarter down the stretch. They were shooting from 10 feet in and making most of their shots. And when they missed, we couldn't get any long rebounds to start a break."
For all their fourth-quarter offensive problems, the Bullets still were only a few jump shots away from stealing this one. Vandeweghe, finally paying dividends for the Knicks after an injury-filled season last year, spoiled any chance of an upset.
After King hit a runner in the lane to pull within 100-97, Vandeweghe made a three-pointer. He added four free throws in the next minute for a 108-102 cushion to help put it away.
Knicks coach Stu Jackson said he was greatly relieved at having won at home after losses to the Boston Celtics and Dallas Mavericks.
"It's always a struggle when we play the Bullets," Jackson said. "Night in and night out, Unseld makes his team play harder than any team in the league. Once they get Williams and Eackles back, they'll be a force to be reckoned with."
Opponent: Milwaukee Bucks
Site: Capital Centre, 8 p.m.
Radio: WBAL (1090 AM), WTOP (1500 AM)
Outlook: The Bullets won their first meeting with the Bucks last season and then dropped the next three. Milwaukee has been one of the Bullets' toughest foes over the years, holding a 64-41 advantage dating back to 1968. In need of frontcourt help, Bucks coach Del Harris added center Danny Schayes and power forward Frank Brickowski, but lost forward Paul Pressey, center Tito Horford and power forward Larry Krystkowiak. Milwaukee's success this season depends greatly on the aching back of veteran center Jack Sikma, who will be 35 on Nov. 14. Once a forward-oriented team, the Bucks now get most of their scoring from the backcourt trio of Alvin Robertson, Ricky Pierce and Jay Humphries.