Several times in the first half of a sloppily played contest at the Baltimore Arena last night, when the Indiana Pacers were struggling to stay in contention with the Washington Bullets, head referee Jake O'Donnell admonished Pacers coach Bob Hill for extending his team's timeouts.
"I told Jake, 'This game is so bad, you think I want to prolong it?' " said Hill.
The Bullets certainly wished the game had been two minutes TC shorter. After leading for the first 46 minutes and enjoying a 14-point cushion with 11 minutes remaining, their offense screeched to a halt.
At the same time, the Pacers suddenly turned aggressive, attacking the basket for layups or drawing fouls. Trailing by 97-93 with 3 minutes, 18 seconds left, Indiana ran off the 13 straight points and walked off with a 106-100 victory before a stunned crowd of 8,808.
It was a galling defeat for the Bullets (18-22), whose six-game home winning streak ended. The loss dropped them into a third-place tie with the New York Knicks in the Atlantic Division.
Coach Wes Unseld counted the ways his Bullets let this one slip away against a Pacers team that was minus two starters -- center Rik Smits (elbow) and playmaker Vern Fleming (pinched nerve).
"I thought we had this game under control on numerous occasions," said Unseld. "We allowed them to get back into it early in the fourth quarter by turning the ball over, having the wrong guys shoot the ball for us down the stretch and, at the same time, constantly putting them on the foul line.
"We didn't get anything from our bench and just didn't play with any consistency," he said. "Now that's enough reasons for a loss to last a whole season."
Aside from Bernard King (34 points) and Harvey Grant (27), the rest of the Bullets shot a tepid 14-for-39 from the field. And no one stepped forward in the last 6 1/2 minutes when Washington managed only 10 points, including Grant's meaningless three-point shot at the final buzzer.
Hill preferred to believe it was the Pacers' strong defense that kept the Bullets in check.
"I really got after my guys at halftime," said Hill, who replaced Dick Versace as head coach Dec. 19 after the Pacers lost in overtime to the Bullets for the second time this season. "I was thrilled to be down only by 11 at the break. We should have been down by 20.
"The fourth quarter was the only one we played all night," Hill said. "We really played King tough down the stretch. "We switched off and doubled him on every opportunity. We tried to take him out of the game."
King was held to seven points in the final quarter, but, at the same time, the Bullets could not stop the Pacers, who scored 38 in the last 12 minutes, including 11 by Chuck Person.
Said Person: "We started out tonight throwing the ball all over the court. But I felt if we were still close in the last four minutes, we could pull it out because the Bullets weren't playing that well themselves."
Person, who was involved in a fight with King last season that resulted in an ejection, gave the Pacers their first lead of the game, 98-97, with a short hook with 1:52 left.
After Ledell Eackles lost the ball on the Bullets' next possession, Person made a 15-foot jumper. Reggie Miller (21 points) made consecutive layups for 104-97, and the Bullets were finished.
"I don't care much for the Bullets," said Person, taking a parting shot. "If they want to go to war, we'll go to war. But this one was a great victory for us."
The Bullets will try to regroup tonight when they play host to the Dallas Mavericks at the Capital Centre.
NOTES: Another weigh-in is scheduled for John Williams Monday. The Bullets forward must lose 5 more pounds to get down to the team doctor's prescribed weight of 260. . . . If Williams, who has been sidelined since December 1989 after knee surgery, makes weight, he would receive medical approval to be re-activated. It then would be up to Unseld to decide when to add the all-purpose forward to his roster. The present target date is after the All-Star Game Feb. 10.