Nothing comes easy for the Washington Bullets this disappointing season.
Making their final appearance in Baltimore, the Bullets blew a 10-point lead in the final two minutes, but scored five points in the last nine seconds to outlast the Atlanta Hawks, 121-116.
This unlikely victory before a roaring crowd of 10,409 at the Baltimore Arena ended the Bullets' record seven-game home losing streak. But it took a season-high 33-points by Ledell Eackles and several officiating blunders to finally stop the tailspin that had seen Washington (24-42) lose 15 of its previous 17 games and drop out of playoff contention.
Eackles, displaying the one-on-one ability Bullets coaches had hoped for when they traded Jeff Malone last June, made a baseline jumper to reclaim the lead at 117-116 with nine seconds left after the Hawks had scored 11 straight points to overcome a 10-point deficit.
The Hawks then ran a clear-out for Spud Webb. The speedy, diminutive guard claimed he was jostled on the way to the basket.
Ellison controlled the rebound and was fouled by Dominique Wilkins with 2.7 seconds left. The slender power forward made both free throws.
Harvey Grant (26 points, eight rebounds) then swiped a long downcourt pass. He added two insurance free throws with 1.4 seconds left, and Bullets coach Wes Unseld finally drew a deep breath.
"This is major-league sweat," said Unseld, mopping his brow
after this narrow escape.
But the Hawks (37-31) felt they had been cheated in several ways. A point was taken away late in the fourth quarter. Wilkins made the first of two free throws with 4.04 left.
With 3 minutes, 31 seconds remaining, the officials removed the point, claiming the Hawks at the time were not in a bonus situation.
With the scoreboard clock out of order, another costly mistak was seemingly overlooked by the officiating crew of Bill Oakes, Bud Delaney and Joe DeRosa. Eackles hit a three-point shot with 1.51 remaining just as the 24-second clock expired. The Hawks later said the Bullets had used 28 seconds before Eackles let his long jumper fly.
But Hawks coach Bob Weiss was more upset by the lost free throw.
"We have 48 hours to protest if the free throw interpretation was correct," he said. "We're checking on that question now. We were trying to get the clock stopped, but couldn't."
Not only did the Hawks lose the point, but they also lost possession of the ball. Ellison made a slam dunk off a John Williams feed, so, in essence, it was a three-point play for the Bullets, who, at the time, led 110 -101.
Confused enough? The players and coaches were still trying to sort out the mess a half-hour after the game.
"I couldn't believe the call," said Wilkins (26 points). "We should have at least gotten possession after they took the free throw away. I was yelling to Bob Delaney, but it was too late. The game just got out of control."
Still, the Hawks seemed to be in control of things, leading 77-65 with just under six minutes left in the third quarter. But Eackles came off the bench to score 10 points and close the gap to 85-82 by the end of the period.
Often exasperated by Eackles' lack of consistency, Unseld said: "I've seen Ledell on binges before. The mystery is why he can't do it more often. One of the problems this season is that he has been rushing his shots. Tonight, he took his time and squared up to the basket."
Said Eackles, "Everything was falling for me tonight. Williams and Ellison were setting great picks and getting me shots in my range."
When the Hawks concentrated on stopping Eackles, the Bullets got their long-dormant fast break in gear and Grant scored eight points to produce the 115-105 spread with 1:51 remaining.
Then everything suddenly turned sour. The Bullets got tentative on offense and made several costly turnovers as the Hawks reeled off 11 straight, moving ahead 116-115, on Rivers' three-point shot with 37 seconds left.
Then came the final winning rally by the Bullets and a post-game protest by the stunned Hawks. This one may not be official before another few days.
NOTES: Bullets scoring leader Bernard King returned after missing four games with a sore back. King made only 1 of 8 shots and scored two points in 28 minutes. . . . The Bullets have committed to playing four games here again next season.