LANDOVER -- Every year, the Washington Bullets test a new inspirational slogan on the public. In the recent past, the slogans proved as hollow as campaign promises, but their latest one, "You Gotta Believe," shows real potential.
The Bullets made believers in the sellout home-opening crowd of 18,756 last night by routing the Boston Celtics in overtime, 126-118. This came on the heels of an opening-night road victory in Indiana, and again, Michael Adams stole the spotlight.
Acquired in a June deal with the Denver Nuggets, the point guard scored 40 points, had 11 assists, grabbed five rebounds and made four steals. The Celtics, almost to a man, shook his hand after the thriller had ended.
"Incredible," was the way coach Wes Unseld described his playmaker's performance.
Adams crammed 29 points into the first half, including 10 in a 45-second burst. He made 12 of 13 field-goal tries, 4-for-4 from three-point range.
Adams managed only three points in the second half. The Bullets needed a jumper by Tom Hammonds with nine seconds left to produce a 112-112 tie and send the game into overtime.
Then Adams took control again, scoring eight points and assisting on three baskets. His three-point shot put Washington ahead to stay, 116-114.
The Celtics (1-1) were still only a basket behind after reserve guard Kevin Pritchard made an open jumper with 2 minutes, 11 seconds left. But those would be Boston's final points, as Pervis Ellison (15 points, 16 rebounds) blocked two shots and Adams made a steal off Larry Bird down the stretch.
Meanwhile, forward Harvey Grant (27 points, seven rebounds), Ellison and Adams added insurance baskets.
The crowd, much of which had spent most of the night cheering for Boston and rejuvenated Bird (31 points, 14 rebounds, seven assists), gave the Bullets a standing ovation as they walked off the floor.
Before the opening game, the Bullets, depleted by the loss of scoring leader Bernard King (knee) and versatile forward John Williams (suspended for being overweight), had been predicted by experts to finish near the bottom of the Atlantic Division.
"We've got a long way to go," said Unseld, "but if we can maintain this intensity level, a lot of positive things can happen."
The Bullets knew that Adams, who has totaled 63 points, 24 assists and 13 steals in the first two games, would provide speed and three-point shooting in directing an uptempo game.
But Unseld has also been provided with surprising early-season help from free-agent guard David Wingate and Hammonds, a veteran reserve forward.
Wingate, a Dunbar High and Georgetown alumnus who had been dropped by the San Antonio Spurs, was viewed by the Bullets mostly as a defensive stopper. He has performed that job, but also has produced on the offensive end. He scored 14 points, added seven assists and played good defense against former Dunbar teammate Reggie Lewis (21 points).
Hammonds, a No. 1 draft choice in 1989 who has been developing as a pro at a disappointing rate, provided another big lift off the bench, scoring 23 and snaring seven rebounds.
The Bullets' effort seemed wasted when Bird hit a three-point shot with 20 seconds left to put Boston ahead, 112-110. After a timeout, the Celtics concentrated on defending Adams and Grant, a strategy that allowed Hammonds to break free at the foul line.
"My man was sagging back," he said. "I slipped into the lane and got an easy jump shot. The past two years, I was hesitant taking a shot like that. Now I'm not even thinking, just shooting."
The Celtics still had enough time to win it, but the Bullets forced Kevin McHale to throw up a running one-hander at the buzzer that bounced off the back rim.
Given a reprieve, the Bullets turned the extra period over to Adams.
"I'd scored so many points in the first half," said Adams, "I guess I ran out of steam in the second half. But everyone else kept us alive, and, fortunately, I got another burst of energy in overtime."
Adams and the Bullets will have a chance to get recharged before returning to action here Tuesday night against the Philadelphia 76ers.