LANDOVER -- Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld, savoring his first home victory since Nov. 2, had kind words for almost all his players last night, but singled out rookie forward Larry Stewart of Coppin State for special praise in whipping the Atlanta Hawks, 126-115.
Point guard Michael Adams, returning from a one-game absence with a sprained shooting hand, scored a game-high 30 points and added eight assists. Center Pervis Ellison contributed 24 points and nine rebounds. Forward Harvey Grant ended a shooting slump with 19 points, and A.J. English came off the bench to score a season-high 25 points.
But it was Stewart (18 points, six rebounds) who had 10 points and played strong defense in the third quarter when the Bullets outscored the Hawks, 37-24, to take a 90-82 lead and were never headed.
The Bullets (5-8), ending their five-game home losing streak, seemed to have it tucked away, leading 113-103, with 2 minutes, 22 seconds left. But the Hawks (7-5), who had won six of their previous eight games, stayed alive by hitting three three-point shots -- two by power forward Kevin Willis (22 points, 24 rebounds) -- to close to 114-109 with 75 seconds remaining.
The Bullets, however, had little difficulty solving the Hawks' trapping defense. In the final minute, English broke free for a pair of dunks and Grant hit four straight free throws to put it away.
"Larry Stewart was super and really kept his composure with the game on the line," said Unseld. "He did a great job passing the ball against the press. He's a rookie from a low-profile college, but he's playing like a guy who has been in this league for a long time."
Stewart, who made the team as a free agent, has made a rapid ascent to a starting role, partly because of injuries that have sidelined Grant and Tom Hammonds, but also because of his consistent play. He is averaging 10 points and 5.6 rebounds.
Defensively, he has been asked to give considerable size and weight to the likes of Karl Malone, Frank Brickowski and Willis.
"Larry is real quiet," said Unseld. "I don't know if it's his even temperament or what, but he never seems to lose his composure."
Said Stewart: "I've never been in awe of anyone. Sure, you think about the great pros, but you just go out there and play your game. I'm surprised I'm starting and getting all these minutes, but I don't want it to stop."
Stewart's offense is based on economy. He scores his points by consistently running the floor or finding a seam underneath for his layups.
"He's great at flashing to an open spot," said Adams. "Then he has a knack for releasing his shot real quick. He's no 'rah-rah' type. He just does his job every night."
This was a night that Unseld needed everyone on target. Since holding Indiana to a stalemate on the boards in the season opener, the Bullets have been out-rebounded 12 straight games.
The athletic Hawks, who attack the offensive glass, finished with a 45-37 rebounding edge, thanks mainly to Willis' Capital Centre record-tying 16 in the first half.
But the Bullets offset this rebounding deficiency by shooting 52 percent and consistently finding the open man for high-percentage shots.
Of course, a lot had to do with the return of Adams, who had sat out Thursday's loss in Milwaukee.
Adams kept the Hawks defense honest with his outside shooting and quick drives to the hoop, opening things up for Stewart pTC underneath and English, Grant and Ellison for short baseline jumpers.
"This was the sixth straight game in which Pervis didn't have periods where his concentration would drift," said Unseld. "He's really been very consistent the last few weeks."
The Bullets kept constant pressure on the Hawks, who were coming off an impressive win in Philadelphia the night before.
Second-year guard Rumeal Robinson (27 points), who replaced departed Doc Rivers as the Hawks floor boss, joined Willis in keeping it close. But perennial All-Star forward Dominique Wilkins suffered through a rare off-night, shooting 6-for-20 from the field in scoring 20 points.
"We were never in sync in the second half," said Hawks coach Bob Weiss. "It's like we were trying to get up by 10 points on every play. They were pesky and all over us. And we used traps, it didn't bother them. Give them the credit."