SEATTLE -- The Washington Bullets led for most of the game, but the Seattle SuperSonics led when it counted.
Gary Payton's 15-foot jump shot with 7.4 seconds left lifted the Sonics to a 91-90 victory over the Bullets Tuesday night at the Coliseum, keeping Washington winless in Seattle for the 12th straight time.
A. J. English had given Washington a 90-89 lead with 30.6 seconds left on a 15-foot jumper, but Payton's shot, with one second left on the shot clock, gave the Sonics the one-point lead.
"It was a broken play," Payton said. "The clock was running down and I had to shoot."
Washington had one final chance, but English missed a driving shot that Seattle's Michael Cage rebounded. Cage threw the ball away, but Harvey Grant missed a potential game-winning shot at the buzzer.
Grant led all scorers with 33 points for the Bullets, who lost for the second straight time and fell to 6-11. Seattle (9-7) was led by Ricky Pierce (26 points) and Eddie Johnson (23). The Bullets have not won in Seattle since 1980.
Bullets center Pervis Ellison, averaging 19.8 points, did not play. He experienced soreness in his knee during warm-ups and did not dress.
It was an incredible effort by the Bullets, who played without three of their top four scorers.
Washington was without Michael Adams (dislocated finger) and LaBradford Smith (sore ankle) and lost Pervis Ellison just before the game with a sore knee.
But with nine healthy players, the Bullets nearly pulled off their second victory on this West Coast trip.
And, said coach Wes Unseld, with some help from the men blowing the whistles, the Bullets probably should have won.
"We deserved to win," Unseld said. "We just didn't get the calls."
"When you outplay a team for 44 minutes, you're supposed to win," English said. "We just let them back in the game."
The Bullets were in a position to blow the Sonics out in the third quarter.
Early in the third quarter, Washington turned a 51-43 halftime lead into a 61-47 advantage with 8 minutes, 52 seconds left in the quarter on three straight baskets by Grant.
But Grant wasn't finished. He proceeded to destroy the Sonics single-handedly in the quarter, hitting his first six shots from the floor before finishing with 14 points for the quarter.
A basket by Grant with 5:55 left in the quarter put Washington ahead 67-53 -- but that would be the last time the Bullets would lead by 14 points.
Washington still led, 73-60, with two minutes left in the quarter on another shot by Grant, but the Sonics finished with an 8-0 run to get close.
Cage started the run with a slam, Pierce followed with a 15-foot jumper and Johnson capped it off with two straight baskets to make it 73-68 after three quarters. Johnson had 12 points in the quarter for the Sonics.
"The hustle, the scratching, the biting," said Seattle coach K. C. Jones. "That's what saved us."
Thanks to a late second-quarter scoring drought by the Sonics, the Bullets took command at halftime.
Washington moved out to a 33-25 lead early in the second quarter before the Sonics, led by Pierce's outside shooting, cut the lead to 37-36 with 4:50 left in the first half.
But the Bullets went on a 10-0 run over the next two minutes to open a 47-36 lead, thanks to four points by English and six from Greg Foster.
The Sonics went three minutes without scoring. A rebound basket by Marty Conlan with 1:53 left in the half cut the Washington lead to 47-38.
Only a three-point bomb from Pierce in the closing seconds enabled the Sonics to trail 51-43 at the half.
Grant was the big reason for Washington's offensive surge in the second quarter. Grant scored 12 points in the quarter, including four points in the final minute. He had 17 in the first half.
After a cool-shooting first quarter, Washington warmed up and connected on 11 of 18 shots from the floor and outscored the Sonics 28- 22 in the second quarter.