Jordan's stretch run closes down Bullets Bulls star takes over near end of 107-99 win

December 18, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- Michael Jordan introduced himself for the first time to Washington Bullets rookie Doug Overton at the Capital Centre last night, but he could hardly be confused with the Welcome Wagon.

The Chicago superstar, capitalizing on his three-inch height advantage, not to mention his unmatched talent, saved 10 of his game-high 28 points for the last five minutes to help the two-time defending NBA champions fight off a Bullets rally for a 107-99 victory before a sellout crowd of 18,756.

Washington, playing without scoring leader Harvey Grant (shin splints) and getting only 28 minutes from a foul-hampered Pervis Ellison, remained in contention for 45 minutes thanks to strong efforts by rookie forward Tom Gugliotta (25 points, 13 rebounds), playmaker Michael Adams (20 points, 10 assists) and an 18-point contribution from rookie reserve Don MacLean.

The Bullets (7-15), who lost their fifth straight, trimmed a 12-point deficit to 94-90 on Overton's tip-in. Twice in the closing minutes, they were within five points, the last time at 101-96 on another Overton basket with 2:34 left.

But it was almost as if Jordan and the Bulls, seeking to three-peat as champions, were teasing the youthful Bullets like a cat playing with a wounded mouse.

Jordan, who finished a subpar 12-for-29 from the field, had only 16 points at the three-quarter mark. But in crunch time, he took over the game in typical fashion.

"I guess I'm dumb enough to believe this was a winnable game," said Bullets coach Wes Unseld. "I knew our matchups would be tough, but when you have a go-to guy like Jordan, it makes all the difference in the world."

Unseld defended his decision in sticking with Overton, three inches shorter than the 6-foot-6 Jordan, down the stretch.

"I thought Doug could harass Michael better than [6-4] Rex Chapman or [6-7] Buck Johnson," the coach said. "Realistically, no one stops Jordan, but Doug, at least, made him work for his points."

Overton, a feisty rookie who came to the Bullets by the circuitous route of the CBA and Sydney, Australia, did his utmost to keep Jordan in check, several times almost engaging him in hand-to-hand combat.

"You can do two things in that situation," Overton said. "You can be intimidated or go down fighting. I'm going to claw and scratch every second to make sure he knows I'm out there."

That only encouraged Jordan to talk some trash.

"I told Overton in the last quarter, 'It's my time now. A time when men become men.' "

Jordan backed up the brash talk with a slam dunk for a 96-90 lead and nine seconds later converted a Horace Grant pass for a layup to give Chicago an eight-point cushion with just less than five minutes remaining.

When Gugliotta, who impressed the Bulls with his shot making, passing and rebounding, hit a jumper for 99-94, Jordan answered with a 17-footer. Overton answered right back, but Jordan started the clinching 6-0 run with two free throws and capped it with a final jumper in the lane.

"I wish I could have been shooting the ball better," said Jordan, eyeing his seventh straight scoring crown. "I struggled, but it was one of those games you have to fight through. I'd like to see us get more consistent. Sometimes, we get lackadaisical out there."

Jordan got a big boost from Olympic teammate Scottie Pippen, who chipped in with 24 points and 13 rebounds as the Bulls raised their record to 15-6.

But the Bullets, and Gugliotta, in particular, forced the Bulls to operate at more than cruise control.

"Gugliotta reminds me of Larry Bird more than any player I've seen, with his size, ability and versatility," said Jordan. "He can shoot the three, dish off and finish the break. He's someone to watch."

NOTES: Assistant coach Bill Blair, who missed the Bullets' five-game western swing while undergoing surgery to correct a blocked artery, rejoined the team last night. . . . Harvey Grant said he is uncertain when he will be fit to play again after experiencing shin splints in the game against Phoenix on Tuesday night. . . . The Bullets have lost eight straight to the Bulls. . . . MacLean has scored a total of 34 points in the last two games after seeing scant playing time previously.

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