Bullets hold off Hawks rally, 97-96 Survive blown lead to halt 9-game skid PTC

December 29, 1992|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- Washington Bullets co-captains Harvey Grant and Pervis Ellison called a players-only meeting before last night's game with the Atlanta Hawks to clear the air over the team's nine-game losing streak.

"I wanted us to recognize that we were all in this together and it wasn't one particular player who was responsible," said Grant, who had openly criticized shooting guard Rex Chapman's defense earlier this week. "We just wanted our younger guys to know that even if we had lost nine in a row, we've got to keep our heads up and remain focused."

Some three hours later, the head-hanging had turned to back-slapping after the Bullets barely survived a furious rally to edge the Hawks, 97-96, marking their first victory since beating Sacramento on the road Dec. 8.

But first, they had to give a sellout crowd of 18,756 and coach Wes Unseld heart palpitations.

Washington (8-19) led 92-79 with six minutes left when Atlanta, playing without injured superstar Dominique Wilkins, mounted its comeback.

While the Bullets missed jump shot after jump shot, the Hawks kept pecking away at the lead. Ellison appeared to wrap it up by hitting a pair of free throws for a 96-92 lead with 31 seconds remaining.

But Hawks guard Snoopy Graham (29 points) jumped behind a screen and fired up a three-pointer. He was bumped in midair by Ellison, the shot went in, and Graham added the free throw to tie it at 96.

"When I saw that shot go in, I said to myself 'Not again!' " said Grant. "But this time we showed that we had some toughness."

The Bullets worked the ball down low to Ellison, who was fouled going to the basket by Jon Koncak with 5 seconds to play. Ellison missed the first free throw, but hit the second.

There was still enough time for the Hawks to tag the Bullets with a 10th straight loss. Minus a timeout, Atlanta rushed the ball inbounds. Steve Henson, who was playing in the Continental Basketball Association last week, fired a long pass to a streaking Mookie Blaylock, who could not handle it, and the clock finally expired.

"I saw a clean lane to the basket and just took my eye off the ball," said Blaylock, charged with the turnover even though the pass seemed far beyond his reach.

But the Bullets were not about to quibble over technicalities.

"That's not a monkey off my back, it's a gorilla," said Unseld, who earlier in the evening had warned Grant of criticizing teammates.

The Bullets were out-rebounded 51-38, but managed to limit Hawks center Kevin Willis (17 points, 17 rebounds) to five rebounds in the second half when they capitalized on the shooting of Grant, Tom Gugliotta and Ellison to gain their 13-point advantage.

"Then we got stagnant on offense," said Gugliotta (18 points, 13 rebounds, six assists). "Instead of trying to win, we were playing not to lose. We were shooting too quick instead of recognizing where we were on the floor."

All five starters scored in double figures, led by Grant's 25 points. And this time, everyone seemed eager to shoot the ball with the game on the line.

"Everyone contributed, and that's what we need to win games," said Michael Adams. "Sure, when Graham made that four-point play, I said, 'It can't get any worse than this,' and, thank God, it didn't."

Not that the Hawks didn't try to add to the Bullets' slide that started with a loss in Utah Dec. 10 and concluded with a 99-97 setback to Detroit in Baltimore Saturday night.

Atlanta got another solid performance from forward Duane Ferrell, the Baltimore native and Calvert Hall graduate, who has replaced Wilkins (fractured hand) at small forward.

Ferrell scored 20 points and contributed six points to the Hawks' game-tying rally in the closing minutes.

But this time the Bullets survived,if just barely.

"I've been unhappy for a month," said Unseld. "Now, at least, I can try to smile."

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