Hornets rally to tip Bullets in OT, 127-121

January 31, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- Larry Johnson got a first-half pardon from the officials who failed to detect a pair of punches the Charlotte Hornets star tossed at Washington guard LaBradford Smith.

That reprieve allowed Johnson to remain in the game and, with a giant assist from Dell Curry (33 points), he led the Hornets to a 127-121 overtime victory before a sellout crowd of 18,756.

Washington, which finished the first half of its season with a 12-29 record, seemed to have a safe three-point lead, 113-110, when Michael Adams converted a pair of free throws with 13 seconds left.

But that can be an eternity for the Bullets, who have made a habit of losing games in similar situations. And they did it again, with Curry hitting a rainbow 3-pointer over Buck Johnson to tie it with nine seconds remaining.

Typically, the Bullets had to rush a last-second shot, and Adams managed only to shoot an airball against tight policing by 5-foot-3 Muggsy Bogues, the smallest man in the NBA.

Sparked by a pair of hoops from Johnson (27 points, 19 rebounds), Charlotte scored the first seven points in overtime for a 120-113 cushion.

The Bullets closed to 122-118 on Smith's 3-point shot, but then Pervis Ellison, after stealing the ball, was hit with a technical for calling an excessive timeout.

A second three by Smith gave Washington a final chance at 123-121 with 19 seconds left. But the Bullets fouled Bogues, who made the clinching free throws.

The Hornets were flirting with a playoff position in the Eastern Conference, but their below-.500 record was a disappointment based on their personnel.

Charlotte coach Allan Bristow kept shuffling his starting small forward looking for the right combination. Dunbar product David Wingate, who also played for the Bullets, regained a starter's role.

The last time the two teams played here, Dec. 19, Tom Hammonds, another former Bullet, was starting in place of the injured Johnny Newman. But Hammonds, along with his guaranteed $900,000 contract, was released earlier this week to make room on the roster for reserve center Mike Gminski.

The Bullets capitalized early on Wingate's matchup with Harvey Grant, who, at 6-foot-9, had a four-inch advantage.

Grant posted Wingate down low for turnaround jumpers. Ellison also enjoyed success shooting outside against rookie Alonzo Mourning. Ellison contributed eight points to Washington's 16-8 lead.

Bristow benched Mourning in favor of Kenny Gattison, whose three-point play trimmed the deficit to 20-14. But the Bullets got their fast break in gear, and Gugliotta and Grant stretched the lead to 28-18.

At this point, Wes Unseld tried an experimental lineup, employing Rex Chapman as his point guard.

It proved disastrous when the Bullets committed three straight turnovers that the Hornets quickly converted into layups. A 7-0 Charlotte spurt trimmed Washington's lead to 30-27 after one quarter.

Both teams struggled to score in the first five minutes of the second quarter. Charlotte was slightly more successful, and Newman's three-point play put the visitors ahead, 37-36.

Gugliotta brought the Bullets back to life with a jumper and tip-in to reclaim the lead, 40-39. But Curry, a long-time Washington nemesis, kept popping home jump shots.

The Hornets continued to shoot from the perimeter with amazing accuracy. Johnson and Bogues joined Curry's long-range bombing to increase their advantage to 54-49.

With just under two minutes left, Johnson and Smith got into a shoving match. Johnson took two swings at Smith, but, surprisingly, was not ejected. In fact, he was rewarded with two free throws, which he converted for a 60-53 lead.

This seemed to enrage the Bullets who scored the last six points of the quarter to trail 60-59 at halftime.

Play got physical in the second half. Adams was hit with a flagrant foul against Bogues on a drive to the hoop.

The lead kept changing hands, but the Bullets got a break when Mourning picked up his fourth foul with six minutes left in the third quarter.

Gugliotta's 3-point play gave Washington a 76-74 edge, but Curry replied to push Charlotte ahead, 79-78.

Things then turned in Washington's favor when the ball slipped out of Ellison's hands and wound up in the basket to provide an 83-79 cushion.

But the Bullets again got sloppy with the ball, blowing fast-break opportunities and allowing Curry and Gattison to score uncontested layups. A put-back by Gugliotta beat the buzzer and gave Washington an 88-87 lead after three quarters.

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