Youthful punch spurs Bullets to KO of Cavaliers Washington wins at Arena, 105-101

March 16, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

As upsets go, it may not rank with the Jets' win over the Colts in Super Bowl III, little Chaminade's stunning victory over Ralph Sampson's Virginia team or Buster Douglas' knockout of heavyweight champion Mike Tyson.

But in Washington Bullets' lore, last night's 105-101 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers was big, real big.

Unfortunately, there were only 3,333 eyewitnesses at the Baltimore Arena due to the rescheduling of Saturday night's snowed-out contest.

But thousands more might insist they were there the night the Bullets (17-43) upset the Cavaliers (40-22), who boast the NBA's sixth-best record and are considered a threat to the Chicago Bulls' pursuit of a third straight title.

Bullets coach Wes Unseld, who had watched his injury-depleted team lose six straight and 12 of its past 13, tried to make light of the occasion.

"This week, we had a series of catastrophic events," he said. "We had the storm of the century in America, earthquakes in Columbia, and we beat the Cavaliers in Baltimore."

Cleveland coach Lenny Wilkens was hardly amused. Held captive in Baltimore by the storm since Friday night when the team charter arrived, Wilkens blamed his team's uninspired effort on a "lost weekend."

"After being stranded here three days, we just didn't play with any enthusiasm," he said. "We couldn't hold a real practice because we had no tape for the players. We were totally out of sync, and our defense was horrendous."

Still, the youthful Bullets out-hustled the Cavaliers, winning the battle of the boards, 42-32, and hitting a season-high 94 percent (17 of 18) from the free-throw line.

Even more satisfying was the way they responded after a 99-90 lead with 4:20 left evaporated in two minutes when John Battle tied the score with an 18-foot jump shot.

The Bullets have lost an inordinate number of games in similar situations, when rival teams always seemed to make miraculous, last-second shots. But, this time, the Bullets had all the right answers.

A jump shot by the Bullets' Harvey Grant (21 points, 11 rebounds) made it 103-101 with 63 seconds left.

Rookie forward Tom Gugliotta (23 points, 10 rebounds) then teamed with second-year guard LaBradford Smith (20 points) to stymie a pick-and-roll play by Larry Nance and Craig Ehlo that was supposed to free Ehlo for a jumper.

Instead, the Cavaliers were forced into a 24-second violation.

After a miss by Smith, the Cavaliers had another chance to tie with 18 seconds remaining.

Following a timeout, they put the ball in the hands of their All-Star guard, Mark Price, who was coming off a thumb injury, but had hit all five of his shots in the first half, including a pair of three-pointers.

Price came off a high pick, but could not get free for a three-point attempt. He then tried to penetrate, but slipped on his way to the basket and his shot fell far short.

Price then fouled Smith, who made two insurance free throws with four seconds left.

"I think I played too many minutes in the first half," said Price, who had sat out the previous four games. "I got a little winded out there in the second half, and my legs just gave way on me on that last shot."

To add insult to injury, Mark had to compliment his brother, Brent, the Bullets' rookie guard who contributed three key baskets in the final quarter when Washington gained a nine-point lead.

"Your younger brother isn't supposed to do that to you," Mark said.

Unseld gambled and won by keeping Price, fellow rookie Don MacLean (12 points) and free-agent guard Larry Robinson on the floor for most of the fourth quarter. Only after the Cavaliers rallied to tie it at 90 did he put his starters back into the game.

"I really wasn't aware the kids were out there that long, but they were the guys who got us the lead," he said."

Said MacLean: "It felt good to be out there in the fourth quarter playing against their starters. I think we [the reserves] picked up the intensity. We played with a lot of emotion and I think that caught them off balance."

The Cavaliers will try to blame the blizzard, "cabin fever," a lack of practice or whatever, but it should not diminish the Bullets' accomplishment.

As Gugliotta said: "We beat a good team in the hunt for the championship. It's sweet, real sweet after all this frustration."

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