Net result: Bullets humiliated Down 23 points late, N.J. rallies to win

April 18, 1993|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- New Jersey Nets coach Chuck Daly called it "bizarre . . . a miracle."

It was that and more as the Nets overcame a 23-point deficit in the final eight minutes to nip the Washington Bullets, 104-103, before a stunned sellout crowd of 18,756.

Derrick Coleman went around a slower Mark Acres and made a 10-foot floater in the lane with 3.2 seconds remaining to cap the Nets' improbable comeback and halt a season-high, seven-game losing streak.

"Boy, what a relief it is," said Daly.

Losing, of course, is nothing new for the Bullets (22-56), who have almost made a science of it. The defeat all but assured them of the third worst record in the NBA.

"Sure, it's tough to lose like this," said coach Wes Unseld. "But it's nothing new. It's been happening to us all year."

They have lost games in every imaginable way, including an inordinate number in the closing minutes. But never before this season did they manage to fritter away such a substantial lead in so short a time.

Playing an inspired third quarter in outscoring the Nets, 31-14, the Bullets continued to build on their lead until it grew to 95-72 with 8:29 showing on the clock.

Even when scoring leader Harvey Grant got ejected for taking a swing at Nets guard Drazen Petrovic with six minutes remaining, the lead was still 97-80. And it was a comfortable 99-84 when Tom Gugliotta made two free throws with 4:15 left.

But then everything went up in smoke, just like the laser show that followed the final buzzer.

"We just couldn't muster enough toughness to stop them in the last quarter," Unseld said.

"We needed to get some easy scores, but you can't do that if you keep taking the ball out of the basket 90 feet away.

"We just didn't have anyone to make a big shot when we needed one. I must have used every play in our playbook in the fourth quarter, but nothing worked," he said.

The Bullets did not make a field goal in the final 6 1/2 minutes, and Rex Chapman missed an opportunity to put the game out of reach by

missing two of four free throws in the last 24 seconds.

The Bullets were up 102-100 after Chapman's first crucial trip to the foul line in which he made one of two free throws. Nets point guard Rumeal Robinson then missed a driving layup, but Coleman fought for the offensive rebound and was fouled by Acres. He made both free throws to tie it with 15 seconds remaining.

Chapman was fouled and again made only one of two, setting the stage for Coleman's game-winner.

The ending might have been different if Petrovic also had been tossed by the officials for his brief scuffle with Grant. But the Nets' scoring leader was assessed only a technical and allowed to remain in the game.

"He should have gone with me," said Grant. "I set a pick, and he whacked me across the face with an elbow. They missed that one, and caught me."

Petrovic, who returned to action only last week after missing 10 games with a sprained knee, rediscovered his shooting touch. He crammed 12 of his 16 points into the last quarter to key the comeback that was also aided by a timely bit of strategy by Daly.

Two one-time Bullets -- Rick Mahorn and Bernard King -- joined Petrovic, Robinson and Chucky Brown, a makeshift power forward, in a mobile, downsized lineup that took the

momentum away from the Bullets.

"Petrovic got on a roll, and everything started going their way," said Bullets guard Doug Overton. "And we just couldn't make a shot. It was a lot of things, not just one thing that beat us."

Said Daly: "When I went to that smaller lineup, they started playing harder defensively, pushing the ball up the court and getting good shots. We were fortunate to win, but when you play that hard to come back, you occasionally get a break."

NOTES: Bernard King made an early appearance for the Nets, but unlike his first visit here, this time there was little hooting from the capacity crowd, which included 10,000 schoolchildren. . . . After losing seven of 10 games while Petrovic was sidelined with a knee injury suffered against the Bullets on March 22, the Nets' brass became convinced how important the Croatian is to the team's success. General manager Willis Reed has accelerated contract talks with Petrovic's agent, Warren Legarie, and hopes to sign the shooting guard, who becomes a restricted free agent after this season. Petrovic has strongly indicated he wants to remain a Net next season. . . . New Jersey leads the Charlotte Hornets by two games with four to play in the race for fifth place and the right to play the fourth-place Boston Celtics in the opening round of the playoffs.

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