Late surge lifts Rockets over Bullets, 128-112

March 22, 1994|By Michael Gunstanson | Michael Gunstanson,Special to The Sun

HOUSTON -- It shouldn't have been that difficult for the NBA's second-best team last night. Never mind the fact the NBA's third-worst team had beaten them earlier. This one was at home, where the Houston Rockets had lost just five times.

But they came close to a sixth last night in a deceptive 128-112 victory over the Washington Bullets. Despite the seeming blowout score, this game was close, until the Rockets asserted themselves in the fourth quarter.

"Do I think [Hakeem] Olajuwon was the key? Yes I do," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said of the Houston center, who finished with a game-high 35 points, 13 of them in the fourth quarter. "We tried to double-team him and couldn't stop him. We missed some assignments, but I don't know if it would have made a whole lot of difference."

"I thought we got some good effort off the bench," said Don MacLean, who led the Bullets with 23 points. "But we couldn't do anything with Hakeem down the stretch. I'll tell you this, though, we're tired of losing."

Had it not been for Olajuwon, the Bullets might not have lost their sixth game in a row. They certainly stayed with the Rockets until the opening moments of the fourth quarter. Led by Olajuwon's six points, three assists and three rebounds, the Rockets ripped off a 16-6 run to go up 111-95 and put the game away.

"Washington has been a thorn in our side for the last couple of years," said Rockets coach Rudy Tomjanovich. "They really ran a clinic on us up in Washington. In the first half they were right there. They turned it up in the third quarter. Hakeem just took it to another level."

The first half was a classic case of a dominant team taking its overmatched foe lightly -- roaring out to an early lead and struggling to keep said opponent at bay. The Rockets trailed just once throughout the game and seemingly scored at will.

They were challenged a time or two, particularly in the second quarter, when the Bullets took a 35-31 advantage to pull to within 64-61. And the third when MacLean's free throws gave the Bullets their only lead, 85-84. But any hopes of a prolonged lead swished away with Olajuwon's 10-foot jump shot. Kevin Duckworth's jump shot in the lane narrowed it to 89-87 with 2:16 left in the third quarter and that was as close as the Bullets would get.

The Bullets kept it close in the early going behind the hot shooting of rookie Mitchell Butler -- 16 points on six-of-six shooting -- and MacLean -- 13 points -- and crisp passing by Tom Gugliotta. But Olajuwon, Otis Thorpe and company still sprinted to a 25-13 lead.

During that run it looked as if The Summit had returned to the glory days of the University of Houston with its Phi Slamma Jamma fraternity, featuring Olajuwon. There was an alley-oop dunk by Thorpe followed by a fast-break dunk by Kenny Smith. Within seconds Thorpe was back for another dunk, then Robert Horry, then Thorpe.

But this was one game the last-placed Bullets refused to concede.

Facing a seven-point deficit to open the second quarter, the trio of MacLean, Doug Overton and Butler brought the Bullets back to tie the score at 50 with 4:31 to play. The half ended with the Bullets down 64-61.

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