Bullets find rare gem in flawed year

April 18, 1994|By Phil Jackman

LANDOVER -- Quick, someone enroll these guys in a summer league somewhere!

They say if you watch enough of a sport, be it one of the majors, chess, checkers or dominoes, you'll see anything and everything sooner or later. They're right.

The Woeful Washington Bullets, groping for the end of the interminable NBA season for weeks, stumbled upon a gem of a performance yesterday, prompting a couple of players to flash signs of delirium tremens by suggesting that the effort might be something to build on.

The Boston Celtics were the opposition and Washington pummeled them, 142-100. No misprint. The men with all those banners hanging from the rafters back at the venerable Boston Garden denoting championships and retired numbers fell by 42 points.

To be sure, there are no longer any Bill Russells, Larry Birds, John Havliceks or Sam Joneses wearing the green, and the visitors entered the game with a 30-47 record, but the feeling was that no pro team could possibly lose to the Bullets by 3 1/2 -dozen points.

"They looked sharp out there," Celtics coach Chris Ford said of the victors. Which is one way a coach has of getting around commenting on the performance put forth by his team. "After halftime, there was nothing we could do. . . . it only kept getting worse," he added.

Well, actually, there was something Boston could have done: it's called trying. But why call in a downpour on the Bullets' parade.

Coach Wes Unseld's immediate reaction to the occurrence that passed just about all the tests to qualify as a phenomenon was, "The players can sit back and be happy for a change. They deserve it."

Not to mention the fans, 16,824 of which somehow found their way clear to show up shortly after noontime for the contest.

They went berserk watching the home team start fast, scoring 34 points in the first period, then picking up the pace. It was probably all anyone could ask, the Bullets finishing the third quarter atop a 103-83 lead, but then they proceeded to win the last 12 minutes, 39-17.

Chances are the guys from Beantown had forgotten the game by the time they trudged up the back ramp of the USAir Arena to their bus afterward. Folks will long remember what they witnessed here, however.

With just six minutes remaining and cruising by 20 points (120-92), the fans reminded that their man, Gheorghe Muresan, hadn't been called to service yet. Get this! Muresan faked one way and came back cleverly and hit a hook. Then he hit a fadeaway shot along the baseline. The piece de resistance, though, was when he drove the lane, took a pass and dropped a scoop shot, throwing in a pump fake for good measure. Hey, this guy is 7-7 and 315 pounds and no one has thought about nicknaming him "Ol' Twinkletoes."

There were earlier indications that this was to be an extraordinary day when long-suffering center Kevin Duckworth got the start and negotiated the first 14 minutes without drawing Unseld's ire or a replacement. And he played really well, finishing with a season-high 18 points.

"He's been very active and effective the last three games. He's doing this to make me nervous," quipped Unseld. Forget Duckworth's future, even though he has a year remaining on his $2 million contract; it's the coach who might not be back.

To Unseld's credit and that of the players, in spite of another semi-disastrous campaign (the record stands at 23-55 with four games to play), the Bullets have played hard, entertaining ball all season.

As opposed to last year when it was apparent some of the troops were simply going through the motions the last month, the current edition comes out every game and acts as if it's opening night and the slate is clean. At home at least.

When a team is in a so-called "zone," everything works and that's what happened here. The score was about even when Calbert Cheaney was summoned late in the first quarter. As Boston's Ford put it, "Cheaney did whatever he wanted to."

Translated, this meant 20 points in a half's playing time with help on the boards and nifty passes to mates sweeping in for easy buckets as Celtics defenders were left scratching their heads.

If the Bullets can't find a spot in a summer league somewhere, maybe they could propose the season be extended at least until this patch of good play passes. After all, they should have some political clout down there.

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