Bullets fall on Miller's late shot

April 20, 1994|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,Sun Staff Writer

LANDOVER -- It was an incredible comeback for the Washington Bullets, who fought back from a 26-point deficit. And an incredible ending by rookie center Gheorghe Muresan, who was unstoppable at the end. But a disputed call by an official and a jumper by Indiana Pacers guard Reggie Miller denied any chance of a storybook ending.

The call came with five seconds left when Indiana's Derrick McKey clearly knocked a loose ball out of bounds with the Pacers trailing by one. Miller's shot was a wide-open jumper from the top of the key with 2.1 seconds left that gave the Pacers a 111-110 win before 10,047 at the USAir Arena.

It was the fifth straight win for the Pacers, who pulled to within a game of the Cleveland Cavaliers for the fifth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The two teams face each other tonight in Indiana.

It was a disappointing loss for the Bullets, who saw a spirited performance by Muresan go down the drain.

Putting together perhaps his best quarter of the season, Muresan scored 13 points in the final 12 minutes -- including 10 of Washington's final 14 for the game. His rebound of his own missed free throw, and put-back with 9.6 seconds left gave Washington a 110-109 lead -- coming back from 18 points down earlier in the period.

"[Muresan] played great," Miller said. "He had a much better touch than I anticipated."

But the effort was wasted, thanks to the call and Miller's shot.

"I was going to drive to the hole, but I turned around and I was so wide open," said Miller, who on Sunday became the all-time leading scorer in Indiana history. "It's a shot I get to shoot in my back yard. I can hit that shot in my sleep."

The replay shown before Miller's game-winning shot clearly showed McKey knocking the loose ball out of bounds. But that was no help to the Bullets, who were looking to win their second straight after Sunday's 42-point win over the Boston Celtics.

"I didn't have to see the replay," Bullets coach Wes Unseld said. "I knew the ball was off of [McKey's] hand. I saw it the first time."

Everyone knew it would be Miller's shot. The 6-foot-7 guard was in a zone all night, scoring 34 points and hitting five of eight threes.

Indiana's 7-foot-4 center Rik Smits also was effective, scoring 23 points on 11 of 15 from the field. The Pacers' starting front line of Smits, McKey (15 points) and Davis (13 points, nine rebounds) combined to hit 66.7 percent of their shots.

Rex Chapman (25 points) and Don MacLean (25 points, 13 rebounds) led Washington, who had six players in double figures. But the comeback belonged to Muresan, who was six of seven from the field in the fourth quarter, when he also grabbed six rebounds and blocked three shots.

"Gheorghe didn't surprise me by the way he played offensively," Unseld said. "His play defensively is what surprised me. Smits hit some easy shots at first [late in the third quarter against Muresan] but Gheorghe rebounded and played well well. He did a lot of things and created a lot of excitement."

That excitement built the first time Muresan took off his sweats, at the end of the third quarter. Toward the end he became the team's go-to guy, mixing soft jumpers with stick-backs off of offensive rebounds.

"I just want to win," Muresan said. "Everything was going well, with the enthusiasm on the bench and on the court making us feel we could win."

His biggest came with 12.3 seconds left, when he was fouled by Smits with Washington trailing 109-107. Muresan's first free throw hit off the back iron three times, before falling through. His second was off to the left but somehow he slid down the lane, got his own rebound and scored on a layup that gave the Bullets the lead.

But the moment was brief, and the Bullets lost. Now they take to the road for two games in Charlotte and Cleveland, before returning home for the season finale against the Hornets on Sunday.

"You've got to give Washington credit," coach Larry Brown said after his team's win. "We didn't stop them at the end. [Muresan] was fabulous."


Opponent: Charlotte Hornets

Site: Charlotte (N.C.) Coliseum

Time: 7:30

TV: Channel 20

Radio: WXZL (103.1 FM), WTEM (570 AM)

Outlook: The Hornets, who were idle last night, are desperately trying to catch the Miami Heat for the last playoff spot. Each of Charlotte's final four games are against teams that are below .400. The Bullets, who staged a big comeback in last night's game against the Indiana Pacers before losing, will face the Hornets twice in the final five days of the season.

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