Bullets' playoff hopes end with loss to Celtics Howard's 40 wasted

Legler injures knee

April 18, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- All Brent Price could do was shake his head after being told that the Miami Heat -- the team the Washington Bullets needed to catch for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference -- had lost to the Philadelphia 76ers.

"Here it is, we finally get a break," the Bullets point guard said. "Unfortunately, we didn't do what we had to do."

What the Bullets had to do last night was win and hope for some help. But at about the same time the Sixers were beating the Heat, the Bullets' playoff dreams were ending with last night's 121-106 loss to the Boston Celtics before a sellout crowd at the USAir Arena.

The Bullets (39-41) also got more bad news on the injury front. Reserve guard Tim Legler suffered a serious knee injury in the first quarter and is out for the two remaining games.

There's a possibility that Legler suffered ligament damage to the right knee, but that won't be known until a magnetic resonance imaging exam today. Dr. Steven Haas, who X-rayed the knee last night, was hopeful that the injury wasn't a torn anterior cruciate ligament, which could cost Legler all of next season.

"I try not to get unnerved, but when I saw Legler's knee. . . he was obviously hurting," said Bullets coach Jim Lynam. "The good thing when Gheorghe got hurt was that no surgery was required," Lynam said of center Gheorge Muresan's knee injury. "Hopefully Tim's injury will be on that kind of level."

Even if Legler were healthy, it probably would not have made a difference for the Bullets, who were feeling the effects of playing on back-to-back nights.

Howard scored a career-high 40 points (his previous high was 32), and needed a career-high 27 field-goal attempts to do it. But the Bullets, who fell behind 14-2 in the opening minutes of the game, did not do themselves any favors by allowing Boston to score 41 points in the fourth quarter.

Doing most of the damage for Boston in the final period was reserve guard Todd Day, who through three quarters had scored five points. In the fourth, he tied a USAir Arena record for a quarter with 23 points, hitting eight of 10 shots and connecting on all five of his three-point attempts. He was the big reason the Celtics had a 63-12 advantage in bench scoring (Dee Brown had 20 points off the bench).

"I was able to get to the basket a couple of times and when I made a few shots, it got a lot easier," Day said. "[My teammates] were just feeding me. I really tip my hat to those guys for getting me the ball."

The Bullets had managed to get within 80-78 going into the fourth quarter when Day put the game away. In the fourth the Celtics led by as many as 17 points.

Washington had difficulty guarding the Celtics, who at times played a lineup of a forward and four guards. The Celtics' quickness with the smaller lineup forced Lynam to try to counter by playing both his point guards, Price and Chris Whitney.

"With their lineup, they have a lot of shooting power," Lynam said. "And on top of that, Day had a terrific night."

It left the Bullets in a subdued mood in their locker room after the game. On Sunday, they had won their seventh straight game, and were among the hottest teams in the league as they made an impressive run toward the playoffs. Now the team has lost two straight, saw a four-game home winning streak come to an end and came to the realization that when the playoffs start next week, they won't be there.

"This is one of the worst losses I've ever experienced on the NBA level," Howard said. "To lose a game when you had a chance to make the playoffs, this is what you work so hard for."

Across the room, Calbert Cheaney (24 points), who had suffered through two miserable seasons, spoke barely above a whisper as the Bullets failed in their attempt to make the playoffs for the first time since 1988.

"We had our chances," Cheaney said. "This is tough to deal with."

Now, all that's left for the Bullets is a chance to finish the season with a .500 record, which would mean beating Toronto and Chicago over the last two games. Even in the disappointment, the players realized there were some positives to come out of the season.

"You can be thankful, you can pat yourself on the back," Howard said. "But you can't be satisfied. We had a chance to make the playoffs, and we gave it up."

Pub Date: 4/18/96

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