Cavaliers edge Bullets in OT thriller, 98-96 Brandon's free throws provide winning margin at end of extra period

November 03, 1996|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- Just two games into the NBA season, the developing theme for the Washington Bullets appears to be controversial endings. And when the second chapter was completed last night, there was one big question: Did Chris Webber foul Cleveland Cavaliers guard Terrell Brandon in the final seconds of overtime?

"It was kind of iffy," said Bullets guard Rod Strickland, the closest person to the play. "That was a close one."

Regardless of what the Bullets believed, the foul was called with 1.8 seconds left in overtime. And Brandon hit both free throws, the final points in Cleveland's 98-96 win before a sellout crowd of 18,756 at USAir Arena.

One night after stealing a game against the Magic in Orlando on opening night, the Bullets had a golden opportunity to start the season with two wins. Instead, they were unable to hold a 12-point second-half lead, a big part of the blame falling on the team's inability to connect on free throws.

Strickland, who shot just 65.2 percent from the line last season, had a particularly rough night, going just six of 14 on foul shots and missing four late in the fourth quarter.

"It was a very long night, but that happens," Strickland said. "I know I have to make foul shots. That's something I'll have to work on."

The Bullets, who had tied the game at 90 with two seconds left in regulation on a three-pointer by Chris Whitney, came back in the overtime, too. Trailing 96-93, Strickland found a seam in Cleveland's defense, drove the lane and was fouled with just over eight seconds left as he hit a tough layup over promising rookie center Vitaly Potapenko. Strickland then shook off his earlier misses and made a clutch free throw to tie the game at 96.

That set up the controversial ending. With the clock running down, Webber came over to help out when Brandon momentarily shook free of Strickland. Brandon faked, and Webber appeared to simply throw his hands straight up in the air. But Brandon drew the contact, and the foul was immediately called.

A stunned Webber, who fouled out on the play, had to watch from the bench as Brandon hit the two free throws that sealed the game. A potential tying shot by Bullets guard Jaren Jackson just before the final buzzer fell way short.

"I'd have to see the replay before I say anything good or bad," Webber said, when asked about the play. "I just hate to end a game like that. I really do."

The Bullets also realized last night just how much they miss injured centers Gheorghe Muresan and Lorenzo Williams. With those two out, Cleveland's Potapenko, "The Ukraine Train," came off the bench and put on quite a show. Over one stretch of the third and fourth quarters he scored 18 straight points.

The inside muscle of the 6-foot-10, 280-pound player helped the Cavaliers get back into the game.

"He's a good post player," Webber said. "He made some nice moves." Pub Date: 11/03/96

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