Bullets' charge wasted in 108-105 loss Howard's missed free throw costly in OT defeat to Heat

March 08, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

LANDOVER -- It was a situation that money players dream of being in. And so, with the Washington Bullets trailing by one point with just over a second left in regulation, there was Juwan Howard -- at $105 million over seven years one of the biggest money players in the league -- at the line with a chance to beat the Miami Heat.

Make two free throws, and the Bullets overcome a 20-point fourth-quarter deficit for an incredible win. But after making the first, Howard missed the second, which forced an overtime, in which the Heat eventually came away with a 108-105 win last night before a sellout crowd at USAir Arena.

Howard's response to the miss:

"I'm not talking about no free throw," he said, noticeably upset -- and apparently surprised -- by the question. "So much other stuff happened in the game, I don't know why you going to bring something up like that."

True, much else did happen. The Bullets came out flat in the first half, and got burned by Tim Hardaway, who ended up with a career-high 45 points. And the Bullets made some huge mistakes in the five-minute overtime, committing three turnovers the extra session that sealed their doom.

But the bottom line is the Bullets could have won their fourth straight game, and picked up a game on the ninth-place Indiana Pacers, and avoided the overtime pressure -- if Howard had hit both free throws. But he didn't, and the Bullets (28-32) saw a three-game winning streak end.

Maybe they were asking too much, expecting lightning to strike twice in two nights. On Thursday the Bullets beat the Heat after coming back from a 15-point fourth-quarter deficit. In the rematch last night, Washington trailed by 21 points at the half and were down 86-66 when the fourth quarter began.

"The only problem that I have is that we cannot continue to come from behind," said Bullets coach Bernie Bickerstaff, who was thrown out of the game in the second quarter. "Because against the good teams, with players like Hardaway, they are going to make plays to beat you."

The Bullets got back into the game with a defense that limited the Heat to just nine points in the fourth quarter. The Heat hit just three of 13 field-goal tries in the fourth (23.1 percent), and during one stretch went a span of 6: 19 without scoring. Hardaway, with 36 points through three quarters, had just two in the fourth.

When the teams met Thursday in Miami, Hardaway suffered through a subpar night, hitting just six of 22 shots.

But he showed in the first half last night that he wasn't going to have two bad games in a row, scoring 28 points -- 19 in the second quarter to help the Heat to a 59-38 halftime lead.

"If we play defense like we did in the fourth quarter, we can play with anybody in the league," the Bullets' Harvey Grant said. "Once we make up our mind to do that, we'll be a good team."

The Bullets at one point scored 15 straight and took a 91-90 lead after Rod Strickland (28 points) hit a running jumper with 1: 44 left. And it was back and forth until Hardaway, with Miami trailing by one, was fouled by Jaren Jackson with three seconds left. Hardaway hit both free throws.

Then Howard was fouled with a second left, and hit his first one from the line. And in the overtime the Heat scored 13 points -- four more than in the entire fourth quarter. Seven of those points were from Hardaway, who stepped up as the Bullets committed blunder after blunder -- including a 24-second violation when they were down, 106-103, with 26 seconds left.

In the final seconds, the Bullets had a chance to tie. But Tracy Murray's three-point attempt just before the buzzer was short.

"I think that this team is a bunch of warriors, and I am proud as hell of them," Bickerstaff said. "We just have to stop fighting and clawing from behind. We have to be ready to play when they tip the ball."

Pub Date: 3/08/97

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