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Riding the Bullets Bench April

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Rubber Meets The Road As The Bullets Storm By The Pacers, Grab Eighth Place

1 April 1997. Washington Bullets 104, Indiana Pacers 100 (record: 37-35)
Game leaders: Howard, Strickland (18 points), Webber (10 rebounds), Strickland (11 assists)

Just the night before, Indianapolis had played host to the NCAA Championship game. Last night, Indy played host to another game that was played a similarly high intensity - although both teams shot much better than their NCAA counterparts. Most importantly, the Bullets came away with a critical win, one that vaulted them into the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Look Out, Playoffs, Here They Come
This win was big. Over an experienced playoff team. On the road, where they hadn't won in their last 9 tries. Washington Post sports columnist Michael Wilbon assesses the growth of these Bullets.
The Bullets never relinquished the lead in the final 3 quarters of the game, though the Pacers did make several runs, including one that got them within 2 with 2:44 left. The Bullets

The difference was the Bullets balance. They got superb bench play (26 points to only 7 for Indiana) and 7 players finished in double figures scoring (Howard and Strickland - 18 points; Cheaney - 16 points; Webber - 15 points; Murray - 13 points; Muresan - 11 points; Grant - 10 points). Indiana coach Larry Brown gushed over the Bullets' balanced play: "Their bench was tremendous. They executed well, made shots and just controlled the whole game."

The Bullets almost had a dire situation. Rod Strickland severely sprained his left ankle in the third quarter and eventually had to leave the game because he couldn't move quickly on offense or defense. While Rod was getting retaped in the locker room, Chris Whitney sprained his left ankle and gritted through it until Rod was ready to return. Kudos to trainer Kevin Johnson for quickly dealing with both injuries, as both were needed down the stretch.

See CWebb dunk on Rik Smits. (QuickTime/AVI)
The Bullets were also getting into foul trouble. Both Muresan and Howard fouled out in the fourth quarter, and CWebb played much of the fourth quarter with 5 fouls. If this game had gone to overtime, the Bullets would have been very thin facing that powerful Indy front line.

What sealed it for the Bullets? Free throw shooting, their usual Achilles heel. They missed 4 of their first 5 free throws in the fourth quarter, and it looked like they would collapse. But they finished the game by making 13 of their last 16 free throws, including their final 11 points of the game.

With this win, the Bullets built a 2-game cushion between themselves and the Pacers in the hunt for the playoffs. Even better, with the Cleveland Cavaliers 94-88 loss to the New York Knicks, the Bullets have tied the Cavs, but they hold the tiebreaker advantage in head-to-head play. 10 games left, folks. Hang on to your seats, it should be exciting.

wtf 2 April 1997

<== Bullets Face Big Game #1 In Quest For Playoff Spot Bullets Ratchet Up Intensity And Gore Bulls In Possible Playoff Prelude  ==>

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