LANDOVER -- Had Washington Bullets coach Wes Unseld been Knute Rockne, he would have delivered his "Win One For The Gipper" speech before last night's game with the San Antonio Spurs at the Capital Centre.
Instead, Unseld improvised, asking his injury-plagued Bullets to rally in behalf of starting center Pervis Ellison, who was involved in a car accident on the way to the game. Ellison was kept under observation at Southeast Washington Hospital, where tests TC revealed no major injuries.
Unseld's pre-game speech may not have been inspirational, but the play of his Bullets certainly was, as they beat the Spurs in every phase of the game to record a 94-84 victory -- their fifth in the past six contests and their first win at the Capital Centre since Nov. 23.
"If we don't have bad luck, we don't have any at all," said forward Harvey Grant, who led the Bullets with 24 points. "But tonight we just hung together and gutted it out with 48 minutes of tough defense. We won it the hard way."
The Bullets (11-18) scored the last four points of the third quarter to grab a 71-63 lead and held on tenaciously. A jump shot by David Robinson made it 82-74 with 3:43 left, but the Spurs were held scoreless for the next two minutes while baskets by Larry Stewart and Michael Adams sealed the victory.
There were a number of standout performances by the Bullets, but Unseld singled out backup center Charles Jones for special praise. Jones has seen his playing time diminish as Ellison has emerged as one of the NBA's best young centers.
Forced to play 34 minutes last night in Ellison's absence, Jones responded with 10 rebounds and four blocks.
"In a situation like we've been in all season," said Unseld, "you've got to be ready when called on, and C.J. is always ready. He just goes out and does all the dirty work."
Jones and the rest of the Bullets packed it in defensively against Robinson, daring the Spurs to beat them from the outside.
Robinson, the former Navy All-American, did his job, as usual, scoring 25 points, grabbing 12 rebounds and blocking six shots. But the 7-foot-1 center received little help from his teammates, with forward Terry Cummings (14 points) the only other Spur to score in double figures.
Summarizing his team's second loss to the Bullets in 12 days, Robinson said: "We have to win games like this, but we played like we were in the 'Twilight Zone.' I don't know where this game came from.
"But the Bullets out-hustled us for every loose ball. But that was typical of a Wes Unseld team. I don't care who the Bullets are missing, they always play with tremendous effort."
The Bullets got outstanding performances from Grant (nine rebounds), Stewart (a career-high 23 points, 11 rebounds), Adams (17 points, eight assists) and another strong off-the-bench job by A.J. English (15 points, seven rebounds).
Stewart, the fast-maturing rookie from Coppin State, was relentless in challenging Robinson, the league's leading shot blocker. Even after having three of his shots rejected in the first quarter, the 6-8 forward kept going to the hole.
"I couldn't give up trying," said Stewart, who had five of his 11 rebounds on the offensive end. "I had to try to get him off his feet, and then put it up. But you can't let him intimidate you."
Stewart and Grant were forced to play more than 40 minutes with reserve forward Tom Hammonds back on the injured list after aggravating a groin pull. San Antonio coach Larry Brown tried to wear them down by platooning his front line, but the strategy failed, with Spurs subs Donald Royal and Antoine Carr combining for nine points.
"We had too many guys trying to do the same thing [score]," said Brown. "We were never really into the game emotionally. They beat us with tough defense and second shots. Give the Bullets credit. They play as hard as any team in this league."
The Bullets will now have a three-day break before starting the New Year against the New Jersey Nets at the Meadowlands Friday night.