BOSTON -- The way Bullets coach Wes Unseld saw it, the reason Washington fell to the Boston Celtics, 120-113, last night was simple.
Bullets forward Tom Gugliotta scored 30 points, his season high. Don MacLean added 25 and Michael Adams 23. The Bullets fought back from a 20-point first-half deficit and a 14-point third-quarter deficit to take the lead by as many as seven points in the fourth quarter.
So what happened?
"We started to revert back to the way we played in the first half," answered Unseld.
For anyone who saw the first half, that's simple enough.
The Bullets' strong second-half showing had almost erased from memory the weak first-half showing. After letting the Celtics get the first basket of the second half, the Bullets started steadily cutting into the Celtics' 17-point lead.
They finally got under double digits midway through the third quarter when Rex Chapman slammed home a feed from Adams to make the score 76-67. Another Chapman dunk cut the lead to five with 4 1/2 minutes to play in the third. Two minutes later a MacLean layup gave the Bullets a 79-78 lead.
The Bullets took their hard-fought lead into the final frame and extended it to seven points on two MacLean free throws with just under nine minutes to play.
At that point, Celtics coach Chris Ford must have felt like a soothsayer. "We played so well and pushed the ball up in the first half," said Ford. "I told the guys, though, at halftime, that I had an eerie feeling at the way the first half ended and that the score would come down."
It did, but not for long, as the Bullets reverted to first-half form. And so did the Celtics, who ran off 15 straight points before two Gugliotta free throws made it 109-103 with 4:53 left.
The Celtics' resurgence began innocently enough, with rookie reserve center Acie Earl hitting a short hook shot. But it turned out to be the first basket in a run that put the Bullets away for good -- and it came with five Celtics reserves on the court.
Earl, Chris Corchiani and Jimmy Oliver, along with Rick Fox and Dino Radja began to pound the boards and capitalize on Washington turnovers with the same fervor the starters had in the first quarter.
Fox (25 points) nailed his third three-pointer at the 5:44 mark to give the Celtics a six-point lead. Radja, who scored 14 of his 22 points in the final quarter, capped the rally with a layup with 4 1/2 minutes to play, giving the Celtics an eight-point lead and clinching its ninth straight home win over the Bullets.
"When we went up we thought we'd beat these guys," said Adams. "We had the opportunity, but we let it slip away."
"We were too flat at the beginning and not ready to play," said MacLean. "They came out ready to play and we didn't. If they weren't up by 18 in the first [quarter], they probably wouldn't have won."
That might be true, but how can one forget the first quarter, when the Celtics became a whole team of Dennis Rodmans?
In the first 12 minutes, the Celtics pulled down 12 offensive rebounds. The home team, which only the night before had been ZTC soundly beaten on the scoreboard and backboards by the Atlanta Hawks at the Omni, collected 29 first-half rebounds. The Bullets countered with 11. All of which helped explain why the Celtics led at the half 67-52.
But with a seven-point fourth-quarter lead, the Bullets figured they'd left the first half behind for good. They were wrong.
Opponent: Seattle SuperSonics
Site: USAir Arena, Landover
Radio: WXZL (103.1 FM), WTEM (570 AM)
COutlook: The Bullets, who lost in Boston last night, are looking to extend their five-game home winning streak. This is the last game of a six-game road trip for Seattle, which is 4-1 on the swing (the only loss came Saturday at Cleveland). Washington has lost eight straight to Seattle (11-1), including both meetings last season. Both teams will wear replicas of uniforms from 20 years ago tonight, when the Bullets and Sonics played the first game at the Capital Centre.