- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 21, 2004

At least this loss was exciting.

Embarrassed in recent games, the Washington Wizards battled the Central Division-leading Indiana Pacers, rallying from 18 points down in the first half only to see the Pacers come back late to win 96-87 at MCI Center.

Down by eight points in the fourth quarter, Indiana took an 88-87 lead with 2:17 left, then used back-to-back 3-pointers by Jamaal Tinsley to push the lead to 94-87 and send the Wizards to their fourth consecutive loss.

Right before Tinsley (19 points, 10 assists) hit those jumpers, Indiana’s Jeff Foster avoided what looked like an obvious foul on Washington’s Gilbert Arenas (27 points, five assists) as Arenas attempted to get off a shot.

“Those are some of the breaks you get when you’re the number one team in the Eastern Conference, I guess,” Washington’s Jerry Stackhouse (15 points) said. “We’re a team that’s not even in the playoff picture right now. So those are the breaks of the game. We’ve just got to keep working, and hopefully we’ll get to the point where we’ll get those calls, especially when we’re at home.”

The no-call so incensed Wizards coach Eddie Jordan that he had to be restrained by his players and coaching staff as he went after referee Leon Wood, one of three officials he thought should have made the call.

In the interview room after the game, Jordan’s comments lasted no longer than a minute. He did not address the officiating.

“I’m not going to talk about the officials,” Jordan said. “[The Pacers] executed very well down the stretch, and that’s how the game went.”

Making an argument that the officiating hurt Washington is valid. But what really hurt the Wizards (16-37) in the fourth quarter was their 6-for-20 shooting. The Pacers (40-15), playing without starting forward Ron Artest (thumb surgery), outscored the Wizards 28-16 in the quarter as Reggie Miller scored 11 of his team-high 24 points.

“We didn’t execute when we had to,” Arenas said. “It’s a shame because we needed to get a win here. We needed to get this game just to feel better about ourselves.”

The Wizards had bad luck earlier in the game when what looked like a layup by Brendan Haywood (nine points, six rebounds) was reviewed at the end of the third quarter and determined to have come after time expired.

The Wizards entered the game having played perhaps their three worst consecutive games of the season, losing to Philadelphia, Houston and New York by an average of 24.3 points. In those games, the Wizards had been wretched defensively, allowing their opponents to hit 54.3 percent of their shots. And in the early going it appeared as if the Pacers would have no trouble joining those teams in crushing the Wizards.

In the first half, Indiana hit better than 64 percent of its shots and led by as many as 18 points, plenty of ammunition to justify the booing that sporadically rained down from the crowd of 15,711.

Washington trailed 26-18 at the end of the first quarter, mostly because the Pacers made 11 of 19 shots and the Wizards committed eight turnovers, one more than in their 107-96 victory over the Pacers last month.

Indiana started to pull away late in the first shortly after Haywood’s dunk got Washington within 18-16. But the Pacers clamped down defensively, holding the Wizards to one field goal in a little more than three minutes to lead 26-18.

While the Pacers made an impressive 58 percent of their shots in the first quarter, that paled in comparison to their 75 percent (9-for-12) in the second. The torrid shooting enabled the Pacers to transform a 28-23 lead early in the second period into a 45-27 advantage with 4:28 left in the half.

The Wizards began chipping away and got the lead down to 11 at halftime. Then, Washington opened the second half on a 10-0 run to pull within 52-49. At that point the game started to get a little chippy.

First, Stackhouse and Indiana small forward Al Harrington started jawing after Stackhouse was whistled for a foul he didn’t agree with. Moments later, Haywood and Tinsley had to be separated as they traded comments.

That, however, seemed to provide the impetus for the Wizards’ rally. Washington outscored the Pacers 32-18 in the quarter, including a 24-12 run that produced the Wizards’ first lead of the game at 63-62 with 3:45 to play in the third.

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