- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2005

CHICAGO.

The Wizards did not wear black arm bands or stencil No.5 on their shoes in memory of outgoing forward Kwame Brown in Game5 last night.

That tells you all you need to know about the team’s mood toward the fallen one.

The Wizards played with a vigor and swagger in a hostile environment that carried them past the Bulls 112-110 in United Center after squandering a 22-point lead, only to have Gilbert Arenas save the night with a 15-footer as the final buzzer sounded.

The Wizards lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 and can close it out tomorrow night on Fun Street, where the Bulls have lost 10 in a row.

This was the game the Wizards desperately wanted after winning Games3 and 4 in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood and claiming the momentum of the series.

“I think Game 5 represents a better chance for us than a Game7,” Wizards coach Eddie Jordan said before the game.

And it played out that way in the first half, when the Wizards surged to a 63-49 lead. This fit the pattern of the two previous games on West Madison Street, where the Wizards rolled to double-digit leads before succumbing to the playoff atmosphere and the Bulls.

Bulls coach Scott Skiles, so unsettled in the first quarter, pulled one out of Gene Hackman’s playbook in “Hoosiers.”

Unlike Hackman’s character, who asked to be ejected from the game in an attempt to motivate his players, Skiles strolled onto the floor to complain about a call, essentially imploring one of the officials to give him a technical foul.

The technical foul was delivered, but the tone and body language of the Bulls did not change. They appeared to be a spent team at this point, almost willing to acquiesce to the stronger personnel of the Wizards.

Not even a third foul that sent Antawn Jamison to the bench for the last 7:03 of the half provided the Bulls with an opening.

Arenas seemed content to keep delivering the ball to his teammates, as he did in Game4. So long as his teammates converted — and the supporting cast of Brendan Haywood, Juan Dixon and Michael Ruffin did — he was content to spread the ball around and further stress the crumbling defense of the Bulls.

The Wizards pushed their lead to as many as 22 points in the third quarter before the Bulls started to play with a sense of urgency and purpose. Their cause was helped by the fourth fouls against Haywood and Jamison, which sent both to the bench until the fourth quarter.

The Bulls came hard in the fourth quarter, as the crowd worked itself into a frenzy. Predictably enough, referees Bob Delaney, Derrick Stafford and Greg Willard fell sway to the exhortations of the crowd.

The notion of the suspended Brown being a distraction turned out to be so much hot air.

The notion trivialized the distraction he had become with a group of players who genuinely like one another.

Brown did not fit in well with this group — not that players need to be chummy with one another to play as a team on the floor — and his distance exacerbated an increasingly tenuous position.

If one teammate had his ear or served as a confidante, perhaps the implosion of Brown could have been averted. Perhaps all it would have taken was someone with his trust urging him not to jump off the ledge.

Brown certainly had enough authority figures telling him that he needed to grow up, that he needed to work so much harder than he was inclined to do and that he could not coast on his physical gifts in a league of the physically gifted.

Brown refused to listen to anyone and certainly no one in the organization the last four seasons, from Michael Jordan and Doug Collins to Ernie Grunfeld and Eddie Jordan.

Brown is hardly a thug seeking credibility with the street toughs. He is a 23-year-old, small-town fellow who has not adapted to the hard edges of the NBA and the city.

His soon-to-be ex-team did not miss him at all.

In fact, the Wizards gave their most effective performance of the series.

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