- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 7, 2005

In a most improbable season, the Wizards put to rest 23 years’ worth of postseason frustration last night.

A stirring finish enabled the Wizards to defeat the Bulls 94-91 and win the best-of-seven series in six games.

Next stop for the increasingly relevant Wizards: Shaq and the Heat in Miami tomorrow.

The game turned on a bizarre inbound pass from Kirk Hinrich that landed on the back of Chris Duhon, who was trying to break free from Jared Jeffries. Jeffries picked up the ball and then dribbled the length of the court to put the Wizards up by two points with 32 seconds left.

This was a night to relish in a city that has become accustomed to disappointing franchises, from the Redskins of the NFL to the Caps of the NHL.

“I think this is going to be electric,” the team’s president of basketball operations Ernie Grunfeld said minutes before the opening jump. “I’ve always felt D.C. has great basketball fans.”

Grunfeld recalled the decibel output in the cold, dank Capital Centre as a visiting player. He heard it anew in Game 4 on Monday night.

The city finally is waking to the notion that it has a team that deserves to be embraced. And the city was able to bust loose in Game 6, in the close-out game of the series, in the most meaningful game of the Wizards era of the franchise.

The crowd was on its feet, in full throttle, with anticipation all around. The mood was soon dampened by the even-tempered manner of the Bulls.

The Bulls got off to their best start of the series and led 54-52 at halftime. It was a tough-minded performance that mostly took the towel-waving crowd out of the proceedings.

The Wizards, sensing the stakes, looked unnerved in the early going, unable to complete the most elementary plays. Brendan Haywood fumbled away the opening possession, and then Larry Hughes whipped a pass past a preoccupied Antawn Jamison on the second possession.

Hughes was the only member of the Wizards to establish a good rhythm in the first 24 minutes. He also was a force on the defensive end, picking the pockets of Ben Gordon and Tyson Chandler on successive possessions.

So frustrated was Chandler, he chased down Hughes and leveled him with a bear-hug foul, which resulted in a flagrant foul.

This was one of the many messages of the Bulls that let the Wizards know they would not go away easily.

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan remarked how the close-out game is the toughest of a closely contested series, as this game reflected.

Bulls coach Scott Skiles inserted Gordon in the starting lineup. Gordon, who won the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award this week, could not heed the call. He was held scoreless and finished with five turnovers.

Yet Andres Nocioni re-emerged as an element after four nondescript games. His 25-point, 18-rebound performance in Game 1 — termed a birthday present by Jamison — provoked lots of talk in Chicago. But the hard-charging Nocioni lost his edge until this dig-deep affair in Tony Cheng’s neighborhood.

The Wizards trailed 74-64 with 4:43 left in the third quarter, which prompted a timeout from Jordan.

The Wizards hit two baskets, and then both teams went into a funk. The Bulls missed their last eight field goal attempts of the third quarter, plus committed two turnovers, while the Wizards missed their last 10 field goal attempts of the quarter.

Hughes, Gilbert Arenas and Juan Dixon tried to resolve the team’s confidence crisis with quick shots — too quick in most instances — as the Wizards abandoned their offense and showed their tender years.

It was an exercise in grit for the Bulls, as they fought to play another day and fought against the weight of a double-digit losing streak on this floor.

Arenas buried a 3-pointer as the Wizards closed the deficit to 80-78 in the opening minutes of the fourth quarter. This sent the crowd into a frenzy. The crowd believed this to be the time the Wizards could wrest control of the game from the Bulls.

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