- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 7, 2005

Twenty-three long, hard years of playoff frustration ended last night as the Washington Wizards overcame the Chicago Bulls 94-91 to advance to the second round of the NBA playoffs for the first time since they overcame the New Jersey Nets 2-0 in 1982.

A series of dramatic plays at the end proved to be difference for the Wizards, who were at risk of having to head back to Chicago to play a Game 7 tomorrow rather than to Miami for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

In the end it was a mistake by the Bulls that sent them to their 11th straight loss at MCI Center. Kirk Hinrich’s inbound pass outside the 3-point arc bounced off Chris Duhon’s back and toward Washington’s Jared Jeffries, who scooped up the steal and raced in for a dunk with 31.9 seconds to play.

“We were going to run a backdoor [play],” Hinrich said, “but Duhon came off wide open and I knew they weren’t overplaying him. My first instinct was to throw the ball to him but he wasn’t looking.”

After Juan Dixon gave the Wizards’ their final margin of victory when he hit one of two free throws, the Bulls ran off a series of bad possessions under duress — including Tyson Chandler’s attempted 2-point field goal in the final seconds when he should have been looking for someone to hit a 3.

And when it was over, when the confetti had covered the MCI Center court and the dancing and hugging players had finally made it back to the locker room, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan took dead aim at his team’s detractors.

“It feels like the entire NBA was talking about how we played and how much tougher the opponent was, how much guts they had and how they had less talent than we did,” Jordan said. “I think our guys deserve the same respect. We have just as much heart and guts as anybody in the NBA.

“I’m glad we proved it whether we won the series or not. We have it. We’ve had it. I’ve said it before that half of our wins came on character, toughness and will and determination. Half of our wins have come like that. It’s just a microcosm of what our season has been like. So please give the organization and our players the respect that they deserve.”

The toughness Jordan spoke of was on display in the final stages of the game

Down 91-87 with 2:41 left in the game, Gilbert Arenas (19 points) came up with a huge block at the basket on the Bulls’ Hinrich (22 points, nine assists). Brendan Haywood, who finished with 13 points on 5-for-6 shooting, had a tip-in to cut the Bulls’ lead to two.

Antawn Jamison (19 points), who had just missed a pair of crucial free throws, stole a Hinrich pass and at the other end and converted a 19-footer that tied it with 2:08 to play.

But neither team was able to do anything offensively for the next few moments.

Jeffries changed all of this with his bucket, but it was what the Wizards did as a group during the late comeback that made the difference.

“They would have gone up six if I didn’t block it,” Arenas said. “But the key of the game was when Jared stole the ball. He stole it and hauled [butt]. I know he didn’t want to go to that free throw line at all so he did whatever it took to get to that basket.”

The Wizards won’t have much time to enjoy this, not with Game 1 scheduled for Miami tomorrow afternoon, but what they have accomplished can’t be overlooked.

They became just the ninth team in league history to overcome a 2-0 series deficit to win the series. And they did it by evolving in just one series from a team that seemingly could only go as far as the efforts of Arenas, Larry Hughes (21 points) and Jamison into a solid unit that placed five players in double digits in Game 6.

Andres Nocioni tied Hinrich for Chicago’s scoring honors with 22. The Bulls, who started the season 0-9 but wound up as the fourth seed in the East to the Wizards’ fifth seed, also got 14 points and 11 rebounds from Chandler.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide