Throughout the dismal first month and a half of the season, two of the Washington Wizards‘ shortcomings have been a lack of support from the bench and an inability to close down the stretch.
Tuesday night when they hosted the Detroit Pistons, the Wizards finally got both. They rode a thunderous charge by their reserves to erase a significant third-quarter deficit and got key plays late to seal a 107-94 victory.
The Wizards (4-15) got a season-high 59 points and 18 rebounds from their bench; guard Juan Dixon led the way with 16 points and seven assists.
Caron Butler led the team with a game-high 33 points to go with six assists and five rebounds. Co-captain Antawn Jamison made just four of 12 attempts to finish with 10 points but grabbed 11 rebounds. The other starters - JaVale McGee, DeShawn Stevenson and Dee Brown - combined for five points. Fortunately for the Wizards, the bench delivered.
In addition to Dixon’s effort, forward/center Darius Songaila provided 15 points and five rebounds, Nick Young added nine points, Andray Blatche recorded eight points and five rebounds and Dominic McGuire had six points.
“I just walked down and said, ‘We’re better than we’re playing. We need more energy,’” said coach Ed Tapscott, whose team shot 28 percent in the first quarter and trailed by as many as 17 in the second before pulling within three at halftime thanks to a 15-3 run. “And so before each guy went in, I’d stop them and say, ‘Can you give me something?’ I’d make them commit to me on their way to the court.”
The Pistons fell to 11-9 on the season and 7-9 since Allen Iverson made his Detroit debut. Richard Hamilton led Detroit with 29 points, Rasheed Wallace added 19, Iverson contributed 13 and Rodney Stuckey tallied 10.
The Wizards, who improved to 3-5 under Tapscott, trailed 66-57 with 4:41 left in the third quarter. Then Dixon entered and made a 21-foot jump shot to start an 11-0 run that gave the Wizards a 68-66 lead - their first of the game. Washington closed the third on a 17-2 tear and led 74-68 heading into the fourth.
“We had started off flat; weren’t playing extremely well,” Dixon said. “And we wanted to bring energy. I thought our bench was tremendous, and Caron [Butler] and Antawn [Jamison] were solid as usual. We all got the opportunity to play and made it all 48 minutes with that effort.”
The Wizards sustained their momentum in the fourth. Blatche provided the highlight of the night: Getting a pass while guarded on the perimeter by Wallace, he pump-faked, then drove baseline past Wallace for a tomahawk jam to give the Wizards a 76-68 lead.
Wallace answered with a 3-pointer, then McGuire made a 3. Wallace missed another shot from the perimeter on Detroit’s next possession. On the other end, Jamison missed a 3, but McGuire soared through the lane, caught the errant shot in the air and slammed home the putback to put Washington up 80-71 with 10:30 left.
So far this season, the Wizards have led or been tied nine times in the fourth quarter and lost - but not Tuesday. When the Pistons mounted a late charge to pull within 92-88 on a 19-footer by Hamilton with 2:11 left, Washington weathered the storm.
After a timeout, Wizards assistant Wes Unseld Jr. drew up an inbounds play that called for a backdoor cut from Songaila. The 6-foot-9 Lithuanian executed the play to perfection and scored off an assist from Dixon to start an 8-2 run that clinched the win.
“Sometimes the five guys that start the game can’t do it by themselves,” Songaila said. “And tonight was a perfect example of guys coming off the bench, bringing some energy and knocking down shots, making hustle plays.
“It was an opportunity for us, and we took it.”