With 17 seconds left and the game on the line, the Washington Wizards had a player at the foul line and the home crowd raining chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” down upon him.
All-Stars Gilbert Arenas, Antawn Jamison and Caron Butler were on the floor, but the cheers were directed at Earl Boykins - the 5-foot-5 backup point guard who joined the team three weeks ago.
Boykins definitely was deserving of them Wednesday night at Verizon Center. His late heroics led Washington to a 104-102 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks.
Boosted by 11 fourth-quarter points from Boykins - including four free throws in the final 17 seconds - Washington (7-10) posted its fourth victory in five games.
Arenas had 22 points and nine assists, Nick Young had 21 points and five rebounds and Jamison and Butler had 15 points apiece. But 13 points from Boykins rescued a Wizards team whose starters were gassed late from playing Tuesday in Toronto.
“He’s been like that,” coach Flip Saunders said. “If you look at the games we’ve won, he’s finished games for us. He’s got the ability to make free throws, got the ability to make plays. He’s just a unique player with the things he has the ability to do.”
After losing a four-point lead and falling behind 99-96 with 2:09 left, Washington came to life thanks to its “Energizer Bunny.” Boykins made a 14-foot jumper to pull his team within one with 1:39 left. Then he got an outlet pass from Brendan Haywood on the other end and raced back up the floor. After dribbling down the shot clock, Boykins fed Haywood for a two-handed dunk that put Washington up 100-99 with 59 seconds left.
Boykins got to the line during the Wizards’ next possession, and with the crowd chanting for him, he knocked down both shots, giving Washington a three-point lead. But the Wizards needed him again after Milwaukee rookie point guard Brandon Jennings drilled a 3-pointer with 10.5 seconds left, tying the score at 102-102.
Coming out of a timeout, with Arenas, Jamison and Butler all on the floor, Saunders put the ball in Boykins’ hands again. The guard weaved his way in and out of traffic, then pulled up for a jumper with 0.1 seconds left. He missed but was fouled by Jennings.
Boykins calmly stepped to the line and made both shots - a seemingly remarkable feat for a player who had missed three earlier in the night and a team that missed nine free throws Wednesday - for the deciding points.
“I was awful from the foul line tonight, but it was different when the game was on the line,” Boykins said. “It’s actually easier to play when the game’s on the line, and tonight I was able to get it done for us.”
Luke Ridnour missed a 3-pointer at the horn, and Washington escaped with the win.
The Wizards were coming off of a 106-102 victory Tuesday night in Toronto, which was their second straight road win. The first came Friday at Miami, but Washington followed that with a letdown against Charlotte.
But unlike that game, Washington got off to a good start against Milwaukee, taking a 26-22 lead after one quarter. Jump-starting Washington was Nick Young, who made his fifth straight start and scored nine first-quarter points.
The Bucks, who hadn’t played in two days, came back in the second quarter, fueled by the emotional boost from coach Scott Skiles’ ejection with 29.7 seconds left in the first. The Bucks outscored Washington 32-24 in the second quarter to take a 54-50 halftime lead.
While Milwaukee went to its bench for a boost, Saunders stuck primarily with his starters, and Jamison kept Washington within reach with 10 second-quarter points. Despite showing signs of fatigue, Washington’s starters again had a heavy workload in the second half.
Andray Blatche kept the Wizards in the game early in the fourth quarter, scoring six points off the bench. In the clutch, Washington went to Boykins for the victory.
“This is the type of feeling we’ve been wanting for a while,” Jamison said. “We’re happy that we’re getting it, but we’re not satisfied at all. We got a lot of making up to do.”
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