Talk about a triumphant return.
After missing two games while being ravaged by the flu, Washington Wizards swingman Caron Butler returned to action Sunday night and carried his team to a 119-117 victory against the Indiana Pacers at Verizon Center.
Following a shaky start, Butler caught fire in the final 3:45, scoring the Wizards' final 15 points - including a buzzer-beating jumper to help Washington snap a four-game losing streak and improve to 11-40. The heroic effort came after the Wizards blew a third-quarter lead and trailed by as many as eight points in the fourth quarter.
"It was just real frustrating being at home sick, seeing the team going through what they went through the last two games," Butler said. "I was just watching a lot of film, rewinding and rewinding, seeing how I could be more effective. I was kinda up in the air this game, but I really wanted to come out there and compete and help out as much as possible."
Butler - who took three bags of fluids intravenously Saturday - scored a game-high 35 points, with 17 coming in the fourth quarter. Antawn Jamison tallied 34, and Nick Young added 20 off the bench. The Pacers (20-32) had five double-digit scorers, led by Danny Granger's 29.
After suffering losses of 27 and 21 points with Butler out, the Wizards happily welcomed him back. Although he looked rusty and winded at times during the first quarter, the scoring threat he posed simply by being on the court eased the pressure on Jamison, who scored 17 points in the first quarter.
But the Wizards struggled defensively and trailed by as many as 13 before the first quarter ended with them down 37-29. Then Young came off the bench to give the Wizards a boost in the second.
After scoring only three points in the first quarter, the second-year guard scored 14 points while playing all 12 minutes of the second to help Washington shrink the deficit. The Wizards, who also got eight second-quarter points from Butler, tied the score twice in the period but went in at halftime trailing 63-61.
"I was trying to be that spark off the bench," Young said. "I have Antawn in my ear telling me that's what they need me to do, so I'm trying to be that."
The Wizards remained just as hot in the second half, using a 15-6 run in the first four minutes to take a 76-69 lead. Jamison capped the run with a wide open 3-pointer that forced an Indiana timeout.
As the Pacers came back to the bench, Indiana center Jeff Foster walked onto the floor to encourage his teammates. While slapping hands with guard Jarrett Jack, he said, "C'mon, we're not losing to this team."
The Pacers responded by going on a 13-7 burst that pulled them within 83-82 on a pair of free throws from Granger with 4:25 left in the quarter.
Indiana's largest lead of the fourth quarter was a 107-99 advantage with less than eight minutes left. After the Wizards trimmed the deficit to 110-103, Young made a foul shot, and then Butler took over. His 3-pointer over Jack tied the score at 114-114 with 57 seconds remaining.
Pacers rookie Brandon Rush had a look at a 3-pointer on the other end with 40 seconds left but missed, Dominic McGuire pulled down the rebound and Washington called a timeout. Butler came off a screen to catch a pass from Mike James and knocked down yet another 3-pointer at the top of the arc to put Washington up 117-114 and force a Pacers timeout with 20.9 seconds left.
Indiana ran a similar play on the other end; when Troy Murphy set a pick on McGuire, Granger drilled a tying 3-pointer with 15.9 seconds left. Butler would not be denied, however, knocking down a pull-up jumper over Granger as the horn sounded.
"What a difference a day makes. What a difference a player makes," Wizards interim coach Ed Tapscott said. "Obviously, [Butler] had a terrific game, but it just meant we had offense from different areas of the floor, so they couldn't load up on Antawn. ...
"In the second half, he drove the ball [and] he shot the ball. They could never get a gauge on what he was doing, and he got hot when we needed it."