In the unlikeliest turn of events, the Washington Wizards ended their eight-game losing streak last night with Michael Jordan having a nightmarish game.
With the much-maligned Christian Laettner making a big jumper late in overtime, and Richard Hamilton, not exactly known as a defensive stopper, making a huge defensive play in the final seconds, the Wizards defeated the Boston Celtics 88-84 in front of 20,674 at MCI Center.
“Needless to say it was a great win for our guys. I was so proud of them,” Wizards coach Doug Collins said after the Wizards (3-9) won for the first time since defeating Philadelphia in the home opener on Nov 3. “We really got tired. In like the last six minutes, our guys had no legs at all and we found a way to win. We defended when we had to. We needed this win so badly tonight for our guys. We found a way to win, and I think that’s a very positive sign.”
Jordan tied Laettner for scoring honors with 17, despite making just seven of 24 shots from the field, and grabbed 11 rebounds. Hamilton added 16 points, hauled in a season-high eight rebounds and handed out six assists to tie Jordan for game honors.
Specifically, Laettner and Hamilton found a way to win on a night when the Wizards tried to ruin their most complete effort of the season. They blew a 15-point lead with 7:15 left in regulation and were outscored 26-13 in the fourth quarter.
This came on the heels of the Wizards clamping down defensively to hold the Celtics to just 13 points in the third quarter.
With the score tied at 82-82, Hamilton whipped a pass to Laettner on the baseline, and Laettner released a 17-footer that barely sent a ripple through the net but ignited MCI Center.
Hamilton put the Celtics (5-6) away after a Boston timeout when he stole Joe Johnson’s inbounds pass with 8.3 seconds remaining, was fouled, and converted a pair of free throws to put the Wizards ahead 86-82. Reserve guard Milt Palacio scored on the Celtics’ next possession, but Hamilton hit two more free throws with .5 seconds left to put the game away.
Laettner, whom Collins has been begging to hit the mid-range jumper, had success with it a few times last night. However, none was bigger than the one he drilled in overtime.
“When you got it rolling like that, you gotta pull the trigger,” Laettner said in the locker room. “It was kind of important that we made the extra pass. It was a broken play. We almost screwed up again, but we didn’t. Luckily, we didn’t tonight.”
Jordan played 45 minutes and admitted that he was worn down at the end. However, when questioned about whether or not he would get to the point where he would be able to dominate games late, Jordan answered affirmatively.
“I imagine when the time comes, I’m going to be there when the team needs me,” Jordan said. “I wasn’t there tonight, but I don’t think this is indicative of where it’s going to be as we move further into the season. I have total confidence that I can make big baskets down the stretch. That has not changed.”
Boston didn’t exactly help itself. The Celtics shot an anemic 36.4 (32-for-88) from the field, and made six of 27 3-pointers. Four came in the fourth quarter when Boston played out of character and shot itself back in the game.
Antoine Walker led the Celtics with 24 points, 11 rebounds and five assists. Paul Pierce scored 23 points, grabbed seven rebounds and handed out five assists.
Jordan was delighted that his teammates were able to win a game when he struggled.
“This is the type of game we can build on, where it’s not one guy carrying the load but guys collectively stepping up and making big shots when we need big shots and rebounds,” Jordan said.
One guy Jordan was referring to was Popeye Jones, who came off the bench to score 10 points and grab 11 rebounds.
“Popeye was great for us tonight,” Collins said. “It was a really good night for him, for a lot of guys. They played hard and they did what we’ve been showing them in practice. It carried over into the game tonight.”