CLEVELAND It was so fabulous that even 20,562 Cleveland fans, on their feet expecting the worst, had to applaud.
Who could blame them?
Michael Jordan last night continued his tradition of tormenting the Cleveland Cavaliers, this time knocking down a 15-foot jumper with time nearly expired to give the Wizards a stunning 93-92 victory at Gund Arena.
But rather than being deflated, the spectators in just the Cavaliers’ second sellout of the season, applauded the ending of a game that seemed to be their team’s to win.
Whether it was Jordan scoring a career-high 69 points against them or eliminating them from the playoffs with time expiring as he did in 1989 with his famous jumper over helpless Crag Ehlo Jordan seems to own both this city and the basketball team that represents it.
Jordan led the Wizards with 26 points, making just 11 of 27 shots from the floor. However, he hit the shot that mattered the most, handed out eight assists and grabbed four rebounds.
When his last shot nestled through the net, Jordan just bent his arm at the elbow, and made a fist. As he walked back to the bench, his teammates swarmed Jordan as if he had just delivered them Game 7 of the NBA Finals.
“I just like the fact that it went in, the horn sounded and there was nothing left,” Wizards coach Doug Collins said.
The victory marked the first time the Wizards won a game this season after trailing after three quarters.
Most stunning of all was the fact that Jordan, who led all scorers, was the most open Wizard of all on a play that was triggered from the sideline with just 1.6 seconds left.
Jordan’s basket came moments after Cleveland’s Chris Mihm scored what appeared to be the game-winning basket, forcing the Wizards to call time out. When play resumed, Washington’s Popeye Jones saw Jordan shake free from Bryant Stith on a bad Cleveland switch, pop open from above the free throw line and nail the game winner.
It was the first time Collins had drawn up the play, and it worked to perfection.
“Doug did a brilliant job in the timeout,” Jones, who scored five points but grabbed a team-high nine rebounds, said. “We had never run it before. Michael just broke open, and I was able to hit him with a perfect pass.”
The perfect execution came one game after the Wizards were unable to get the ball into Jordan’s hands with the game on the line in an 89-86 loss to Detroit.
Said Jordan: “We messed up last game when I didn’t take a good shot. I’m pretty sure the guys were pretty confident getting me open and executing. And everybody in the gym knew that I was going to take the shot. I was surprised that I was that wide open.
“But I didn’t have any doubts. Obviously, there are only two things you can do, either make it or miss it. I wasn’t worried about it. I was just making sure that I got a good look at it. Once I get a good look, it’s all mechanics from that point on.”
Lethargic at halftime, the Cavaliers, losers of 12 of their last 13 games, were coming off a 114-81 victory over the Timberwolves which included a 45-4 Cleveland run.
The Cavaliers came storming back from a 15-point third-quarter deficit last night with a 24-4 run to end the quarter. This was part of a 34-6 Cleveland run that eventually put the lead at 85-73 with 7:43 left in the game.
And even though the Wizards outscored the Cavaliers 20-7 the rest of the way, their chance for victory seemed highly improbably after Mihm put Cleveland ahead 92-91 on a blown defensive assignment.
During that run, Wizards center Jahidi White and Cleveland’s Zydrunas Ilgauskas were assessed technical fouls when they became tied up after Chris Whitney (20 points) nailed a 3-pointer.
Both players could receive suspensions White appeared to lunge chest-first toward Ilgauskas as could rookie Cleveland center DeSagana Diop. Diop left the bench and had to be restrained when White and Ilgauskas went chest-to-chest.
There were other sidebars as well.
Richard Hamilton, who missed 17 games with a partially torn right groin, returned to score 10 points in 17 minutes. And with guard Hubert Davis at home with the flu, the Wizards started Courtney Alexander at shooting guard. Alexander finished with 10 points.
Wesley Person led the Cavaliers with 21 points. Andre Miller finished with 15 points and 12 assists.