- The Washington Times - Monday, March 11, 2002

BOSTON It was fitting the Washington Wizards' most recent defeat ended this way.
With time winding down on a 98-91 loss to the Boston Celtics yesterday, Tyronn Lue spotted Richard Hamilton to his left, looked away, then fired a pass to where Hamilton had been standing behind the 3-point line along the sideline. But Hamilton was gone, and the ball flew into the expensive seats at FleetCenter. The Celtics were able to dribble out the remaining 18 seconds, and the Wizards left feeling like they had let one more team off the hook.
Who could doubt them? The Celtics (35-37), winners of four straight, have been one of the surprise stories this season under second-year coach Jim O'Brien. But after scoring 130 and 117 points in back-to-back wins over the Orlando Magic and Detroit Pistons, the Celtics yesterday played like an uninterested team waiting to be beaten.
The Celtics made just six of their 3-point attempts. They were pounded on the boards, 44-32. And the sellout crowd (18,624) that showed up expecting a win never became a factor.
The Celtics didn't need the crowd. They just needed the Wizards (29-33) to make costly mistakes late in the game.
"The last six minutes of the game we have not been able to finish," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "We saw it again tonight. It's a carbon copy of the losses that we've had the last four or five games. Under pressure we take bad shots, make bad decisions on both ends of the floor, and teams have capitalized on that. And in the end we just couldn't manufacture any offense. That and the turnovers."
The Wizards pulverized the Celtics on the boards, but they couldn't get the ones that were most crucial.
The Wizard cut the Boston lead to 93-90 late in the fourth quarter. But Celtics center Vitaly Potapenko grabbed two offensive rebounds that enabled Boston to keep possession from 1:48 remaining until 0:53, when Paul Pierce made a pair of free throws. The Wizards would get just one more point in a quarter in which they shot only 31.3 percent from the field.
"Two really huge rebounds by Vitaly, late, really may have been the game," O'Brien said.
But turnovers more than anything else proved to be the Wizards' undoing. The Wizards had six turnovers in the fourth quarter and 18 overall the most they have committed in a game this season since they coughed up 22 against Chicago on Jan. 19.
"It hurts every team," point guard Chris Whitney said. "You can look at our track record and see that it's uncharacteristic of us. We had 11 in the first half, and we have games where we don't make 11 turnovers. We have to take better care of the ball. If we do that we'll have a better chance of winning games."
However, those chances are becoming slimmer by the day. The Wizards' season has been reduced to just 20 games. Though they are still in contention for the final Eastern Conference playoff berth, the Wizards appear to be clueless about what it takes to win these days. The Wizards have lost 12 of their last 15 games, and after tonight's rematch with Boston they'll pack their bags for six games in nine nights on a West Coast trip on which Michael Jordan is not expected to play that could decide their season.
"It's a crucial stretch for us but we're still confident that we can do OK on the road trip," said Lue, who scored 19 points. "But it's hard learning how to without Michael this late in the season when he was the go-to man."
Hamilton led the Wizards with 21 points, but he was the biggest culprit in the turnover category, finishing with eight. Courtney Alexander finished with 15 points. Christian Laettner was not a factor offensively, scoring five points, but he pulled down a season-high 16 rebounds.
Walker led the Celtics with 23 points but shot a miserable 8-for-21 from the field. Pierce finished with 18, but he, too, shot a bad percentage (7-for-20). They did get a solid game from point guard Kenny Anderson, who finished with 17 points.
Until the Wizards get Jordan back, which most likely won't be for another few weeks, they are going to have to find someone who can close out games.
"For 50 games we had [Jordan] there to take some big shots for us and he would make them," Laettner said. "So we got to figure out how to get over that hump."


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