- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

BOSTON Last night's Washington Wizards-Boston Celtics game was the final one of the preseason, though by night's end it had enough of a regular season feel that it could have easily passed for a mid-March matchup for Eastern Conference playoff position.
Both coaches played what should closely resemble their rotations early in the season, Washington's Jerry Stackhouse and Boston's Paul Pierce waged some back-and-forth one-upsmanship and Wizards coach Doug Collins even drew a technical foul. The Wizards led a seesaw affair at the end of the third quarter before letting things slip away in the fourth, losing 104-95 before 15,229 at FleetCenter.
In drawing several fouls early in the fourth quarter, the Celtics put the Wizards in the penalty situation and marched to the free throw line the rest of the way, using a 23-13 advantage in attempts during the period to their benefit. Stackhouse scored 36 points but had just four in the fourth quarter.
Despite losing three of their last four, the Wizards closed their first winning preseason in 17 years at 5-3 and now look forward to the opener of an eagerly anticipated season Wednesday at Toronto.
The Wizards had every right to be tired last night, no doubt anxious to get off the road and back to Washington after winding up the final game of their seven-game, 12-day road trip longer than any one they'll take in the regular season.
Stackhouse continued to show he's raring to go by hitting his first four field goals, including two 3-pointers, as he scored 15 of the Wizards' first 21 points.
He stayed hot in the third quarter and had his whole arsenal working, scoring scoop shots off drives, pull-up jumpers and long-range missiles. He added some spice on the defensive end, stuffing Pierce's dunk attempt in the third quarter and also added some choice words afterward.
With the score tied 55-55 with 8:30 to go, Stackhouse scored 10 consecutive points, eight on jumpers, and punctuated his run with a fall-away, shot clock- and buzzer-beating jumper that tied the game at 65-65.
"This was the best looks I've had in [a while]," Stackhouse said. "Just getting the opportunity to get free looks at the basket a lot was just good ball movement I was able to be patient, give a head fake and was able to create some space. Those are shots I'm working on all the time, and when you get a few looks like that, it makes the tough ones go down, too."
Stackhouse's production during the preseason, and that of the Wizards' overall offense, is even more impressive because Collins installed little more than basic sets. Collins said he worked in some plays for Stackhouse last night but not much more.
Pierce, who had 13 of his 31 points in the fourth, had some answers, getting 10 points in the first 7:08 of the fourth quarter (eight from the free throw line) as the Celtics surged into the lead. The Wizards, who led 74-71 at the end of the third quarter, surrendered a 15-5 Celtics run to trail 86-79. Minutes later, with Boston leading 90-85, the Celtics put together another eight straight points to close it out.
"This is a very tough team to defend because they have two great players that really command double teams," Collins said. "They shot [23] free throws in the fourth quarter, and once they got in the penalty, especially with Paul Pierce and [Antoine] Walker, you get them on the line and it's hard."
There were notably few contributions from the Wizards' big men, who won't be relied upon to score many points in the guard-oriented offense but will have to do more than last night. Centers Brendan Haywood and Etan Thomas combined for no points and one field goal attempt in 27 minutes, while Kwame Brown had 11 points. Collins said the post players need to play more aggressively.
Larry Hughes ended his preseason with another strong effort, scoring 15 points. His pull-up jumper with 20.7 seconds to go in the third quarter gave the Wizards a 74-69 lead, their largest to that point.
In his third game of the preseason, all this week, Michael Jordan scored 14 points in 23 minutes. He first entered with 3:53 to go in the first quarter, and his jumper just inside the 3-point line gave the Wizards a 25-24 lead with 46.7 seconds left in the period.

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