- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 5, 2003

Though he received the first part of his career-closing sendoff from fans in Chicago two days earlier, Michael Jordan proved last night that he isn't close to being finished.
Jordan scored 16 fourth-quarter points to help carry the Washington Wizards to overtime, and they needed two extra periods to finally subdue the Indiana Pacers 107-104 at MCI Center.
It was vintage Jordan, scoring a season-high 41 and taking over in the fourth as he has so many times in his career. He came up empty with the ball in his hands in late-game situations in losses to Detroit and Philadelphia this season, but this time he finished with 40-plus points for the first time since Dec.31, 2001.
"I've been waiting for this moment," said Jordan, who logged a season-high 53 minutes. "I've been close in situations where my rhythm and my shot, at a time with high stakes, it came to me. Hopefully, this is the start of something big."
As much as Jordan carried the Wizards offensively, his defensive play with 13 seconds left in the second overtime, when he knocked the ball loose and off Al Harrington's foot, may have been his biggest of the game. The Wizards led 105-104 at that point and, after Jerry Stackhouse's two free throws, forced two off-target desperation 3-point attempts from Reggie Miller in the final seconds.
Jordan, who also had 12 rebounds, had plenty of support in the biggest Wizards victory of the season. Stackhouse (20 points) and Larry Hughes (23 points) each played a strong 50 minutes. Grizzled forwards Charles Oakley and Christian Laettner contributed stout defense and rebounding and were coach Doug Collins' frontcourt choices in the crucial minutes, along with Brendan Haywood.
"The guy who really made the difference for us is Charles Oakley," Collins said. "He came in and just brought us the winner that he is."
Jordan played 33 of a possible 34 minutes in the second half and the overtimes, exiting for only the final minute of the third quarter. He finished 13-for-21 from the field for 37 points in regulation and, no doubt due in part to tired legs, made one of five field goals in the overtimes.
The teams entered the second overtime at 99-99. Jordan drew a flagrant foul from Harrington and hit both free throws for a 103-101 lead with 3:05 to play. Each team came up empty on its next two possessions before Oakley stuffed a shot attempt by Jamaal Tinsley. On the other end, Larry Hughes missed an off-balance runner, but the Wizards rebounded and called time out with 1:14 to go.
Hughes found Laettner with a great pass, and the forward was fouled and hit both free throws, giving the Wizards a 105-101 edge.
Of course, it wasn't nearly over. Erick Strickland drained a 3-pointer with 44 seconds left and Jordan misfired on a jumper, giving the Pacers the ball with 20 seconds left.
Then came Jordan's big defensive play, which set up Stackhouse's two free throws. Miller missed a 3-pointer with eight seconds left, and after Tyronn Lue and Strickland forced a jump ball, Miller had one more look in the final seconds but missed.
The portion of the sellout crowd in the MCI Center's lower bowl stood for most of the two overtime periods as the teams provided some gripping theater. The Wizards' last double-overtime contest was a loss to Milwaukee on Jan.8, 2000.
Harrington, who made 11 of his first 12 field-goal attempts, finished with a team-high 33 points on 14-for-22 shooting for the Pacers. Jermaine O'Neal had 26 points and 13 rebounds but struggled shooting from the field (8-for-22).
The Pacers, who were playing without their second-leading scorer the suspended Ron Artest, lost despite Miller's clean look at a potential game-winning jumper at the end of regulation and O'Neal's missed shot at the end of the first overtime. The usually clutch-shooting Miller missed his last six field-goal attempts.
The teams battled their way through the first overtime, scoring just four points apiece. The Pacers took a 97-95 lead 49 seconds in but couldn't score again until Harrington's drive with 36.8 seconds left made it 99-97. Stackhouse answered with a pull-up jumper to tie it with 23 seconds to go, and O'Neal's jumper skipped over the rim to force another overtime.
And in the second extra period, four points from Jordan and a clutch defensive play gave the surging Wizards their third straight victory and fourth in five games.
"It was a great win for us, the best of the season because we had our resolve and stayed with it and kept persevering," Stackhouse said. "We had times when it didn't look good, but we hung in there."


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