- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 7, 2003

BOSTON With 16.4 seconds to play and the game on the line, Boston's Paul Pierce made the perfect pass to a lady in the expensive seats along the end line.

That turnover proved lethal to the Celtics and divine to the Wizards. It stamped a conclusion to Washington's dramatic 100-95 victory over the Celtics last night at FleetCenter.

On the crucial possession, which came with the Wizards holding a 98-95 lead, Pierce was trying to throw the ball to teammate Tony Delk, but the ball came to rest in the hands of a woman in a black sweater who received the thrill of her night. She laughed at the play, which gave the Wizards something to smile about afterward.

"We were keyed in on him, and at the last minute he just tried to make a play," said the Wizards' Larry Hughes, who was marking Delk. "We were locked in on [Pierce], and we were trying to cut down on the other guys' penetration. Tony Delk was my guy. [Pierce] looked my way, and Tony Delk usually slides baseline on plays like that. But when [Pierce] looked this time he wasn't there."

The victory gave the Wizards (17-17) a season-high four in a row and lifted them to .500 for the first time since they were 6-6 on Nov. 22.

The night belonged to Jerry Stackhouse, who erupted for 37 points including 16 in the fourth quarter one game after Michael Jordan scorched Indiana for 41 in a double-overtime victory on Saturday.

Jordan added 19 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists for the Wizards. Hughes had 16 points, all in the second half.

Pierce led the Celtics (19-14) with 30 points but couldn't keep up with Stackhouse late in the game when the outcome hung in the balance.

For anyone looking for a clear sign in the Washington locker room that things are starting to turn for the better and they should continue to do so with a home game tomorrow night against the Bulls Stackhouse's stall was the place to go.

Rather than try to direct all of the attention to himself, Stackhouse, who was 11-for-11 from the free throw line, said the Wizards' effort as a unit should be lauded instead of his play.

"This is what it's all about right here, winning games. Everybody's excited," Stackhouse said. "I made a New Year's resolution just to come out and play and have fun. I think from the start of the year everybody has taken that approach. Everyone is trying to keep a clear head, keep the camaraderie going, and hopefully that will propel us to a great second half."

The Wizards have yet to lose in 2003, beating Chicago, Central Division-leading Indiana and now Boston, a team that last year reached the Eastern Conference finals, along the way. The four-game streak started with a victory over reigning league MVP Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs on New Year's Eve.

"This team is starting to look like a team," Jordan said. "Tonight we got down 10 points in the third quarter, and we fought our way back. When you look at tonight's win you see Jerry's 37 points, but a lot of guys made contributions."

That included the scrappy play of veterans Christian Laettner and Charles Oakley, as well as Tyronn Lue and Kwame Brown.

Those contributions enabled the Wizards to bounce back from a poor first half; after scoring 39 points before intermission, they scored 61 in the second half. The total team effort also allowed them to win a game in which they struggled from the free throw line (27 of 41).

"It was a great team win is what it was," Wizards coach Doug Collins said. "And our defense in the fourth quarter was terrific."

It all added up to the Wizards notching their first road win against a team with at least a .500 record since they beat Detroit 88-83 on Dec. 4.

As the game progressed in the second half, it was clear a flare-up between Stackhouse and Pierce near the end of the first half had added fuel to the later stages of a game that began with little energy.

After Pierce blocked Stackhouse's shot, Stackhouse appeared to bump Pierce and was whistled for a flagrant foul. Technicals on Pierce and Boston coach Jim O'Brien gave the Wizards a pair of free throws. Stackhouse made both, but Pierce made his two as Boston took its largest lead of the first half at 48-39 into the locker room.

The Wizards outplayed the Celtics in the second half. And when the game was on the line, it was Boston and its star who did not deliver.

"He just threw it out of bounds," O'Brien said. "That's what happened. We were looking for Paul off the pick and roll and Antoine [Walker] off the down screen. We wanted to take a 2 or a 3 at that point in time, and it didn't work out the way we wanted. He just threw it out of bounds."

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