- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 6, 2004

BOSTON — For a half, the Washington Wizards appeared ready to take a huge step in a must-win game. But that step never came, and the Wizards had only themselves to blame for a 94-90 loss to the Boston Celtics before 15,046 at FleetCenter.

The Wizards, with a chance to move within four games of the final Eastern Conference playoff berth, turned the ball over 24 times and were outscored 55-41 in the second half, when they made 12 of 41 shots.

Instead of taking momentum into tomorrow’s game against New York, the Wizards were left wondering what hit them. Part of that answer came from the Celtics’ bench, which was responsible for 42 points.

Still, the Wizards had a chance to win it late when Juan Dixon’s 3-pointer in front of the Washington bench with 13.8 seconds to play pulled them within 91-90 and forced the Celtics to call time out.

Fouled when play resumed, Boston’s Paul Pierce sank a pair of free throws to extend the lead. And after Dixon failed to convert a 3-pointer at the other end, Chucky Atkins sealed the Boston win by making one of two free throws.

Gilbert Arenas led the Wizards with 26 points, seven assists and six rebounds, but he also had five turnovers. Dixon added 17 points, and Jarvis Hayes and Etan Thomas had 12 each.

Pierce connected on 10 of 12 free throws to pace Boston (27-36) with 24 points on 7-for-23 shooting. Mark Blount and Ricky Davis both had 17. Blount was 4-for-4 in the fourth quarter, when he scored 10 points.

The loss left the Wizards searching for their second Atlantic Division victory (1-14) and wonder whether they are ready to participate in the playoff battle.

“I know I played like I was rattled,” said Kwame Brown, who has as many turnovers (six) as points. “I didn’t handle the pressure well. I don’t think we did as a team.”

He was only partially right. It was only the final 151/2 minutes in which the Wizards collapsed.

After Washington tied its largest lead at 62-50 on Dixon’s jumper with 3:30 left in the third, Boston outscored the Wizards 44-28. The Celtics scored 34 points in the fourth quarter, when they made 56 percent of their shots and held the Wizards to 6-for-19 shooting.

“It started in the third quarter when they took it up a notch,” Arenas said. “We didn’t capitalize on what we got started early on. When you get a team back on their heels like that, you have to keep on attacking them. We stopped playing our game.”

Wizards coach Eddie Jordan put it this way: “Really, it’s simple. We didn’t back down from a fight, but we turned it over too much, and we didn’t make shots when we had to.”

Turnovers have consistently hurt the Wizards even when they win. The Wizards, who won four of their last five games before last night, managed to beat New Orleans on Monday despite turning the ball over 10 times in the fourth quarter. Last night, Washington committed 14 turnovers in the second half.

Early on, Washington had little trouble scoring. Haywood and Thomas combined for 18 first-half points and seemed to have their way against the Celtics’ defenders.

Leading 24-17 at the start of the second, Washington played an even better period. The Wizards connected on 10 of 19 shots while limiting the Celtics to 10-for-25 from the field.

They took their biggest lead of the game just before halftime when Hayes’ 3-pointer made it 49-37 with 7.3 seconds left in the half.

Arenas opened the second half by scoring the Wizards’ first seven points for a 56-48 advantage. That margin grew to 62-50 later in the quarter when Dixon connected on a 3-pointer.

Boston rallied late in the quarter, getting a pair of crucial 3-pointers from 6-foot-10 reserve forward Walter McCarty that cut Washington’s lead to 65-60 heading into the fourth quarter.

This was part of a 16-3 Boston run that started in the third and carried over into the fourth. The Celtics took their first lead of the night at 66-65 on Davis’ breakaway reverse layup with 10:27 left in the game.

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