A final minute of elation and despair

November 22, 2012

We win…Wait..What?( AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Curtis Compton)

Up three points with a minute left in regulation, the Wizards couldn’t find a way to hold on and were pushed to overtime. Up four points in the final minute of overtime, they couldn’t find a way to get their first win of the season.

Up became down in the time it takes to blink, and the Wizards now find themselves in a 10-game hole with 72 games remaining.

Bad teams find a way to lose and the Wizards discovered another painful way to go down on Wednesday at Philips Arena, where they suffered the agony of tasting victory for five angst-filled minutes only to have it yanked away with a disputed, demoralizing, 101-100 decision against the Atlanta Hawks. 

Referees rewarded reserve Martell Webster with a rebound putback at the buzzer only to reverse the decision and wave off the shot after reviewing the tape. Most of the players found out about the decision in the locker room, after Webster led a gleeful parade to celebrate what appeared to be the first win of an already deflating season.

“Finally. We deserved it,” Webster said he thought to himself as he ran off the floor.

Coach Randy Wittman thought there must “two different videos” because the Wizards felt Webster released the shot in time. He argued with officials for changing the decision. But after the game, the Wizards were smarting over the plays that they could’ve saved them from having to rely on a last-second, desperation scoop shot.

Because no matter how much they disagreed with the ruling, they were still ahead 98-94, and later, 100-98, and still lost.

“Can’t put the game in the refs hands. It was a controversial call, but they felt like they made the right decision, so you can’t argue,” Webster said. “We went out there and worked hard. Worked our butts off. Everybody stepped up, that’s the most important thing. What can you say?”

They are now the 13th team in NBA history to start a season with 10 straight losses. The record is 18 in a row.

Nene, still dealing with a sore left foot, made his season debut and gave all that he could in 20 minutes, but his foul of Devin Harris with 3.7 seconds remaining in regulation helped extend the game another five minutes. His teammates nearly defeated the Hawks with him watching the extra frame from the bench. He prayed during the review but didn’t get the answer he wanted.

“We’re going to take the big gorilla off our back and I think it’s going to go smooth,” Nene said afterward. “We did a good job. We need to pay attention to little detail at the end of the game. Like rebound, recognizing the hot guy on the other team and those kind of mistakes cost us the victory.”

Trevor Ariza had a terrible shooting night, but still gave the Wizards a four-point lead with 2:25 remaining. Washington went more than two minutes without another field goal after letting the Hawks tie.

With 1:05 left, Kevin Seraphin fouled Al Horford, sending him to the free throw line, where he had struggled mightily all night. Horford missed both free throws, but former Wizard DeShawn Stevenson grabbed the rebound and Jeff Teague made a short turnaround jumper.

After Seraphin missed a jumper, he fouled Horford again and Horford missed two more free throws. But Ariza lost the rebound out of bounds and Stevenson found Horford inside for a layup that tied the game at 98.

“One rebound,” Wittman said. “To give up two offensive rebounds on free throws. I don’t know how we’ve…I don’t know what to tell you. Be thankful for where we’re at with Thanksgiving. We’ve got to just try to stay in it and it’s going to fall through here, before long.”

Wittman drew up a beautiful play for Seraphin, who made a baseline jumper to put the Wizards up two points with 7.3 seconds remaining and he was confident that the Wizards were about to be 1-9. Until the Hawks, without any timeouts, scrambled up the floor and got the ball to Kyle Korver, who buried his fifth three-pointer of the game with 1.9 seconds remaining.

“We got it. We finally got it,” Seraphin said he told himself after watching his shot splash through the net. “Then, [Korver] hit the shot. That’s tough to lose like that. It hurt a lot. I thought we had the game.”

Webster thought they had the game too, when he rebounded Seraphin’s airball on the final possession and tossed the ball in with his left hand. He pumped his fist. A.J. Price and Ariza raised their hands. Then Price and Chris Singleton hugged Webster as he sprinted to the locker room.

They watched the replay in the locker room and were expecting to hear some good news from the officials. All they got was more agony.

“Those free throws killed us,” rookie Bradley Beal said. “But like you always say, you can’t doubt our effort and say we’re not competing and we’re not playing hard. It’s hard to win. It is. We just have to stick with it. We know it’s hard. We know it’s tough. Nobody likes to lose, but it’s still a long year. We have 72 games and we have to keep competing and keep battling and the wins will come for us.”

Michael Lee is the national basketball writer for The Washington Post.
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