Wizards’ Trevor Ariza almost saved the day


We were so close. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trevor Ariza came about a foot short of pulling off one of the more miraculous one-man runs in NBA history on Wednesday when his three-pointer from the left corner tickled the bottom of the net, tricking broadcasters and a good portion of the crowd at Verizon Center into thinking the Wizards had done the improbable.

The Wizards lost, 96-95, but the defeat would’ve been much worse if not for two impressive offensive outbursts from Ariza, who turned a 10-point second-quarter deficit into a halftime lead and almost single-handedly brought the team back from a nine-point deficit in the final 66 seconds.

On a night that was overshadowed by John Wall’s struggles and Coach Randy Wittman calling out players for whining about minutes and shots during the game, Ariza continued to compete until the end. The veteran forward scored a season-high 22 points and grabbed six rebounds, with three steals and three assists.

“He did just about all he could do,” Wittman said about Ariza.

With the Wizards trailing 96-87, Ariza made two three-pointers in 32 seconds, then stole a pass by Pistons point guard Jose Calderon and a drew a clear path foul on reserve Will Bynum. Ariza then stepped to the foul line and knocked down both free throws with 12.3 seconds remaining.

“It almost felt like we were down 30 and had no chance,” Wittman said, “than all of a sudden, you’re nicking and nicking away and all of a sudden, I’m calling timeout, calling up a play to win a game… We had the last shot of the game.”

Wittman drew up the play for rookie Bradley Beal, who was met in the paint by three Pistons defenders and threw the ball in the direction on Martell Webster. Webster saved the errant pass, slapping down the ball and then batting it ahead to Ariza in the corner.

“He saw the ball, passed it,” Ariza said of Webster, “and somehow the ball ended up in my hands. I had to shoot it.”

Ariza didn’t know how much time he had, only that with Pistons forward Kyle Singler flying toward him, “I tried to shoot it a little higher,” he said. “We were fighting. Clawing to get back in the game. We gave ourselves an opportunity to win the game. We let this one slip through our hands.”

Ariza was more disappointed that the Wizards lost another winnable game at home and waited too long to fight back. They trailed 39-29 points in the second period before Ariza and A.J. Price led them on an 18-6 run. Ariza drilled a three-pointer to give the Wizards a 47-45 lead, then stole the ball from Monroe and dunked on the other end. The Wizards led 55-51 at halftime but entered the final period trailing by 14.

“I think we all played bad,” Ariza said. “We all didn’t do what we needed to do, especially defensively. If we want to win games, we have to bring a better effort.”

Ariza has been doing his part of late, scoring at least 16 points in the Wizards’ past three home games and averaging 18.7 points in the past four games overall. After having a difficult adjustment to Washington, Ariza found his groove in February as he averaged 11.9 points and 3.9 rebounds in a reserve role, though Wittman mentioned that he still receives starter minutes. He also shoot 49.1 percent from the field and 38.8 percent from three-point range last month.

“I’m just playing basketball,” Ariza said. “I’m not really worried about anything. Just coming out and playing.”

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

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Michael Lee · February 28, 2013