ATLANTA — The ball was just out of the reach of a leaping Trevor Booker, landing perfectly in the hands of Atlanta Hawks center Al Horford. Booker jumped to defend, but Horford had already released the shot, leaving Booker with the worst view of another devastating finish for the Washington Wizards.
After Horford’s shot splashed through the net with no time left to give his team a 101-99 overtime victory on Friday night at Philips Arena, Booker could only place his hands above his head in shock as his stunned, dejected teammates lowered their gazes and quietly strolled off the court. The Wizards didn’t bother to turn around to watch as Horford gleefully hugged and jumped with teammates Kyle Korver and Pero Antic, the quarterback of a beautifully executed inbounds pass.
“It hurts considering what we’ve been through,” Booker said after recording his second double-double of the season with season highs of 24 points and 14 rebounds. “We lost by one point last game, and then this game we come in, fight back and lose that way at the buzzer. It hurts.”
The Wizards (9-12) have lost three in a row for the third time this season and continue to be just good enough to lose in the closing seconds. Their past three losses have been by a combined seven points, and two came in overtime after they rallied from 15-point second-half deficits but couldn’t hold on to leads in the final minute.
Former Wizard Shelvin Mack made two free throws to give the Hawks an 80-65 lead with 8 minutes 6 seconds left in the fourth quarter, but the Wizards used a 21-4 run, culminated by John Wall’s only three-pointer of the game, to go ahead 86-84 with 1:40 remaining. But the Wizards failed to secure a missed layup by Mack, and Wall later fouled Horford with five seconds remaining to keep him from getting an easy layup. Horford made both free throws to force the extra period.
“I give them credit for staying in the fight and having an opportunity to win the game,” Coach Randy Wittman said, “but when you don’t play for 42 minutes, you’ve got to play perfect basketball. That’s what it boils down to. If we get a rebound, the game is over. When you don’t come to play, you leave yourself no leeway.”
The loss was Washington’s 11th straight in Atlanta and left the Wizards 0-5 this season without Nene, who missed his second game in a row with a sore right Achilles’ tendon.
Booker started in place of Nene and had his best performance of the season, scoring six straight points for the Wizards in overtime to tie the game at 99. But he merely set the stage for Horford.
Horford, the only player on the floor who was a member of the Hawks or Wizards the last time Washington won in Atlanta on Jan. 11, 2008, was determined to maintain the Hawks' home dominance. He scored a game-high 34 points with 15 rebounds. On the winner, he took a pass from Antic, quickly tossed up a soft baseline jumper and pushed his hands down to calm his exuberant teammates as they rushed him.
“I don’t think we played the game the right way,” said Marcin Gortat, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds but committed four turnovers. “We can’t talk about winning games or playoffs if we’re going to continue to play like that. That’s obvious. We’ve got to come back to basics.”
Wall missed nine of his first 10 shots and had just two points entering the final period but erupted for a 11 points in the fourth quarter. He made several spectacular plays — he dribbled up the floor, whirled the ball around his waist to split three defenders, then made a layup, and he split three more defenders to give the Wizards their first lead of the second half at 83-82. But after Horford tied the game with his free throws, Wall put up an airball at the end of regulation.
“Five seconds left, I’ve got to do a better job of getting into a shot quicker. Stop holding it for so long and not have a great shot,” Wall said after scoring 13 points on 6-for-22 shooting and adding 11 assists. “We gave this game away. We feel like we could easily be 3-0 these last three games. We just got to find a better way to close out games. That’s one thing that’s hurting this team. Out of all our games so far, five, six, seven of them, we’ve lost by last-second plays. I’ve got to do a better job leading guys.”
All five Wizards starters scored in double figures, including Martell Webster, who returned to score 15 points after missing the previous loss to Denver with a sprained left ankle. Wittman also got a boost from his much-maligned bench, which contributed 25 points, including eight apiece from Glen Rice Jr. and Jan Vesely. Otto Porter Jr. also made the first basket of his career when he caught a pass from Garrett Temple and made a short pull-up jumper near the end of the first quarter. But Wittman was upset he couldn’t get a complete game from his team.
“I just don’t think we were ready to play,” Wittman said. “We take shortcuts. When you take shortcuts, you can’t become a good team. We take shortcuts all the time. It cost us too many games. We’re not a disciplined team.”