Wizards reserve Martell Webster scooped in Kevin Seraphin’s miss and sprinted to the locker room with his teammates trailing behind, gleefully celebrating what appeared to be the first victory of the season. The jubilation was tempered by anticipation, because though officials had ruled that the basket was good, they had to review.
Nene stayed on the court, lowered his head and waited.
“I was praying,” Nene said.
Back in the locker room, Wizards players crowded around a television and watched the video replay on an endless loop. They all came away believing that Webster had released the shot before time expired — until referees determined the ball was still in Webster’s hands as the buzzer sounded. The Wizards had to accept a 101-100 overtime defeat to the Atlanta Hawks, and that they are the 13th team in NBA history to open a season with 10 consecutive losses.
“It’s upsetting. This one hurts the most, because we should’ve won,” Bradley Beal said. “Not even counting the buzzer-beater. In general, we were out-competing them, out-battling them and we just came up short.”
The deflating defeat concluded a wild emotional swing that started with Seraphin making an open baseline jumper to give his team a 100-98 lead with 7.3 seconds remaining. Then Hawks guard Kyle Korver made his fifth three-pointer of the game with 1.9 seconds remaining, putting Atlanta up by a point and giving the Wizards a final, desperate possession. Then it turned once more, when it seemed Webster had spared them, only to be dealt one final dose of dejection in place of that elusive first win.
“At first they counted it, and then they came back and said it’s not good. I don’t know how they can do that,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “Our video shows it was good. Obviously, there must be two different videos.”
Seraphin led the Wizards with 21 points and Nene gave the Wizards a reminder of what they’ve been missing since the season began, but he was unable to help his teammates in overtime with Wittman holding him to a time limit.
After missing the past three months with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, Nene made his season debut and scored 12 points and grabbed one rebound in 20 minutes that significantly changed the complexion of the game. His impact was felt most in the final minutes of regulation, when he played impressive defense on Hawks forward Josh Smith, getting a steal that led to an A.J. Price layup, then drawing an offensive foul.
Nene didn’t just influence the game statistically. He opened the floor for his teammates to get open shots and also made smart decisions, such as running to the ball late, getting fouled and going to the foul line. Nene made one of two free throws to give the Wizards a 90-88 lead with 10.3 seconds left, but he fouled Hawks guard Devin Harris, who tied the score. The Wizards then had a poor possession near the end of regulation, which resulted in a contested fallaway jumper by Shaun Livingston.
The extra period started with Seraphin missing an open dunk and Beal picking up his sixth foul. But after Smith (25 points) made a layup, the Wizards outscored Atlanta, 8-2, and took a 98-94 lead when Trevor Ariza (12 points, 15 rebounds) made a three-pointer with 2 minutes 25 seconds remaining.
Al Horford (15 points, 10 assists) converted a layup to get the Hawks even at 98 with 19 seconds remaining. The Wizards’ penultimate possession was a well-executed play for Seraphin, who made an 18-footer and couldn’t hold back his excitement as he ran back down the floor. “I thought, ‘We got it,’ ” Seraphin said.
But they didn’t have it, and won’t have another chance to claim that first win until Saturday, when they host the Charlotte Bobcats at Verizon Center.
Wittman didn’t know he would have Nene available an hour before the game. Speaking on his pregame radio show, Wittman said Nene wasn’t going to play. But a few minutes earlier, Nene was in the locker room getting dressed, putting on knee pads and tights, and proclaiming himself ready. Though he only had one full practice, Nene said he would rely on “experience and faith” against the Hawks.
Wittman called on Nene to enter the game with 2:23 remaining in the first quarter and the Wizards trailing, 23-15. Nene pointed toward the sky and immediately made a difference when he buried a foul line jumper. He then drew a foul and made two free throws, and drew a crowd to give Webster enough room to bury an open three-pointer. The Wizards outscored the Hawks, 11-5, in Nene’s first four-minute stint with the team and the energy didn’t dry up when he sat.
The Hawks appeared to have broken the game open late in the third period, as they took a 66-55 lead when Korver made back-to-back three-pointers. Wittman again called on Nene and the game quickly swung toward the Wizards once again. Nene drove right to the basket, got fouled and made two free throws to trigger a 9-0 run that came with the benefit of just one field goal.