CHICAGO — Down 11 points in the fourth quarter, against a Chicago Bulls team that possessed the NBA’s best record and in an arena in which hardly any team leaves with a victory, the Washington Wizards could have easily decided to collect another loss on an otherwise forgettable season.
Instead, they embarked on their most unlikely comeback, claiming a stunning 87-84 victory at United Center to guarantee they would avoid finishing with the worst winning percentage in franchise history. The Wizards were led by a player given to them by the Bulls simply to clear salary cap space; by an aging swingman who barely got to break a sweat for the past month; by a big man who only got a shot because the options were getting short; and by a rookie point guard who was given rare crunch-time minutes.
Kevin Seraphin, Maurice Evans, Brian Cook and Shelvin Mack refused to let their team give in, and the Wizards battled on both ends, getting two defensive stops in the final seconds to escape with one of their grittiest wins of the season.
“Commitment. That’s all it is,” James Singleton said. “Even though you’re not going to the playoffs, you have to look at yourself. Are you going to finish as a man, or are you going to finish as a guy like, ‘Ah, let’s get it over with.’ Everybody on this team wants to finish strong.”
The Wizards (15-46) had lost six consecutive games in Chicago over more than four years, but they now have wins over the Bulls, Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City and the Los Angeles Lakers this season. They were coming off two of their worst performances of the season, scoring just 65 points in a 38-point defeat in New York and then losing at home to a depleted Cleveland team. They have been struggling for offense, but they came through on the defensive end Monday night, displaying toughness against the league’s best team that had been absent of late.
Rookie Chris Singleton didn’t score, but he blocked a potential game-tying three-point attempt with 5.9 seconds remaining. The Wizards then had to gasp as C.J. Watson missed a three-pointer as Wall soared by him. Afterward, it was high-fives all around.
“They responded. We talked about getting our edge back,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “The last two games, we didn’t play with an edge like we have been. We’ve had a couple of bloopers, and you have a couple of bloopers especially during a condensed season, and I challenged them: ‘If we’re going to go down, let’s go down as aggressive as we can.’ To a man, we had that.”
The Wizards acquired Seraphin from the Bulls in a draft day deal in 2010 that included Kirk Hinrich. It took Seraphin nearly two seasons to enter the regular rotation, but he has played well since being inserted into starting lineup. Seraphin finished Monday’s game with his third career double-double with 21 points and 13 rebounds, becoming the first Wizards center since Gheorghe Muresan to score in double figures in 10 consecutive games.
Chicago took a 68-57 lead less than a minute into the fourth quarter when guard Richard Hamilton (22 points) made a baseline jumper and Seraphin fouled Bulls reserve Omer Asik, who made the free throw to complete the odd three-point play. But Seraphin started a 13-0 run by converting a three-point play on the other end. Cook tied the score with a three-pointer and Mack followed with a driving layup to give the Wizards a 70-68 lead.
“We never lay down. We never lay down, because we know we have a chance to win,” Seraphin said.
Evans, who recently sat for 11 consecutive games, scored five of his 14 points during the run. He later broke a 75-all tie by converting a three-point play with 3 minutes 32 seconds remaining, giving the Wizards a lead they never relinquished. He also added a critical steal in the final minute.
“It felt great to be out there and play with my teammates that I care about so much about,” Evans said. “Watching these guys battle all year long. Coach had enough trust in me to give me the nod and let me go out and play.”
The Wizards were missing starters Nene and Trevor Booker for the 10th game in a row. They also waived veteran Roger Mason Jr. earlier in the day after Mason had season-ending surgery to repair a broken bone in his left index finger, which cleared the way for Evans.
Derrick Rose, the league’s reigning most valuable player, was ruled out before the start of the game with a sore right foot but the Wizards could hardly feel secure. After all, the last time the Wizards were in Chicago, in January, Rose was forced to sit with turf toe and Washington wound up leaving with only 64 points, a franchise record for fewest in a game.
But the Bulls gave the Wizards reason for more confidence by resting all-star Luol Deng with a sore rib, and they were understandably giddy when John Wall (16 points, five assists) fed Singleton for a fast-break dunk that gave them an 82-77 lead with 1 :40 remaining.
The Bulls (46-15) are now 17-8 without Rose this season.