Wizards' Big Lead Melts in 2nd Half
Up by 17, Washington Goes Down Again: Bucks 116, Wizards 107
By Steve Wyche
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 8, 2004; Page D05
MILWAUKEE, April 7 -- Players and coaches can live with hustle-fueled mistakes. Miscues born of mental lapses that turn a potential victory into defeat are another matter.
In a three-second sequence with about three minutes remaining in a tight game with the Milwaukee Bucks on Wednesday night, the Washington Wizards committed a crushing trifecta of negative plays, allowing playoff-bound Milwaukee to rally from 17 points down to a 116-107 victory at Bradley Center.
"We just didn't make some smart plays down the stretch," Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said. "You have to be intense, you have to compete, you have to keep your composure and you have to be smart out there, and we broke down in those types of stretches."
After a commanding first half, in which they staked a 60-43 lead late in the second quarter, and a hot start to the third period, Washington was forced to fend off a furious run by the Bucks, who tightened their defense and got dynamic second-half performances from all-star guard Michael Redd (35 points) and small forward Desmond Mason (27 points).
With the score tied at 100, Wizards guard Larry Hughes (team-high 19 points) fouled Mason on a fast break layup attempt with 3 minutes 5 seconds remaining. The shot was credited as a bucket as guard Gilbert Arenas was whistled for goaltending. Mason was awarded one free throw, which he missed, but Wizards forward Kwame Brown, thinking two shots were in order, stood flat-footed and allowed Toni Kukoc an easy putback, finishing the four-point sequence.
The burst of negative plays broke the Wizards. The Bucks (41-38) blew the game open in the final three minutes, with two big buckets coming from former Washington guard Brevin Knight, who was released on March 1.
"I didn't hear the goaltend," said Brown, who finished with 11 points and six rebounds. "I was on the other end of the court. I didn't see the ball go in, so I figured they had two shots. It's a thing where I didn't ask the ref."
Said Arenas (11 points, two assists): "That was a big sequence. He went up for the shot, I have to react to the ball. It was a reaction. They called a goaltending on the play. We got to have our thinking caps on. They call a goaltend, they only got one shot left. That's the easiest putback in an NBA game so far, I think. When you don't have your thinking caps on, that's what happens."
Brown and Arenas were also unhappy with how they were used down the stretch, Arenas playing just six fourth-quarter minutes, Brown getting only two shot attempts in the final period.
Guard Jerry Stackhouse (18 points, 5 assists and 4 rebounds in 26 minutes), who led a strong charge from the second unit, said he wished the reserves could have maintained their production for a longer stretch in the second half.
The biggest problem in the second half was Washington's defense. It allowed the Bucks to score 68 points and shoot 52 percent in the final two quarters. Four players, led by Mason and Redd, scored at least 10 points in that span while the Wizards turned the ball over eight times, shot 34 percent and relied on long-range shooting, which, in the first half, was their lifeline.
The Wizards made 7 of 12 three-pointers in the first half to jump to a 60-48 lead over a Bucks team that was coming off an emotional victory over New Jersey on Tuesday night.
"We started off sluggish and they had some live bodies," Milwaukee Coach Terry Porter said. "They were killing us on the boards, which was something we talked about going into the game. They started making threes. They were getting us inside and out. We just kept grinding it out."
The loss added to Washington's NBA-worst 7-32 road record and dropped it to 24-54 overall. Milwaukee, meantime, maintained its hold on the No. 4 playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, keeping a one-game margin over the surging Miami Heat, which knocked off Boston, eighth in the East.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company