It was Negro leagues baseball legend Satchel Paige who famously said: "Don't look back. Something might be gaining on you." In the case of Washington Wizards guard Larry Hughes, something or, rather, someone was gaining on him in the late stages of yesterday's 106-104 victory over the scrappy Charlotte Bobcats at MCI Center.
With 4.9 seconds remaining and the score tied at 104, Hughes snagged a defensive rebound and took off dribbling, never realizing that Charlotte guard Brevin Knight was streaking up from behind. Just as Hughes glanced at the clock to gauge how much time he had to make a decision -- Pull up and take a jump shot? Pass off? Drive to the basket? Call a timeout? -- Knight caught up and smacked the ball forward.
The Wizards' Gilbert Arenas makes a V for victory after they beat the Bobcats on a basket by Antawn Jamison. "We did what we had to do," said Arenas.
(Joel Richardson -- The Washington Post)
In recent Washington basketball past, the ball would have landed directly in the hands of a Bobcat, but since this has been a magical season for the Wizards, the ball took a perfect bounce to a racing Antawn Jamison in stride. Jamison caught the ball and laid it off the glass for what turned out to be the game-winning points with 1.3 seconds remaining.
"When Larry got the rebound, I didn't realize that we only had five seconds left," said Jamison, who had 26 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists in 42 minutes. "I was expecting him to get the ball and weave it up court, but once I looked up and realized we only had five seconds, I just ran the floor. I didn't know what was going to happen. I felt that if I missed the shot, I would have an opportunity to get one of those quick tip-ins."
Said Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan, "It was almost like the basketball gods were looking after us."
The fortunate bounce, Jamison's hustle and another strong performance by the trio of Hughes, Jamison and Gilbert Arenas, allowed Washington (45-35) to avoid a potentially embarrassing loss to Charlotte (17-63) in its regular season home finale. The Wizards also moved within one game of Chicago for the fourth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and are two games ahead of sixth-place Indiana.
Washington closes the season with road games at New Jersey tomorrow and at the New York Knicks on Wednesday. The Bulls (46-34) play the Knicks at home tomorrow and finish the season at Indiana on Wednesday.
Yesterday's game should not have been dramatic considering that the expansion Bobcats were playing without rookie of the year candidate Emeka Okafor, who suffered a hip bruise in a loss to the Knicks on Saturday night. Without Okafor, Charlotte Coach Bernie Bickerstaff went to a small, guard-heavy lineup and played a lot of zone defense. Both tactics seemed to bother the Wizards, who have been sluggish at times during day games this season. Charlotte had six players reach double figures, shot 50.6 percent from the field and led 57-51 at halftime and 75-73 going into the fourth quarter.
Even though the Bobcats had nothing resembling a shot-blocker inside, the Wizards mostly settled for jump shots and could not match the off-the-bench production of Charlotte guards Matt Carroll, Jason Kapono and Jason Hart, who combined to score 54 points.
"Coach said it best during a timeout," Jamison said. "The basket looks real good to those guys right now. Once they hit a few shots, they gained confidence and they just started playing loose and free. We knew they would play us tough because they've done that all season."
But the Wizards bounced back, just as they have all season. It was the 13th time that the Wizards emerged with a win after trailing by double figures and the second time they beat Charlotte with a basket in the final seconds. The key to this comeback victory was timely defense.
Washington trailed 104-100 with 2 minutes 5 seconds remaining, then Hughes stole the ball from Knight on consecutive possessions. Jamison found Hughes for a driving dunk to make it 104-102 and Arenas sliced into the lane and made a tough layup over Malik Allen to tie the game at 104 with 27 seconds remaining.
Knight drove the baseline and attempted a layup with five seconds remaining but missed, and Hughes grabbed the rebound to set up the final, thrilling sequence. Knight, a former Wizard who has resurrected his career in Charlotte, felt he was fouled driving to the basket and raced after the officials when the final buzzer sounded.
As Charlotte assistant John-Blair Bickerstaff pulled Knight away from the referees and ushered him to the locker room, the Wizards were already gathered near midcourt, ready to hand out jerseys to jubilant fans who, like them, saw no foul and had already put this one in the win column.
"We did what we had to do to get out of here with a win against a team that showed no quit," Hughes said. "We have to take it and move on to the next one."