By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 9, 2009
After hitting a big shot to help the Washington Wizards earn their first win of the season back in November, Caron Butler described his thoughts immediately before hitting the shot this way: "I need this in my life."
If that was the case then, imagine how Butler, his teammates and Wizards fans felt immediately after he made a 16-foot jump shot over Danny Granger with 0.9 of a second remaining to give the Wizards a 119-117 win over the Indiana Pacers last night in front of an announced crowd of 13,708 at Verizon Center.
Butler, who was back in the lineup after missing two games with the flu, celebrated a season-high 35-point night by falling backwards into the front row directly across from the Pacers bench as his teammates swarmed in his direction.
"I was just hoping that someone would come pick me up," said Butler, who made his final six shots and scored Washington's last 15 points to help snap a three-game losing streak. "I don't have any energy right now."
The Wizards (11-40) needed every ounce of energy Butler could muster in a fast-paced, well-played game in which both teams shot better than 51 percent and traded big shots down the stretch.
Antawn Jamison added a season-high 34 points for the Wizards while Nick Young came off the bench to add 20 points on 6-of-9 shooting.
Granger, who was one of the forwards selected as reserves for the Eastern Conference all-star team over Butler and Jamison, led the Pacers with 29 points and preceded Butler's game-winner by making a game-tying three-pointer with 15.9 seconds to go.
However, the Wizards pulled it out because they complemented Butler's clutch shot-making with just enough defense to make the final play matter.
"We finally came together at the defensive end and got some big stops," Jamison said. "That gave us a chance."
Indiana (20-32) led 110-103 after Granger made a 14-foot jumper with 5:08 to play, but the Wizards got stops on the next three possessions and another after Butler drew them even at 114 by making a three-pointer with 57.9 seconds to go.
After Dominic McGuire rebounded a missed jump shot by Indiana's Brandon Rush with 40 seconds to play, Butler curled around a screen and drained a three-pointer from 26 feet out on a pass from point guard Mike James (eight points, seven assists).
Granger then answered by sliding around a screen Troy Murphy set on McGuire before making the game-tying three.
The Wizards called a timeout with 15.3 seconds remaining and designed a play that had Young inbound the ball to Butler, who used a series of dribbles to buy time before dribbling right, where he froze Granger with a step-back dribble before releasing his first game-winning shot since his drive and score at the end of a win over Cleveland in Game 3 of last spring's first-round playoff series.
"I knew that [Pacers center] Jeff Foster had a foot in the lane and he had a one count, a two count, and as soon as he had to clear, that's when I pulled back, got in my sweet spot and made the shot," said Butler, who had been battling the flu and required intravenous fluids on Saturday. "I felt good to see it go in."
Oddly, given how hot Butler was down the stretch, Pacers Coach Jim O'Brien elected to defend him straight up with Granger rather than send a second defender in his direction, or double team him. Part of the reason was that Jamison was on the court as well.
"Hats off to Caron, he was on fire down the stretch," O'Brien said. "We had our best defender, tallest defender on him at the end and he made that shot. They're a tough twosome for us to handle."
One victory won't make up for all that has gone wrong this season, but it did give the Wizards some needed good vibes.
"I am always happy to get a win," interim coach Ed Tapscott said. "Being that we were struggling, it means even more that we got this win. The players have been working very hard and they needed to see some success to give additional meaning to their hard work."
Wizards Notes: Forward-center Andray Blatche, who has missed seven straight games with a strained left knee, dressed for the game but was told by Tapscott that he would not play. "It's feeling a lot better," Blatche said. "I wanted to play but they told me I'm not ready yet."