Blatche Stays Cool, Wizards Win in OT
Saturday, March 8, 2008
TORONTO, March 7 -- The Washington Wizards were wrapping up practice Thursday when Coach Eddie Jordan presented third-year forward Andray Blatche with a challenge: step to the free throw line and make the shot or miss and run wind sprints.
"You're either going to be a great free throw shooter or you're going to be in great shape," Jordan said.
In Friday night's 110-106 overtime victory over the Toronto Raptors, Blatche showed that he is a little bit of both.
He gave the Wizards a two-point lead over the Toronto Raptors by making pair of free throws with 1 minute 12 seconds remaining in the extra period.
After Toronto's Andrea Bargnani tied the score with a layup, Blatche was trapped by a pair of defenders but kept his cool and slipped a pass to a cutting Antawn Jamison, who drew a foul and put the Wizards back ahead by two points with a pair of free throws.
Following a miss by Toronto's Anthony Parker, Jamison helped clinch the victory by making two free throws with 30.3 seconds left. On Toronto's final possession, Blatche (12 points, 8 rebounds and 3 blocks) blocked one shot and forced Jose Calderon into missing another.
As a result, the Wizards (30-31) snapped a four-game losing streak at Air Canada Centre and avenged a season-worst 39-point loss in Toronto on Jan. 30.
Jamison led the Wizards with 25 points and 16 rebounds. But contributions came from up and down the lineup as six players scored in double figures, including rookie Nick Young (14 points) and Roger Mason Jr. (18 points). Mason helped carry the scoring load in the first half as he scored 12 points on 4-of-4 shooting and Young came up big in the fourth quarter by scoring 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting.
None of that would have mattered without Blatche's clutch play down the stretch.
"I wasn't even thinking about the situation, I just wanted to step up there, relax and make my free throws," said Blatche, a 73 percent free throw shooter for the season who was coming off a rough performance during the team's 122-92 home loss to Orlando on Wednesday night. "I think this is my first win of my career here playing in Toronto."
The Wizards closed the game with a 8-2 run and overcame a strange ending to regulation. Mason made it 96-91 Washington with a three-pointer with 58.9 seconds remaining, but Toronto answered with a three-pointer by Parker.
The Wizards then turned the ball over on an inbounds play and after drawing a foul, Toronto's Jamario Moon tied the game at 96 with a pair of free throws with 41.4 seconds to play.
The Wizards regained the lead on the next possession when DeShawn Stevenson hustled for a tip-in of Jamison's errant short jump hook. Bargnani tied it again at 98 with two free throws after Jamison was called for a reach-in.
The Wizards inbounded the ball with 11 seconds to play and Stevenson worked the clock with a few dribbles and then passed to Young, who got a decent look at a potential game-winner. However, the shot was long and the game went to overtime.
The win moved the Wizards three games behind fifth-place Toronto in the Eastern Conference and gave them a 3-1 series victory over the Raptors. Washington maintained its 1 1/2 -game lead over Philadelphia, which blew out Seattle on Friday night for its 11th win in its past 14 games.
A win over Charlotte at Verizon Center Saturday night would move the Wizards back to .500 for the first time since Jan. 24 when they lost at home to San Antonio.
The Wizards had to overcome a 16-0 third-quarter run by the Raptors and won without getting major contributions from starters Antonio Daniels and Brendan Haywood, who did not play in the fourth quarter or overtime as Jordan went with players such as Blatche, Young, Mason and rookie Dominic McGuire.
"All the young guys did a great job," Jamison said. "Andray came in and had a tough job guarding Bargnani and then offensively, he did a good job. Mason came in and made some big shots and Nick helped keep us in it there late. We had some guys frustrated sitting over there on the bench but Coach had the trust to put some young guys in and they came through for us."