By Ivan Carter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
If the Washington Wizards are able to turn last night's 124-100 victory over the Golden State Warriors into something more substantial than a one-night blip in an otherwise dismal season, the turning point may have come late in the second quarter.
After Andray Blatche sparked a fast break with a block on Corey Maggette, Caron Butler lofted a pass toward JaVale McGee and the long-limbed rookie center threw a charge into the Verizon Center crowd with a two-handed jam over Jamal Crawford.
As the Warriors called timeout, Butler celebrated by grabbing his jersey, pounding his chest and encouraging fans to rise to their feet.
It is precisely that combination of playmaking and energy that was often missing during the team's 1-10 start, one that led President Ernie Grunfeld to fire Coach Eddie Jordan and replace him with Ed Tapscott on Monday morning.
Of course, Jordan -- the third-winningest coach in team history and a man who restored stability and playoff basketball to a franchise that had experienced little of either in the years immediately before his arrival in 2003 -- would probably still have his job if Blatche had played the way he did last night more often.
All of the talented but inconsistent fourth-year forward's skills were on display as he posted season highs in points (25), rebounds (12), assists (five) and blocks (five) in 29 high-energy minutes.
Where has that Blatche been all season?
"I don't know but I like that he's here and hopefully he's here for a while," said forward Antawn Jamison, who posted his sixth straight double-double with 25 points and 11 rebounds. "The biggest thing is he played with a lot of confidence tonight. He didn't worry that if he missed a shot he was going to get sat down or yelled at. Maybe for him, the biggest key is a new voice or fresh voice in the locker room. That's the guy we've been waiting [on] to show up all year."
Blatche took advantage of a Golden State team that is allowing 106.1 points per game.
Butler finished with a season-high 35 points, 8 rebounds and 6 assists. McGee finished with a season-high 14 points and the Wizards posted season highs in points, rebounds (54) and points off of turnovers (26). They tied the season high for team assists (27).
It all added up to a special debut for Tapscott, who last served as a head coach in 1990, when he capped an eight-season stint at American University.
"That was a terrific effort by our team," Tapscott said. "I really am very, very happy with the focus and energy. We shared the ball and it started with our forwards, our captains obviously. When you get a good team win like that where everyone is focused and gets to share in it, that's something you can build off of."
Before the game, Tapscott said he would pare down his rotation to eight or nine players. He started McGee, Jamison, Butler, DeShawn Stevenson and Dee Brown and primarily used Blatche, Nick Young and Dominic McGuire as reserves.
The Wizards came out with a high energy, outscored the Warriors 31-23 in the second quarter and carried that momentum into a 30-point third. Through it all, Tapscott was rarely in his seat.
When McGuire applied a hard but clean foul on a driving Andris Biedrins in the second quarter, preventing Biedrins from getting a three-point play, Tapscott turned to his bench players and delivered a message.
"That was a hard foul," Tapscott said. "That's what we want. You have to defend the rim. You've got to let people know that they can't just drive the ball without defense."
Butler and Jamison acknowledged that the decision to fire Jordan sparked something in the team. Both captains highly respected Jordan and "Coach Jordan will be a lifelong friend and someone I communicate with for the rest of my life," Butler said. "To see him go, that was tough. That's why I didn't talk [Monday] because it hurt, but at the same time, it's a business and now that we got Obama on the sideline with us now and we're going ride with it."
Obama? As in President-elect Barack?
"Yeah, [Tapscott's] light-skinned," Butler said with a smile. "He has a law degree, he stands for change, he uses big words, he's new in the District and he's in control now, so shout-out to Obama. We won tonight, so we have hope."