By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, April 11, 2009
TORONTO, April 10 -- The lasting image of the Washington Wizards' 100-98 win over the Toronto Raptors on Friday night will be Caron Butler burying a step-back jump shot over Shawn Marion as time expired and sprinting off the court with his index finger pointed up, pausing only to high-five Juan Dixon. But for the Wizards to win their first road game in more than a month, they needed several smaller contributions throughout the fourth quarter -- Dominic McGuire saving a poor pass at half-court, Brendan Haywood blocking what should've been an easy layup, Dixon making tough baskets in the paint despite a sore right Achilles' -- that added up to one of more rewarding wins of the season.
"After a season like this you have to be happy with this type of victory," Haywood said after scoring 15 points with nine rebounds and five blocked shots. "Everybody is excited that we got the win."
Especially when Wizards (19-61) tied the 2000-01 team for the fewest wins in an 82-game season in franchise history after nearly suffering another excruciating loss at Air Canada Centre. They appeared to be headed toward a comfortable victory when Dixon drove around Toronto's Chris Bosh for a reverse layup to give the Wizards a six-point lead with 57.8 seconds remaining. But in this worst-case scenario season, where everything that could go wrong did, the Wizards let the Raptors tie the game in less than 30 seconds.
First, Jason Kapono drilled a three-pointer from the right corner to bring the Raptors to 96-93. Then, Dixon, who played point guard the entire fourth quarter in place of starter Javaris Crittenton, was trapped under the Raptors' basket, dribbled into a corner, then tried to find Antawn Jamison at center court. Bosh deflected the pass, José Calderon picked up the ball and found Kapono in the exact same spot for a three-pointer that tied the game at 96 with 28.8 seconds remaining.
"I had a silly turnover," Dixon said. "I should've kept my dribble."
Dixon (eight points) gave the Wizards a 98-96 lead with a pull-up jumper, then Calderon blew right by him for a game-tying layup with 16.9 seconds, setting up the final sequence.
Jamison led the Wizards with 24 points and 12 rebounds, but Tapscott called a play for Butler, who played the entire second half, when he scored 19 of his 21 points. Butler cradled the ball at his hip, staring at the clock and avoiding eye contact with Marion. When the clock got under eight seconds, Butler slowly made his move inside, dribbled back, then hit a fall-away jumper over Marion.
"I was just trying to make sure there wasn't any time on the clock," said Butler, who had another buzzer-beating basket against Indiana on Feb. 8.
Tapscott said there were moments in the second half when he desperately wanted to give Butler a breather, but the Wizards co-captain didn't want to sit. "I told him, 'Nah, I'm finishing this one. I got to finish this game,' " Butler said. "We really want to get that 20 wins."
The Wizards and Raptors were expected to be playoff teams but have to settle for a late season home-and-home series between two of the biggest disappointments in the Eastern Conference. The Wizards play the Raptors again on Monday in the home finale, then finish this forgettable regular season two days later in Boston.
There were no champagne celebrations, parades down Pennsylvania Avenue or banners raised at Verizon Center after the Wizards upset the Cleveland Cavaliers on national television last week. But there was an obvious hangover that resulted in back-to-back double-digit losses to Miami and Cleveland. Wanting to make sure that his players didn't start playing with one foot in Cancun too soon, Tapscott gave his team the day off Thursday and reminded the players on Friday that they still had business to take care of in the final three games.
After a sluggish start, the Wizards settled down by the second half and took a 94-88 lead late on two broken plays. With the Wizards holding a one-point lead with three minutes remaining, McGuire caught an inbounds pass from Dixon with his toes straddling the halfcourt line, but threw it off Kapono to avoid a backcourt turnover. McGuire then missed an off-balanced layup, Jamison grabbed the rebound, then converted a three-point play to give the Wizards a 91-87 lead.
Bosh (21 points, 10 rebounds) answered with one free throw, but the Wizards got another three-point play when Haywood, with the shot clock winding down, found Butler alone under the basket for another three-point play.
But the game also provided an opportunity for Dixon, a former Raptor whose season appeared to be over when he left the floor against the Heat last Saturday. "Just battling that Achilles' injury," Dixon said after said after the Wizards won their first road game since March 9 at Minnesota. "Coach needed more bodies, but I just have to suck it up.
Only a few more games left. I hope we can get two more wins."