By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
In a season of hardships and mishaps, there were a few moments this season when the 41 games at Verizon Center lacked a funereal atmosphere. The Washington Wizards actually provided fans something to get excited about at home.
There was the afternoon when Cleveland's LeBron James introduced the world to the "crab dribble." Caron Butler had a buzzer-beating jumper against Indiana. President Obama dropped by for a game and a beer. Gilbert Arenas dropped by for two games and one win over the Cavaliers. But overall, the building lacked buzz and excitement -- and for the first time in five years, it will also lack playoff games.
Then came the home finale last night, when the 18,455 fans went from doing the wave for several minutes to waving goodbye to one of the worst teams in franchise history after the Wizards lost, 97-96, to the Toronto Raptors with one of the most awful late-game collapses of the season. With sloppy and careless ball-handling, questionable shot selection and spotty defense, the Wizards (19-62) were outscored 17-3 over the final 6 minutes 30 seconds and surrendered a wide-open Chris Bosh three-pointer with 9.3 seconds remaining.
"Dain bramage. That's the best I can say," Ed Tapscott said after what is likely his last home game as interim coach of the Wizards. "Brain damage. Dain bramage. We just brain locked. We made about every mistake you could make down the stretch. We sort of gift-wrapped opportunities for them."
The Wizards set a new season-high with 12 blocked shots, with Brendan Haywood recording four. With less than 30 seconds remaining and holding on to a three-point lead, Haywood rejected a driving layup by Shawn Marion, recovered the loose ball and hit a free throw to put the Wizards ahead 96-92.
Marion (25 points) brought the Raptors within two points with a finger roll, but with 15.2 seconds remaining, Tapscott was calling for a timeout when Juan Dixon got trapped near the right baseline. Dixon inexplicably tossed a pass ahead to Haywood that went straight out of bounds and nearly hit Raptors Coach Jay Triano.
"A timeout was definitely supposed to be called," Haywood said. "That was a mental breakdown by our whole team."
Dixon finished with four turnovers in the final period and the Wizards committed 18 turnovers in the final 14 minutes. The Raptors took advantage of the last turnover, when José Calderón drove inside and kicked the ball out to the 6-foot-10 Bosh, who took his time to bury just his 11th three-pointer of the season. Bosh finished with 25 points.
"We didn't learn from the near-mistake in Toronto," Haywood said. "We made the same mistakes, the same careless passes, the same defensive lapses and this time they got the win."
Butler (game-high 28 points) spared the Wizards a humiliating loss to the Raptors on Friday, when he hit a buzzer-beating jumper to secure a 100-98 victory after the team blew a six-point lead with less than a minute remaining. With a chance to be the hero for the second time in three nights, he missed a driving layup hard off the glass and Haywood got caught up in a jump ball with Bosh with 0.1 seconds remaining -- no time to attempt another shot.
With about seven minutes remaining and the Wizards ahead by 11 points, fans got out of their seats and did the wave. It was difficult to tell if they were celebrating the game or the end of this season. But on a night when Arenas and Andray Blatche were both unable to play, the Wizards got another reminder of their difficult season when Antawn Jamison slid off his right shoe and limped off the court with a sore right ankle after scoring 23 points.
"That's a major part of what we do," Tapscott said. "So now the entire burden fell on Caron Butler. We needed someone else to step up and make a shot and it didn't happen."
The game was overshadowed by the news that team president Ernie Grunfeld had focused his attention on getting former Minnesota and Detroit coach Flip Saunders to be the franchise's next head coach. The team opened the game with a drab effort that could've possibly been explained as a "Flip funk."
Aside from retiring their gold and black jerseys, the Wizards were trying to win their 20th game of the season and avoid matching the 2000-01 team for the worst 82-game record in franchise history. Now, they will have to beat defending champion Boston in the season finale on Wednesday to do so. "That definitely was a game that we thought we had under control," Butler said. "It's been the way the season went for us. It was great for the crowd to stand up and applaud as we exited. But everybody knows what happened to us this season. It's been rocky and tough. We made the best of it. "