By Michael Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, April 11, 2010; D07
Shaun Livingston spotted Jamal Crawford open behind the three-point line and lunged toward him, but he was a tad too late. And in an attempt to contest, Livingston smacked Crawford's elbow and Crawford fell on his backside as his shot splashed through the net. Crawford then stepped up to the foul line and made a free throw to complete his NBA-record 28th career four-point play to give the Atlanta Hawks a 13-point fourth-quarter lead.
On the Washington Wizards' next possession, JaVale McGee got clobbered by Hawks reserve big man Zaza Pachulia as he made a short jumper off the glass. McGee landed awkwardly and the back of his head banged hard against the court. Woozy and wincing, McGee got up to hit the free throw and admitted, "I was a little bit dizzy."
In the span of 30 seconds, the Wizards got knocked down and knocked out, as they lost to the Hawks, 105-95, before the 11th sellout crowd of the season at Verizon Center.
The Wizards have little left to play for beside pride at this point, but Coach Flip Saunders referred to this late season, three-game stretch against Eastern Conference contenders Orlando, Boston and Atlanta as his team's "playoffs." But with an opportunity to influence the playoff picture against teams that still have something to play for, the Wizards went down two games to one in this best-of-three series.
Andray Blatche had 24 points, nine rebounds and seven assists and Nick Young scored 23 points, but he was limited to just four in the second half. Mike Miller had 16 points and Shaun Livingston had 15 points and seven assists. McGee scored a then-career-high 20 points in the last meeting against Atlanta, but was limited to just eight points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots.
After the game, Saunders didn't have to search for the reason why his team lost to the Hawks. "Teams that make the playoffs have guys that make plays in the fourth quarters," Saunders said. "Teams that aren't playoff-type teams have guys that are inconsistent in making those plays. That's the difference between being good and not-so good. We're in the process of guys learning how to do that."
Crawford, the front-runner for sixth-man of the year, made plays for the Hawks, as he scored 12 of his game-high 28 points in the final period, including that back-breaking four-point play that put the Hawks ahead, 103-90, with 2:29 remaining. "The Reggie Miller thing ¿ kicking his feet out. It's a smart play and obviously, it works for him," Livingston said about Crawford's patented play. "Once he gets it going, he's a pure scorer, he's one of the hardest players to guard and that's not making excuses. I did my part on him and he made shots. You give a shooter a little bit of freedom, rhythm, they get going and hard to stop."
The Wizards (25-55) had just arrived from Boston, where they pulled off one of the more suprising wins of the season, as they built a 28-point lead before defeating the Celtics, 106-86. In that impressive road win, Blatche single-handedly outscored the Celtics' Big Three of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen 31-27, and Livingston set a new career-high with 25 points.
But once again, the Wizards had no answer for Crawford, who scored a game-high 29 points in the last meeting, which the Hawks won 105-99 on March 11. 'We've had a difficult time guarding Crawford all season," Saunders said. "We couldn't guard him."
The Hawks (51-29) have a one-game lead over the Celtics for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. They swept the season series against the Wizards for the second season in a row and snapped a six-game road losing streak with the victory.
Al Thornton made a running left handed hook shot to give the Wizards a 76-71 lead with 1:34 left in the third period, but Crawford ended the quarter on a personal 7-2 run as he hit two free throws, a three-pointer and 14-foot runner to even the score at 78. Nick Young made a fadeaway jumper to tie the game at 83, but Crawford sparked an 11-0 run when he made a three-pointer. Joe Johnson knocked down an open jumper to give the Hawks a nine-point lead, Saunders called a timeout. And after Blatche missed a jumper on the other end, Johnson (20 points) extended the lead to 94-83 when made a reverse layup.
"They outplayed us, really, in the fourth quarter," Blatche said. "We don't care about being close to any team. Nobody wants to stick around the whole game and then lose. You want to win. We're all in this locker room to do one thing and that's win."