Wizards vs. Pacers: Coach Flip Saunders misses 104-90 win because of family emergency

Josh Howard gives Nick Young a pat on the head during the second half after Young dunked home two of his game-high 25 points for the Wizards. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Josh Howard gives Nick Young a pat on the head during the second half after Young dunked home two of his game-high 25 points for the Wizards. (Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post)
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 30, 2010; 12:19 AM

The Washington Wizards have grown accustomed to playing with a personnel deficit this season, weathering injuries that at times have relegated prized rookie point guard John Wall and leading scorer Andray Blatche, among others, to the bench as spectators. On Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers, they had to withstand the absence of yet another principal component, but this time, the concern was far more affecting than simply when a teammate would be back in the lineup.

The Wizards' thoughts instead were with Coach Flip Saunders, who missed the game to attend to a family emergency involving his mother, and the team responded with a 104-90 victory before an announced 16,108 at Verizon Center thanks to an authoritative burst to open the fourth quarter with defense to match the rest of the way.

"I talked to Flip and told him this was for he and his mother," said Wizards top assistant Randy Wittman, who filled in for Saunders and will do so again on Friday if necessary. "Those are tough times. You know like I said before the game, your family is your number one priority. Nothing else matters in this thing, and he's got to be back there and keep his mind where it should be."

Saunders's charges certainly were attentive when it came to closing out the game, getting especially valuable contributions from starter Nick Young and reserve Cartier Martin to ensure there would not be a repeat of Washington's swoon on Monday when it blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter and lost to Houston, 100-93.

Young finished with a game-high 25 points against the Pacers, and although he needed 26 shots to reach that total, he was in the fray defensively when it counted most. Elevated to starting point guard when Washington recently dealt Gilbert Arenas to Orlando for Rashard Lewis, Young drew a pair of charges in the fourth quarter and had a steal he followed with his final three-pointer for a 100-84 lead with 2 minutes 30 seconds to play.

That basket all but sealed the outcome and thus ended Washington's three-game losing streak. The Wizards (8-22) won for just the second time in 12 games and for the third time overall this month. They committed a season-low eight turnovers, forced 17 and outrebounded the Pacers (13-17) by 54-47, including 21-13 offensively.

Young added nine rebounds, three assists and three steals in nearly 43 minutes. Martin, meantime, played just 13 minutes but scored 11 points on 4-of-6 shooting highlighted by a 3-of-3 performance from three-point range. The seldom-used guard scored eight points in the fourth quarter, which the Wizards opened with an 11-3 run, sinking two three-pointers and adding a steal that led to reserve rookie forward Trevor Booker's only basket of the game.

Martin played for the first time since Dec. 20, when he had three points in eight minutes in a 108-75 victory against Charlotte. He was a DNP-Coach's Decision in the Wizards' last three games.

"Just confident in myself," Martin said. "Even though I haven't played in a while, minutes have been kind of limited, just stay confident in myself. When I get out there, I know what I'm supposed to do, go out there and shoot the ball."

Blatche added 22 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists, and starting center JaVale McGee chipped in with 16 points, 10 rebounds and 4 blocks. McGee also locked down Indiana center Roy Hibbert, limiting the former Georgetown standout to five points and four rebounds with five fouls in 15 minutes.

About the only bit of bad news that came out of the win was a left thigh contusion to Kirk Hinrich that forced him from the game after 12 minutes and no points. Then when Wall, playing his third game since coming back into the lineup while nursing a bone bruise in his right knee, left briefly in the fourth quarter with cramps, Wittman had to turn to Josh Howard to play the point.

Fortunately for the Wizards, Wall re-entered the game after receiving treatment and finished with 10 points, 12 assists and 7 rebounds with just two turnovers in nearly 35 minutes. Wall had played 19 and 27 minutes in the two games before Wednesday, but Hinrich's unavailability necessitated more court time for the No. 1 overall pick.

Wall was among the steadying influences during the final portion of the fourth quarter after Indiana had trimmed the deficit to eight with 4:10 to play. From there, the Wizards countered with eight straight and never led by fewer than 12 the rest of the way.

"I'm really happy for them," Wittman said of his players, "because it's tough when you lose games like we did in Houston and like we have toward the end of games. You lose confidence, and that's all it is. Closing things out isn't about X's and O's. It's about confidence in yourself and a belief in your teammate that we're going to get the job done, and they did."

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