Wizards Lacking in The Clutch Yet Again

Hawks 102, Wizards 98

Atlanta Hawks' Al Horford, top, follows through on a dunk against Washington Wizards' Antawn Jamison (4) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
Atlanta Hawks' Al Horford, top, follows through on a dunk against Washington Wizards' Antawn Jamison (4) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2008, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass) (Nick Wass - AP)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 30, 2008; Page D01

The Wizards trailed the Atlanta Hawks by three points with 12.4 seconds remaining when Coach Ed Tapscott called a timeout and drew up a play that was designed to get the ball into the hands of either Caron Butler or Antawn Jamsion, but as the injury-plagued Wizards already know, even the most well-intentioned plans can go wrong.

After the Hawks took away the first two options with good defense, the ball wound up in the hands of DeShawn Stevenson, who put his head down and drove hard to the basket.

Stevenson missed with 6.9 seconds remaining but was rewarded with a foul call on Mike Bibby. But the 66.7 percent free throw shooter missed both attempts at the line, the Hawks grabbed the rebound and the Wizards were left to ponder a 102-98 loss.

The Wizards (2-12) fell to 0-2 against the Hawks (10-6) this season and squandered solid performances by several players because of a few familiar problems, namely poor perimeter defense and an inability to make plays in the clutch.

The Hawks shot 50 percent from the field, made 11 of 25 three-point attempts and came up with one of the game's biggest plays when Marvin Williams fed Al Horford in the paint and Horford scored while drawing a foul on Caron Butler.

Horford completed the three-point play with a free throw, giving Atlanta a three-point lead with 12.4 seconds to play.

"To get fouled, that's one of the best things that can happen to you in that situation," Tapscott said of Stevenson's ill-fated drive. "You can score with the clock stopped, which now allows us to organize our defense. We just have to make the free throws. But that, too, may be a case were you expend so much energy to get back into the game, you are fatigued at the end."

Indeed, as much as the game's final minute stood out, the way the Hawks opened the first and third quarters were huge factors.

Atlanta opened up leads of 13-4, 22-10 and 28-14 in the first quarter, and after carrying a 55-45 edge into halftime, the Hawks opened the third quarter on a 7-0 run. The Hawks' largest lead was 17.

"Those slow starts really hurt because you have to burn so much energy just trying to get back into the game," said guard Antonio Daniels, who finished with 10 points and three assists in 38 minutes. "We have to find a way to stop digging ourselves into those holes."

Jamison led the Wizards with 26 points and 13 rebounds for his eighth straight double-double and Butler posted 21 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals, but that wasn't enough against a balanced Hawks squad that placed all five starters in double figures.

With Bibby (21 points, six assists) running the show, the Hawks moved the ball with precision, attacked the Wizards with dribble penetration whether Tapscott had his team in a man-to-man defense or zone, and generally controlled the game's tempo.

Even without do-everything forward Josh Smith, who remains out with an ankle injury, the Hawks can hurt an opponent from every area of the court. The best three-point shooting team in the league, the Hawks also have a nice low-post scoring option in Horford (19 points, 13 rebounds) and an all-star who can score from anywhere in Joe Johnson (18 points). Maurice Evans was also huge as he made four three-pointers, including two big ones in the fourth quarter.

One bright spot for the Wizards has been the play of reserve forward Darius Songaila, who finished with 16 points on 5-of-8 shooting after scoring 12 points on 6-of-9 shooting during Thursday's loss to Orlando.

Still, Songaila was involved in one of the plays that went against the Wizards. With the score tied at 98, Jamison grabbed an offensive rebound and flipped the ball to a cutting Songaila, but the ball went off his hands and out of bounds. The Hawks then went ahead on Horford's three-point play.

"It's just those little things that are hurting us," Jamison said. "Missed free throws. A missed box-out. If I would've shot it or if Darius had caught the ball on one play, maybe the outcome is different. That's how the game goes. We just have to find a way to dig down and keep plugging away."

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