With his former University of Connecticut teammates watching and a number of temporary Washington Wizards converts cheering, rookie guard Richard Hamilton buried an 11-foot jump shot from the left wing with 4.4 seconds left to give Washington a 102-101 preseason-ending victory over the Boston Celtics tonight before 7,648 at Springfield Civic Center.
The game-winning shot, in which forward Michael Smith grabbed Mitch Richmond's missed foul shot over two Celtics then kicked it out to Hamilton, capped a rally in which Washington came back from a two-point deficit after blowing a 16-point, third-quarter lead.
Washington kept Boston from getting a shot off in the closing seconds.
"It's a shot I always take," said Hamilton, who finished with a team-high 17 points. "Mike Smith did a great job getting the rebound. He passed it to me, I put it on the floor once and shot it. . . . That's what you live for. I want the ball at that time of the game. It was great.
"Any time you get a chance to come up and play in front of the people you played in front of the last three years and let them see you play in another jersey is great."
Coach Gar Heard called the victory, which brought Washington to 3-3, a major confidence booster heading into the regular season. The Wizards play Atlanta Tuesday at MCI Center in both teams' season opener.
"We had a big lead, we blew it in the fourth quarter and we showed character down the stretch," Heard said. "Michael did a great job on the boards the whole game and Richard learned a lot tonight. Paul Pierce really took him to school early. The kid hung in there and made a big shot at the end that put us ahead and defensively down the stretch."
Smith's clutch rebound came after he missed two free throws that could have given Washington a three-point lead with 30 seconds left. Boston's Kenny Anderson answered with a three-point play that gave the Celtics a 101-99 lead with 19.6 seconds left. Richmond was fouled and made the first of two free throws before missing the second, setting up Smith's rebound.
"That rebound was big," Smith, who had a game-high 11 rebounds, said. "It was a makeup for missing those free throws."
Washington players said they should never have allowed the game to get so close at the end. Their failure to handle Boston's press allowed the Celtics to rally from a 73-57, third-quarter hole.
The Wizards had nine fourth-quarter turnovers that resulted in 13 Boston points. The Celtics clawed their way back by aggressively taking the ball to the basket and drawing fouls. Boston was 44 for 57 from the line with 41 attempts coming in the second half.
"We weren't executing," Heard said.
Pierce scored a game-high 28 points. Anderson added 21 and forward Walter McCarty had 16 off the bench. Washington had seven players in double figures.
Wizards forward Lorenzo Williams, who missed all of last season with stress fractures in both feet and missed most of training camp while rehabilitating from offseason knee surgery, played 19 minutes in his first action of the preseason. He scored six points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked a shot before fouling out with 7 minutes 39 seconds left.
He was surprisingly active on the boards and he contested several shots. Williams's durability remains a question mark and it still is probable that he will start the season on the injured list. However, in this rare appearance, Williams was an effective low-post player.
After entering the game with 5:13 left in the first period, Williams, who came in for center Jahidi White (11 points, five rebounds), scored his first basket on a layup to pull Washington to 17-16.
In the third quarter, again in for White, Williams snatched an offensive rebound and kicked a pass out to the top of key to Chris Whitney, who sank a three-pointer to give Washington a 65-49 lead.
"He was a big plus tonight," Heard said of Williams. "He gave me 19 good minutes and made some big plays."
CAPTION: Wizards' Richard Hamilton finds going tough while driving on Celtics' Paul Pierce (28 points).