An article in Sports yesterday incorrectly said the Washington Wizards had lost 26 consecutive road games. The Wizards had lost 14 straight games on the road before defeating the 76ers last night in Philadelphia. (Published 11/25/99)
During this tough opening month of the season, Washington Wizards Coach Gar Heard told his struggling team repeatedly just to put itself in a position to win and anything can happen. Last night it did.
Though its overall performance was shaky, Washington overcame a 12-point deficit by making clutch shots down the stretch and holding the Vancouver Grizzlies to two points in the final four minutes to escape with an 89-87 victory before 11,219 at MCI Center.
The much-needed victory was Washington's second in three games. Now the Wizards (3-8) embark on a four-game trip tonight in Philadelphia, where they will attempt to snap a 26-game losing streak away from home. The Grizzlies (3-7) lost their fourth straight.
"This is really the first time this year that we've been in a game that we had a chance to win down the stretch," Heard said. "We made the plays. We made some turnovers but we overcame the turnovers because we came back, played defense and made some big shots."
After Juwan Howard (eight points, three rebounds) tied the score at 85 on a 16-foot jump shot with 2 minutes 51 seconds left, the Wizards' defense carried them through a sequence of turnovers and missed shots that provided enough suspense to keep fans from leaving until the final buzzer--a rarity at MCI Center this season.
Center Ike Austin made one of two foul shots to give the Wizards an 86-85 lead with two minutes left. With both teams failing to score over the next minute, Washington's backup point guard, Reggie Jordan, a seldom-used defensive substitution for Rod Strickland, made a crucial defensive play when he deflected, then stole point guard Mike Bibby's pass with 54 seconds remaining.
"I knew they were going to throw it into the post," said Jordan, who had two steals, four assists and four rebounds in 11 minutes. "I was trying to put pressure on him and not let him get a good look. He threw it and I got a hand on it. If you're able to stop teams, you can afford to go down on offense and not score."
Which is exactly what happened. After Jordan's steal, Mitch Richmond's pass was intercepted by Bibby, who turned it right back over by double-dribbling right in front of the referee.
The Wizards took possession with the chance to put the game out of reach but Austin misfired on a long bounce pass to Aaron Williams and the ball went out of bounds. Vancouver took over with 21.9 seconds left but center Bryant "Big Country" Reeves missed a driving layup, which Austin rebounded.
After getting fouled, Austin sank both free throws with 6.6 left--enough time for the Wizards' rally to be thwarted.
Washington denied all passes to the Grizzlies' long-range shooters and Howard forced Grizzlies forward Shareef Abdur-Rahim to shoot an air ball on a three-point attempt. Othella Harrington corralled the ball and Washington conceded the layup.
Strickland (12 points, 6 assists, 5 rebounds) sank 1 of 2 foul shots to seal the victory.
"We did nothing on offense to win this game," said Richmond, who scored 12 of his team-high 19 points in the fourth quarter. "We didn't stop them for two quarters leading up to the fourth but then our defense came around. A lot of credit has to go to Reggie Jordan. He pressured the ball full court and harassed whatever guard they had in there. That made it tough for them to get the ball into the low post, which was where they were killing us."
The Grizzlies scored 58 points in the lane, with Reeves registering a season-high 25 points. However they scored just six points inside in the final period, when they were outscored overall 25-17.
The offensive catalyst in the fourth period was Richmond, who made 6 of 13 shots and was 6 of 7 from the foul line for the game. He scored seven consecutive points in the fourth quarter, giving Washington its first lead since early in the second quarter when his six-foot runner and ensuing free throw made the score 76-74.
The Grizzlies responded with a 9-2 run to go up 83-78. That was the point at which the Wizards stifled Vancouver and rallied.
"There were times before where we fought back and couldn't make it," Richmond said. "We did it tonight; we pulled together on defense and that's what got us the win."
Rookie guard Richard Hamilton had 14 points, 11 in the first quarter. Williams led Washington with nine rebounds and a game-high five blocks. Tracy Murray added seven points off the bench.
Reeves scored 13 points in the second quarter, in which Vancouver outscored Washington 31-14. The Wizards used crisp execution and relentless energy, in particular Hamilton (14 points), to post a 24-16 first-quarter lead. Then, they took the second quarter off.
Washington turned the ball over 14 times in the first half and let Vancouver score 36 of its 47 points from inside the lane. The effort picked up after halftime.
"We were more aggressive in the second half," Heard said. "When you're 3-8 any win is a good win."