It was a roller-coaster ride that the Washington Wizards could not get off. Washington had a chance to tie or take the lead twice in the final seconds of last night's game against the Cavaliers after Cleveland took a five-point lead and failed to put the game away.
But when they needed three points to tie the game and force overtime, the Wizards went for two and ended up with one. Then, after Cavaliers guard Bob Sura made 1 of 2 free throws with 3.6 seconds left, Chris Whitney's desperation three-pointer at the buzzer missed and Washington fell, 111-108, to the Cavaliers before 12,144 at MCI Center.
"This hurt because that game was a winnable game for us," said Wizards guard Mitch Richmond, who scored a game-high 30 points, a personal best this season.
After fighting back from a seven-point deficit with less a minute remaining, Washington (5-11) pulled to 109-107 after Richmond made a 26-foot three-pointer with 14.7 seconds left. It was the second three-point play the Wizards made to move within striking range of the Cavaliers (8-6) in the final minute.
Then, with the chance to seal the game, Cavaliers forward Shawn Kemp made just 1 of 2 foul shots. The Wizards, down 110-107 and with no timeouts, came upcourt and point guard Rod Strickland passed to Richmond, who could not get off a three-point shot and sent the ball back to Strickland.
"They were playing up on us," Richmond explained.
Strickland drove toward the basket and passed to forward Juwan Howard. Howard (15 points) was fouled and made the first of two free throws. Sura grabbed the rebound of the second and was fouled.
"I was going to try and throw it up to Mitch because he had the hot hand," Strickland said. "I was going to throw it up to him and let him make a play. . . . I could have shot a three [after getting the ball back from Richmond] but at that time we needed a quick basket so I took it to the hole."
Said Wizards Coach Gar Heard: "I figured they knew we were down three. It wasn't like we didn't have veterans on the floor. We still had a chance. A lot of things happened in the game tonight that surprised me. I thought we were ready to put together a streak and we can't get any consistency."
Cleveland, which made 40 of 53 free throws, converted 17 of 22 in the final period, compared with Washington, which made 6 of 9 in the fourth. Kemp, who had 27 points, was 7 of 8 in the fourth period. The Wizards' 37 fouls were the most they have committed over the past two seasons.
"Down the stretch they pounded the ball inside and we got one attempt at the basket," Richmond said. "They came down and got the ball to Kemp. We fouled, or if they missed they got the rebounds."
Other than their failure to make plays in the waning seconds, the Wizards were hurt by making just 27 of 41 free throws (65.9 percent). Even more troublesome was a dismal second quarter, in which they were outscored 34-21 to fall behind at halftime 56-51.
"I'm still waiting on those solid 48 minutes out of those 12 guys on the floor," Heard said. "The starters played well in the first quarter and we couldn't sustain it in the second quarter."
With center Ike Austin out for most of the second half with an ankle injury, forward Aaron Williams (12 points, eight rebounds) missing for the final 10 minutes because he fouled out and forward Michael Smith (11 rebounds, six points) on the bench for the final five minutes because Heard wanted scorers on the court, the Cavaliers outrebounded Washington 14-6 in the fourth quarter.
Austin's is listed as day-to-day and he is questionable for Friday's game at Toronto. If Austin can't play, either Gerard King or Jahidi White would start in his place.
Six of Cleveland's fourth-quarter rebounds were offensive and they turned those into five points. "That's still effort," Heard said. "The game is on the line. We have to figure out a way to win the game. If they shoot and miss, we have to come up with the ball."
Wizards Notes: Strickland confirmed that he told the New York Post that he thought it would be good to have an opportunity to play for the New York Knicks. However, despite this being a "frustrating" season, Strickland said he is not trying to force a trade or disrupt the Wizards.
"They asked me if I would like to play in New York and I said, 'Yeah,' " said Strickland, a New York native who played with the Knicks in 1988 and 1989. "They asked me a question and I answered."
The Wizards are not believed to be shopping Strickland and league sources said there have been no trade talks between the teams regarding Strickland.