As the ball left the hand of Toronto Raptors guard Dee Brown, the atmosphere turned surreal. There was an eerie silence as all eyes watched the ball travel 24 feet from the left wing. As it swished through the net with one second left, the 15,787 fans at Air Canada Centre went berserk.
Brown, who hit the three-point shot that gave the Raptors a 95-93 victory tonight over the Washington Wizards, rushed to his bench, where he was mobbed. Raptors players bounded up and down.
Meanwhile, Wizards players and coach stood in disbelief. Some fell to the ground in immeasurable disappointment. Others, hands on hips, just shook their heads.
The Wizards' dejection in Canada came shortly after it was learned that the NBA has awarded Washington the 2001 All-Star Game [see story, Page D9]. The all-star game will be the first at the two-year-old MCI Center, although the franchise hosted the game in 1980 at Capital Centre in Landover and in 1969 at Baltimore Arena.
What will take place in the future could not do anything to quell the disappointment of the present.
In a season with just five victories and now 12 losses, this one seemed to hurt the most. Washington rallied from a 17-point deficit and held a lead for all but one second of the final 3 minutes 49 seconds. That one second was the most crucial, though.
"This one is real difficult to take," said Wizards guard Mitch Richmond, who scored a team-high 18 points. "We had the game won. It was our game. This could have been a great turning point."
The game horn sounded before Richmond could get off a desperation shot that missed.
The Wizards, particularly Coach Gar Heard, felt the officials gave Central Division-leading Toronto (10-6) too many chances in the final five seconds to take a victory the Wizards felt was theirs. Heard said the Wizards got a few bad calls down the stretch.
"We played hard enough to win this ballgame. At least give us a chance," he said. "Let them win the game. Don't give them three or four opportunities to win the game. With five seconds to go we stopped them three times and they kept calling time out until they got it right.
"I could see if Toronto comes out and beats us. They didn't beat us and we didn't beat ourselves."
As upset as Heard was about a sequence of events that allowed Toronto to retain possession twice after Juwan Howard missed a 15-foot jump shot that could have iced the game with 22.5 seconds left, the play he said he did not see--nor did the officials call--helped decide the game.
On the game-winning inbounds play with 3.2 seconds left, Raptors forward Charles Oakley grabbed Wizards guard Reggie Jordan around the waist and held his jersey, preventing Jordan from sticking with Brown. Brown popped wide open, allowing Tracy McGrady to inbound the ball from directly in front of Washington's bench to Brown.
"He grabbed me and my jersey," Jordan said. "I couldn't move. By the time I got free, he had it cocked."
Oakley would not admit to clutching Jordan.
"We had tried two plays before that and I saw they switched [players]," Oakley said, "so I told Dell [Curry] to stay home, and told Dee to just come out wide and he'll be wide open."
Washington played more than three quarters without center Ike Austin, who suffered a broken nose when teammate Michael Smith inadvertently elbowed him while coming down with a rebound. Austin is questionable for Saturday's game against the visiting Sacramento Kings. If he can't play, Aaron Williams or Jahidi White will start.
After missing the jump shot that could have sealed the game for Washington, Howard atoned by blocking a driving layup by Toronto forward Vince Carter (game-high 23 points). Following a Raptors timeout and delay of game by Washington, Richmond deflected Carter's inbounds pass from under the basket and appeared to get pushed by Oakley.
No foul was called.
Toronto was awarded possession in front of Washington's bench. McGrady had difficulty getting the ball inbounds, and as he was trying to call time out, Wizards players and coaches screamed for a five-second violation. None was called, and the Raptors were afforded the timeout to set up the game-winning play.
"Evidently a lot of calls were missed tonight," Heard said. "I guess it was a bad night. I thought [Richmond] was pushed out of bounds. I thought they had a five-second count. But what I see must be different from the officials."
Added guard Rod Strickland, who made two jump shots down the stretch to extend the Wizards' leads to four and three, respectively: "I guess they see teams like us that are struggling and we're not going to get any calls. Like they expect us to lose."
Wizards vs. Sacramento Kings
* Where: MCI Center.
* When: 8 p.m.
* Television: WBDC-50.
* Radio: WWRC-570.
* Tickets: Available: $19, $32, $40, $67, $77.
* Records: Wizards 5-12; Kings 10-3.
* Injuries: Wizards G Laron Profit (tendinitis in left knee), F Lorenzo Williams (recovering from knee surgery), C Calvin Booth (strained right hamstring) are on the injured list; Kings F Ryan Robertson (tendinitis in left knee) and C Bill Wennington (back strain) are on the injured list.