A weird and wild game ended when Washington Wizards guard Mitch Richmond's three-point shot from above the top of the key went in, then out to give the Cleveland Cavaliers a 96-94 victory tonight before 15,714 at Gund Arena.
After a wacky series of blown opportunities by both teams, Richmond's miss allowed the Cavaliers to exhale and rejoice in snapping a seven-game losing streak. The loss, the Wizards' second in three games and second straight on the road, dropped Washington (10-19) into sole possession of last place in the Atlantic Division.
"It went in and came out," Richmond said of his errant 25-footer. "I faked [Wesley Person] one way and he bit and I got a clean look at it."
Coach Gar Heard and most players blamed the loss mainly on the team's lax transition defense, which allowed the Cavaliers a 28-11 advantage in fast-break points, a mark that stood at 19-3 at halftime.
A 10-0 run put the Cavaliers up by six with 5 minutes 31 seconds left, but a series of missed chances in the final three minutes had players thinking, "What if?"
Down 96-94 with 13 seconds left following Tracy Murray's three-point jump shot from the right corner, Rod Strickland grabbed an errant dribble from Cavs forward Mark Bryant, raced down court and missed a layup that was contested by Person.
"I was going straight to the rim," said Strickland, who led Washington with 20 points. "I just tried to get to the hole. I got a good look at it, and it just rolled out."
During the Cleveland possession in which Strickland's steal took place, the game clock froze for several seconds showing 18.5 seconds left, throwing both teams out of sync. Game officials did not stop play to correct the error, but Cavaliers Coach Randy Wittman said the stoppage might have allowed the Wizards extra time to get off the potential tying and winning shots.
"Luckily it didn't cost us the game," Wittman said.
After Strickland's miss, Cleveland forward Lamond Murray was fouled by Michael Smith. Before Murray got to the line, Cavs forward Shawn Kemp (35 points) ran off the court and into the locker room after an apparent elbow from the Wizards' Jahidi White knocked loose two front teeth and left a cut that required three stitches.
With 6.2 seconds left, Murray missed both free throws. White grabbed the rebound and Washington had 5.7 seconds left to set up the tying or winning shot. After taking the inbounds pass from half court, Richmond had a wide-open look, but the ball did not fall.
"We wanted to get the ball in Mitch's hands and have him take whatever was there," Heard said. "He felt he had the guy rocking back. I'll give him that shot every time."
The late frenzy came after the Wizards blew a four-point lead early in the period following a thunderous dunk and foul shot by White and a three-pointer by Tracy Murray. White's two-handed jam, in which he flattened Cavs guard Bob Sura, gave Washington an 81-78 lead.
"Stop the presses," Juwan Howard yelled as he rose from the bench. "Everybody take a look at the replay."
Washington seemed to get enamored with the highlight because it stopped playing with the aggression that allowed it to take the hard-fought lead. Murray's three-pointer gave Washington an 84-80 lead, but the fast-breaking Cavs (12-16) went on a 10-0 run to post a 90-84 lead on Andrew DeClercq's alley-oop dunk.
Coincidentally, Heard sat White during the Cavs' surge, in which DeClercq--Cleveland's center--scored twice in transition. During Washington's cold spell, it turned it over twice and missed two quick jump shots before Strickland scored on a layup to trim the margin to four and set up the eventual frenzy.
The overall carelessness with the ball (21 turnovers), poor transition defense and failure to slow Kemp down were too costly, players said.
"This was a heart-breaker," said Howard, who had 10 points and nine assists but got no shot attempts in the fourth quarter and just three in the second half. "It's tough to lose a ballgame when you look throughout the game and think about what you could have done differently. The turnovers down the stretch hurt us. . . . We got killed in transition."
Six Wizards scored in double figures, with White adding 16 and 10 rebounds and Smith scoring 12 and grabbing a game-high 14 rebounds. Tracy Murray scored 12 off the bench. Backup center Ike Austin grabbed eight rebounds in 17 minutes. Austin played 13 minutes in the first half because White was mired in foul trouble.
Richmond, who made 4 of 13 shots, struggled in part because he played just 10 first-half minutes because of foul trouble.
Lamond Murray (15 points), DeClercq (12 points, 11 rebounds) and rookie guard Andre Miller (12 points, eight assists) buoyed Kemp's huge night.
"Our guys hung in there at the same point and time where over the last seven games we've let games get away," Wittman said.
Wizards Notes: The Wizards will stage a millennium party before tonight's game with the visiting New York Knicks. Several giveaways and activities are planned and a video, showcasing highlights of the team's 36-year history, will be shown prior to tip-off. Washington also has priced some upper-level seats at $19.99. Doors will open at 6 p.m.