Wizards 99, Raptors 96
Washington Wizards center Brendan Haywood never took an acting class at the University of North Carolina, but near the end of Wednesday night's season opener against the Toronto Raptors, the 7-footer turned in a performance that would have made Denzel Washington smile.
With 14.2 seconds remaining and the Wizards nursing a 97-96 lead, Haywood found himself matched up with Toronto guard Jalen Rose, who is one of the savviest players in the NBA.
Seeing his mismatch, Rose squared Haywood up and prepared to start a drive to the basket, which of course, was not being protected by Haywood's long arms. As is his habit, Rose stuck out his left forearm to create separation and that's when Haywood hit the deck.
To the shock of the 18,106 fans who thought they were about to witness a Toronto upset, Rose was whistled for charging.
On the ensuing Washington possession, Antonio Daniels threaded an inbounds pass through traffic to Antawn Jamison, who converted a short flip shot, giving the Wizards a 99-96 lead. The bucket stood up and the Wizards escaped Air Canada Center after a tense final sequence that included missed three-pointers by Toronto's Charlie Villanueva and Rose.
"Yeah, I had to go to my acting game a little bit," Haywood said while standing in the middle of a Washington locker room that was transfixed by a television showing the final minutes of a game between the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks, whom the Wizards will play Friday night in New York. "But he did stick the arm out so I just felt the contact and took the charge. I kind of knew in a situation like that what he wanted to do. Jalen's one of those guys who wants to take the big shot."
"Being around the league for a long time," Rose said, "who is to say if it was a charge or not? Normally it doesn't warrant a call, but any time you get a couple of turnovers like I had, the refs aren't going to give you any breaks."
Haywood, who finished with 10 points and 14 rebounds in 34 minutes, helped provide a fitting conclusion to a sometimes ugly Washington victory. The Wizards were blending in newcomers Daniels, Caron Butler and Chucky Atkins, and looked like a team that is in the process of finding itself after a choppy preseason.
The Wizards shot 48.2 percent and held Toronto to 39.8 percent shooting but trailed for much of the game because they couldn't hit free throws (they finished 13 of 24 from the line) and because they were gave up too many offensive rebounds (Toronto held an 18-3 advantage in second-chance points).
In the end, however, the Wizards played like the playoff-tested team they are. Jamison shook off a poor preseason by scoring a game-high 29 points to go along with nine rebounds and three assists.
Gilbert Arenas never locked in with his outside shooting but made the Raptors pay for double-teaming him by finding his teammates with crisp passes. He finished with 21 points and seven assists while Butler (11 points) and Jarvis Hayes (17 points) contributed as reserves. Atkins hit only 1 of 4 shots but his field goal was a huge one.
With Washington leading 95-93 with 2 minutes 5 seconds remaining, Atkins turned the corner from the top of the key and converted a tough shot off the backboard.
"We have veteran guys, guys who have been through the battles and know what it takes to pull out close games like this," Arenas said. "It's not like we're going to panic when we get in those situations. We're not a young team anymore."
It's a sign of this team's depth that while Coach Eddie Jordan went with a starting lineup of Arenas, Daniels, Jamison, Haywood and Jared Jeffries, he had Atkins on the floor down the stretch along with Arenas, Haywood, Butler and Jamison.
When the time came for someone to execute a crucial inbounds pass, Jordan turned to Daniels, who had been sitting on the bench for the entire fourth quarter. Daniels tore off his warmups, slapped talcum powder on his hands and zipped an on-the-money, across-the-court pass to Jamison, who scored the game's winning points.
"I thought to win on the road is a big deal in the NBA, the season opener, almost a brand new team for us," said Jordan, who is 3-0 in season openers as the Wizards' coach. "We're trying to learn how to play with each other. We're a very deep team, a very veteran team and I'm just trying to find the right combinations out there with guys who are playing well, so it is a terrific win. They had a chance to tie it with three shots at the end and the basketball gods were with us."
Wizards Notes: Hayes, who missed the final six preseason games with knee soreness, looked sharp Wednesday. In 22 minutes, he made 8 of 13 shots and had three assists and three rebounds.
"It just felt good to get back out there after being out action for so long," said Hayes, who missed the second half of last season and the team's playoff run with a fractured right patella. "The knee feels great and I was able to go out there and get into a little bit of a groove tonight."