Wizards 86, Knicks 75
Prior to Larry Brown's much-hyped Madison Square Garden debut as coach of the New York Knicks Friday night, the arena's Jumbotron flashed an image of the Hall of Famer talking about playing his beloved game "the right way."
It was Eddie Jordan's Washington Wizards, however, who taught Howard Stern, Donald Trump, Chris Rock and a sellout crowd of 19,763 a few basketball lessons.
Washington improved to 2-0 and ruined Brown's New York premiere with an 86-75 victory that provided a tantalizing taste of what the new Wizards could be with their first win here since Jan. 11, 2003.
Jordan's team was particularly sharp during a 32-point first quarter, taking the air out of the building with accurate shooting (the Wizards made nine of their first 11 shots), crisp passing (eight first quarter assists) and tough defense (five forced turnovers).
When Antawn Jamison passed up his own shot to feed Antonio Daniels, and Daniels buried a three pointer to give Washington a 27-11 lead with 2 minutes 34 seconds remaining in the first quarter, the frustrated crowd began booing.
"The atmosphere was never a factor because we came out and just jumped on them," said guard Gilbert Arenas, who scored 11 of his game-high 27 points during the first quarter. "We grew because on Wednesday night [against the Toronto Raptors] we started out like it was September, like we were playing streetball. No defense. Tonight, we started out playing like a real team."
When the Wizards face the 0-2 Orlando Magic tonight at MCI Center in the home opener, they will have an opportunity to open a season 3-0 for the first time since 1978-79, which is also the last time the franchise appeared in the NBA Finals.
Still, the victory was not without its blemishes. The Wizards were outrebounded 59-35 and the second unit, which was playing without forward Caron Butler, who was out with a left thigh bruise, allowed the Knicks to creep back into the game during the second quarter.
The problems began when Arenas picked up his third foul on a charging call at the 9:03 mark of the second quarter. Jamison, who finished with 20 points and seven rebounds, missed six of seven shots in the quarter, the Wizards committed 10 of their 19 turnovers and the Knicks climbed to within 43-35 by halftime.
The Knicks drew even at 61-61 at the end of the third quarter thanks in part to guard Quentin Richardson, who scored all eight of his points during the quarter. However, as they did in pulling out a tough 99-96 win in Wednesday's season opener at Toronto, the Wizards made the plays they had to make.
Arenas made a tough 21-foot jumper early in the fourth quarter and later made a three-pointer to give Washington a 67-65 lead with 9:26 remaining. Jamison then made two baskets, the second giving the Wizards a 71-67 edge at the 8:25 mark. The Wizards, who held the Knicks to 32.9 percent shooting, also received a nice contribution from reserve forward Michael Ruffin, who did a lot of little things, such as snagging five offensive rebounds and setting solid screens -- like the one that freed Jarvis Hayes to bury a pull-up jumper that gave Washington a 75-67 lead with 7:19 remaining.
The Knicks never drew closer than five points the rest of the way.
"We have a veteran team that gets it done in the end," Jordan said. "At least we have so far in two games."
Jordan particularly relished the victory not necessarily because it came against the legendary Brown but because Madison Square Garden holds a special place in Jordan's heart. He had the opportunity to play in the building as a star at Rutgers University and again as a visiting player with the New Jersey Nets and Los Angeles Lakers.
"Whether it's a Rutgers win or a Washington Wizards win, it's a win at the Garden," Jordan said.
"It's a special place, especially for me and for everyone else in the basketball world."