Wizards 120, Pistons 114
Inside the visiting locker room at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Friday night, the pregame message for the Washington Wizards was as simple as your traditional Thanksgiving spread.
"We've got to have it," explained forward Caron Butler. "Anyway, anyhow. We're going to win this basketball game."
Butler didn't know it at the time, but he and the Wizards (6-6) would indeed go to extremes on their way to knocking off the defending Eastern Conference champion Detroit Pistons -- a team that came into the game with the NBA's best record, an unblemished mark at home and 10 straight wins over the Wizards.
In a game that featured playoff intensity and all sorts of twists and turns, the Wizards pulled out a 120-114 double-overtime victory, snapped a five-game losing streak and perhaps changed the course of their season.
That the Wizards needed to overcome several crunch-time moments, their first double-overtime experience since January 2003 and a wild sellout crowd of 22,076 only speaks to what kind of game it was.
It was clear from the opening tip-off that this was a more focused group of Wizards than the one which slogged its way to a loss to the Steve Francis-less Orlando Magic on Wednesday.
Gilbert Arenas, who played with a wrap to protect a sore right knee, was aggressive on both ends of the court and outplayed counterpart Chauncey Billups en route to 39 points and eight assists in 53 minutes.
Two nights after scoring 25 points and grabbing 16 rebounds in the loss to Orlando, Antawn Jamison scored 22 points and grabbed 20 rebounds in nearly 56 minutes.
The Wizards also received a major boost off the bench from veteran guard Chucky Atkins, who tormented his former team by making four three-pointers during a crucial stage in the fourth quarter.
Atkins, who had made 2 of 18 three-pointers on the season, walked off the court with a season-high 20 points after fouling out and received a standing ovation from Pistons fans sitting behind the Washington bench.
The Wizards built a 17-point first-quarter lead and then won the game at the free throw line. A 71.1 percent free throw shooting team coming in, the Wizards made 38 of 46 free throws on the night and 15 of 18 in the two overtimes. Two of the biggest came at the end of regulation when Arenas sank a pair to tie the game at 95 after he drew a blocking foul on Billups with 2.3 seconds remaining.
Detroit's Rasheed Wallace had a chance to win the game on the other end but saw his three-point attempt bounce off the back rim at the buzzer.
In the first overtime, Butler gave the Wizards a 103-100 lead by finishing a fast break with a pretty finger roll. Butler later made 1 of 2 free throws to give Washington a 104-102 lead with five seconds remaining.
On the final sequence of the first overtime, Billups missed a reverse layup but Ben Wallace grabbed the rebound, made a layup and was fouled by Michael Ruffin. Wallace had a chance to win the game with o.6 of a second left but missed the free throw.
The second overtime was all Butler, who attacked the basket and was rewarded with repeated trips to the foul line. Butler made all eight of his free throw attempts in the period and Arenas answered a three-point play by former Wizard Richard Hamilton by making a tough pull-up jumper in the lane to give Washington a 114-110 lead with 46 seconds remaining.
After Antonio McDyess missed an easy layup on the other end, Jamison put the game away by making a pair of free throws with 34 seconds remaining.
The clutch foul shooting and some solid overtime defense allowed the Wizards to avoid a repeat of last December's 107-105 home loss to the Pistons in which they blew a 19-point lead.
On Friday night, the Wizards used a 20-2 first-quarter run to build a 17-point lead, but then watched it melt away over the course of the second and third quarters.
"We got out to a real fast start and they came back like they usually do, but this time we fought with all of our energy," Arenas said. "As a team we did great, nobody bowed down, nobody thought we were going to win this game, but we've got a group of guys who aren't going to lie down for anybody."
Then again, it's a team that is capable of beating or losing to anybody. The Wizards have beaten the Pistons and San Antonio Spurs, last season's NBA finalists, and lost to the struggling Magic.
That's why Jamison was already stressing the importance of Saturday night's road game against the Charlotte Bobcats as he prepared to walk out of the arena and head for the airport.
"I told the guys in here, this win means nothing if we don't follow it up in Charlotte," said Jamison, a former University of North Carolina star. "That is a team that has been in every game and gave us a lot of problems last year. We have to come out with the same kind of focus we had tonight."