The last game of a long road trip is usually trouble, with players in a rush, realizing that the next plane they catch will take them back to their own beds and the comforts of home.
And through 33 minutes Wednesday night against the Utah Jazz, the Washington Wizards looked as if they were already done with their five-game trip — or at least wanted to be anywhere else but EnergySolutions Arena.
The Wizards were missing shots, didn’t get back on defense and were slow with their reflexes and rotations. The only energy they seemed to muster was to complain about non-calls while letting the Jazz get more uncontested layups. Utah built a 22-point first-half lead, let it slip to 12 and then pushed it back up to 21 when Al Jefferson made a jumper with 2 minutes 27 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
“That’s what usually happens with a lot of Eastern Conference teams. Their last game [of a road trip], it usually be here on their way out,” Wizards guard John Wall said. “This team, they know, if you don’t come out, they’re going to try to put you away. They tried that.”
But after Coach Randy Wittman called a timeout, imploring his players not to go out meekly, the Wizards made sure that Utah earned its 92-88 victory with a rapid and unexpected rally.
“We wanted to be in the game,” Jordan Crawford said. “Didn’t want to just give them one.”
The Wizards were shooting just 30.8 percent (20 or 65) before making 7 of 11 shots during a 20-2 run that lasted less than four minutes. Crawford and Wall both made layups in the final 35 seconds of the third quarter to get them within 73-58 at the start of the fourth.
From there, the Wizards started pecking away, with Wall making a floater, then finding Crawford for a three-pointer and Trevor Booker for a long jumper, then making two free throws to cut the deficit to six. Trevor Ariza stole the ball from his fellow UCLA alum Earl Watson and made a layup and later brought the Wizards within 75-72 when he caught a pass from Wall and buried a three-pointer from the top of the key.
As a stunned crowd started groan and boo, Ariza took a cold-blooded strut make to his bench, believing that the impossible was within reach with roughly nine minutes remaining.
“I mean, when I’m on the court, I feel I can bring some type of energy to help us win,” Ariza said. “We kept going. We didn’t give in to it being the last game on the road trip. We fought our way back.”
They got within 80-78 when Kevin Seraphin made a foul line jumper, but started to slow down as the Jazz scored the next five points. Wall threw a beautiful full-court pass ahead to Crawford for a layup that brought the Wizards within 85-80. He later fed Bradley Beal with a pass that ended with a dunk that brought them with 88-84 but Martell Webster missed a jumper that could’ve brought them closer. And Paul Millsap answered with a jumper that proved to be the difference.
“I give credit myself and my teammates, for fighting hard and giving ourselves a chance,” Wall said. “We wanted to get back home, but we also wanted to stay and compete.”
The Wizards (9-31) went 2-3 on their longest trip of the season and still haven’t recorded a winning record on a West Coast trip since going 3-1 from Dec. 17-22, 2006. Beal was pleased by the push to make it close in Utah, but disappointed that they were already so far behind when the run began.
“If we didn’t come from the start like that, we probably would’ve blew them out,” Beal said. “It was staying the course, staying with it. We never give up, no matter who we’re playing and no matter how much we’re down.”