ATLANTA – Trevor Booker never got the image of Al Horford’s buzzer-beating jumper last December, the one that was just over his outstretched arm, out of his head. It haunted him, flustered him and certainly motivated Booker when he stepped into a building where he had never won in four seasons in the NBA.
The Wizards’ losses at Philips Arena had crossed over into the category of torturous, with Washington repeatedly having too many bad breaks to leave Atlanta with a win. Last season, the Wizards famously lost their 10th straight game to start the season after Kevin Seraphin gave the team a two-point lead with a jumper with 7.3 seconds remaining, only to have to have Kyle Korver respond with a three-pointer less than six seconds later. Martell Webster then made a tip-in that would’ve won the game, except the shot was later reviewed and overturned.
“I have,” Booker said, when asked if he spent any time Wednesday thinking about the Wizards’ misfortune in Atlanta before taking on the Hawks. But Booker was determined to make sure that the Wizards wouldn’t experience more heartache as he helped them pull out a 114-97 victory.
“Booker was big for us,” Coach Randy Wittman said. “I thought he was outstanding.”
The Hawks opened the third quarter on a 18-10 run and got within 68-65 when Booker entered the game for the foul-plagued Marcin Gortat with 6 minutes, 51 seconds remaining. All-star forward Paul Millsap – a man whose game the equally undersized Booker admires – added a short jumper to bring the Hawks within one and Booker twice made sure that they wouldn’t take the lead. Booker took a pass from Bradley Beal and buried jumper, then countered a driving layup by Millsap with a driving layup of his own.
“Brad drove and I had an open jumper. I knocked it down and that’s what got me going,” Booker said, “Found myself in the post a couple of times and I was able to score.”
Booker scored eight of his 12 points in the period as the Wizards never lost the lead. He helped put the Wizards ahead, 83-77, when he caught a pass from Seraphin and shook the entire backboard with a two-handed dunk.
“I ain’t seen him get up that high on dunk in a long time, so that was pretty exciting for me,” John Wall said. “He’s one of those guys who feels like he should be playing more and I feel like the way he’s playing lately, I think he definitely should. It’s just something about him, he always has that energy. That’s one guy you always want on your team, a hard-nosed bruiser that does dirty work. But he’s improving his game of blocking shots, making plays.”
Booker meekly entering the all-star break by total seven points and six rebounds in the three games before players and coaches went their separate ways. He has returned to claim his role as the Wizards’ most reliable big man off the bench, scoring a combined 22 points on 11 of 14 shooting in the past two games.
“Last couple of games, I felt pretty good on the offensive end,” Booker said. “Hopefully it’ll carry over to the next game.
When the Wizards lost in overtime, 101-99, on Dec. 13, Booker had the best game of his career with a season-high 24 points and 14 rebounds. Booker carried the Wizards in overtime by scoring six points, including the reverse layup to tie game at 99 before Horford’s jumper. Back in the venue where had already performed well this season, Booker was expecting to have another solid effort.
“I just felt good before the game and it carried over to the game,” Booker said.
Seraphin, who was seated nearby, said, “He told me that. He told me that he felt good.”
Seraphin and Booker joined the Wizards at the same time and had a playful exchange in the locker room after the game. Booker explained how he got the pass from Seraphin before his rim-rocking jam.
“I was surprised. Everybody was surprised that he passed the ball,” Booker said with a smile.
Seraphin shook his head and laughed. “What? I’ve been passing the ball lately.”
Seraphin then decided to play the role of reporter.
“Do you think you bring something to the table for the team?” Seraphin asked.
Booker smiled and joked, “I think I bring a lot to the table, you know. I’m a natural scorer. Other than that, I rebound the ball. I play defense.”
Booker and Seraphin both chuckled. For six years, laughter was rarely heard in the visiting locker room at Philips Arena but after snapping an 11-game losing streak in Atlanta, the players were able to finally let loose. But only for one night, because they moved up one spot in the Eastern Conference playoff standings to fifth, with Brooklyn breathing down Washington’s neck.
“Super big,” Booker said of the importance of the win. “We wished we could’ve got that one [against Toronto], but we held our heads high and got the win. It’s a tight race right now, so getting this win will definitely help us out down the road.”
One win doesn’t make up for all of the past agony in Atlanta, but it is better than none. “It feels great,” Booker said.