For as cruel as the ending of Friday’s Game 6 was for the Washington Wizards — their hopes dashed by a Paul Pierce three-pointer that came just a few milliseconds too late — the 94-91 loss was also fitting.
Seven times now, the Wizards/Bullets have taken their homecourt for a playoff elimination game and come up short by a combined 46 points, making for a 6.6 average margin of defeat. The roadblocks have ranged across the spectrum, from Michael Jordan to wobbly dunks to LeBron James to missed free throws to LeBron James to stepback jumpers to…did we mention LeBron James?
Here’s a trip down memory lane, starting with the fondest recollection:
Eastern Conference first round, Game 3: Washington Bullets 114, Detroit Pistons 106 (OT) (May 2, 1988)
The Bullets came out blazing, shooting 54.9 percent from the field and riding Jeff Malone’s 35 points to hold off the Pistons in overtime. Just as notable — if the above boxscore is to be believed — the Bullets put up 114 points without attempting a three-pointer.
While the outcome marked Detroit’s first playoffs loss during its run to the first of two straight NBA titles, for Washington, it was the franchise’s last home elimination playoff game and, ultimately, the start of a nine-year playoff drought until…
Eastern Conference first round, Game 3: Chicago Bulls 96, Washington Bullets 95 (April 30, 1997)
The Dagger: Scottie Pippen’s baseline dunk pops in, out and then back in again with 7.4 seconds left.
Michael Jordan & Co. came to town and nearly got knocked off as the upstart Bullets built a nine-point, fourth-quarter lead. But Jordan scored 10 of his 28 points in the final four minutes, setting up Pippen’s decisive dunk while getting fouled. A Calbert Cheaney jumper on the final possession fell short of the rim but the Bullets, featuring Juwan Howard and Chris Webber, drew strong praise from the league’s best player afterward, with Jordan calling them “one of the teams of the future.”
Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 4: Miami Heat 99, Washington Wizards 95 (May 14, 2005)
The Dagger: Dwyane Wade’s 42 points
On this night, as Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan put it afterward, “a star was born.” Wade, then a second-year guard out of Marquette, dropped 42 points in victory, filling the void for an injured Shaquille O’Neal. Gilbert Arenas tallied 25 points, but he did it on 5-for-17 shooting, including a 1-for-7 showing from downtown.
Eastern Conference first round, Game 6: Cleveland Cavaliers 114, Washington Wizards 113 (OT) (May 5, 2006)
The Dagger: Gilbert Arenas’s missed free throws AND Damon Jones’s 17-foot jumper in the final seconds
Yet again, the Wizards ran into another star from the 2003 NBA Draft in LeBron James, a player that Washington would grow plenty familiar with during the next two postseasons. The Wizards received monster contributions from Arenas (36 points) and Caron Butler (18 points, 20 rebounds), but what’s remembered most from this game is the “pep talk” Arenas received from James at the free-throw line during overtime.
With the Wizards up one and just 15.1 seconds left, James sidled up next to Arenas, patted his chest and said something to the effect of “You miss both of these free throws, y’all goin’ home.” Arenas — an 80.3 percent free-throw shooter for his career– missed both shots and Jones hit a jumper on the next play to, indeed, send the Wizards home for the season.
Eastern Conference first round, Game 4: Cleveland Cavaliers 97, Washington Wizards 90 (April 30, 2007)
The Dagger: Arenas’ absence
Moments before gametime, Arenas, for whatever reason, decided he was not going to play. Even without their All-Star guard in uniform, the Wizards built a five-point lead after three quarters, but despite 31 points from Antwan Jamison and 13 assists by Antonio Daniels, the Wizards’s lack of firepower ultimately haunted them. Behind 31 points and 11 assists from James, 19 rebounds by Zydrunas Illgauskas and 14 points from future Wizard Drew Gooden, the Cavaliers closed out Washington on its home floor — again.
Eastern Conference first round, Game 6: Cleveland Cavaliers 105, Washington Wizards 88 (May 2, 2008)
The Dagger: LeBron James’s triple-double
This series had it all — Jay-Z, Soulja Boy, the crab dribble and the suspension of Darius Songalia — all, that is, except a different ending. Arenas was again missing in action for the closeout game, ruling himself out due to his surgically repaired knee, and the Cavaliers capitalized. James topped off Cleveland’s third straight Wizards elimination at MCI Center with a triple-double, recording 27 points, 13 rebounds and 13 assists while being serenaded by chants of “Over-rated.”
Eastern Conference semifinals, Game 6: Indiana Pacers 93, Washington Wizards 80 (May 15, 2014)
The Dagger: David West
When the Wizards returned to the playoffs last year following a six-year drought, they did it with an entirely new team, one that had emerged from the rubble following the roster’s decimation in light of the Arenas gun incident.
The players rallied, overcoming a 14-point deficit to take a one-point lead on a Bradley Beal jumper with 8 minutes 30 seconds left. But eventually, the Wizards relented, unable to find an answer for West’s stepback jumpers in a loss that brought both tears of frustration and mounds of expectations.