PORTLAND, Ore. — When Jordan Crawford leaned left, kicked out his right leg and his ridiculously-high arching shot splashed through the net as time expired, the Washington Wizards reserve guard leaned down and made a beeline for the locker room.
Nene, Trevor Ariza and John Wall all looked around stunned, making sure that the shot counted — and that Wizards really had pulled out a 98-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers — before chasing down Crawford. But before Crawford couldn’t even make to the other end of the court, point guard A.J. Price had already wrapped him in an embrace and other exuberant teammates crowded and danced gleefully.
Eventually, the party got sloppy, the players stumbled to the ground and Crawford found himself buried in a heap of head slaps and hugs. Martell Webster wouldn’t let go of Crawford and kicked his feet wildly in the air.
Clumsy celebrations should kind of be expected for a Wizards team that has been unaccustomed to winning much this season, let alone in the fashion that they did on Monday night at the Rose Garden, where Crawford spared them from another collapse, or another potential overtime defeat with a shot that rained down from the heavens.
“I always say, the basketball gods usually even things out, and we’ve been on the other end so many times this year,” Coach Randy Wittman said after the Wizards improved are 3-6 in games decided by three points or less. “Our guys are just sticking with it and learning and staying with it and making plays down the stretch when we need to make a play to win the game.”
The Wizards (9-30) also showed that they can compete — and win — even when their best player, Wall, and their promising rookie, Bradley Beal, were far from their best. And after Nene, Webster and Emeka Okafor put the Wizards in position to win, Crawford closed out the game by scoring all 13 of his points in the final period — none bigger than a three-pointer over Portland’s Wes Matthews that few besides Crawford would’ve had the confidence to take.
“I wanted to get a clean look,” said Crawford. “I knew it had a chance. Thank the Lord I made it.”
The Wizards swept the season series against Portland for the first time since 2004-05 and improved to 2-2 on this five-game road trip. Webster and Nene both had season highs with 24 points and Okafor had his eighth double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds. Wall finally came down some from his adrenaline-fueled return to action, contributing just six points and committing four turnovers in a sloppy performance that he managed to avoid his first five games. Beal appeared to struggle in his second game since injuring his right wrist after a hard fall, matching his season low with just two points on 1-for-7 shooting.
“We know who our leaders are, but different guys can step up any other night,” Wall said. “A lot of guys chipped in. Jordan came in . . . that’s what you live for — somebody to come in and make a big shot.”
Despite Wall and Beal struggling, the Wizards were tied at 95 after Matthews drained a three-pointer with 7.9 seconds remaining. Webster made the inbounds pass, barely avoiding a five-second violation when he spotted Crawford sneaking behind Nene to break free. Crawford has been known to take questionable shots in his time in Washington, but his teammates were confident that he would make the one that counted most.
“It’s good!” Webster said he told himself when Crawford released the ball from 31 feet. “That’s where J.C. be shooting from. In practice, warmups, he shoots from there.”
Webster was back in the place where he spent the first five seasons of his career and received a loud ovation when he was introduced before the game. He connected on four three-pointers and had a few dunks that elicited a few more cheers from his former fans.
“I feel great. This is the best I felt the last five years,” Webster said. “I don’t really look at it individually. All I know is that I just wanted to come out with a sense of urgency and be focused. To gather more wins. That’s our goal.”
Crawford, the Wizards’ leading scorer for much of the season, was playing just his third game since missing the previous four with a bone bruise in his left ankle and surpassed his point total from the previous two games. After Trail Blazers forward Nicolas Batum (12 points, 11 assists and 10 rebounds) made a layup to cut Washington’s lead to 77-75, Crawford scored the Wizards’ next eight points, hitting a tough jumper and two three-pointers to give his team an 85-77 lead.
“That’s a perfect example. It doesn’t matter how long you play, when you come to the court, you need to give it your best, and he did that,” Nene said of Crawford.
Rookie of the year favorite Damian Lillard (18 points) brought Portland back to 91-90 on an incredible dunk over Nene. Wall tried to respond with a jumper but missed badly, before Nene stole the ball from J.J. Hickson and decided to take on the point guard duties for a few seconds. He dribbled the length of the court and fed Webster for a dunk.
Wall then stole the ball from Lillard and dunked to give the Wizards a 95-90 lead with 58.8 seconds left. On the verge of unraveling once again, Crawford made sure they left town with a win.
“I get the opportunity, I want to take advantage of it,” Crawford said. “It ain’t about bad games or good games, really. It’s about opportunity. Sometimes the game will go our way, sometimes it won’t, just staying with it. I think everybody is getting that confidence that we can win each night.”
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Box score: Washington 98, Portland 95
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