WASHINGTON - The Washington Wizards threw out the conventional game plan last night, curbing their reliance on their Big Three, hitting their free throws, particularly in crunch time and playing exceptional defense.
In return, they were rewarded with a come-from-behind, 107-100 win over the Milwaukee Bucks at MCI Center, before a surprisingly boisterous crowd of 13,157.
"It's been unfortunate for us that we've had to endure someone else stepping up that was a non-starter or a non-main player that has made the difference in the games that we've lost," Washington coach Leonard Hamilton said. "For us to be successful, we need to have more contributions from more guys, so that we do not have to be dependent on the same guys night in and night out."
And while Juwan Howard, the frontcourt member of the Big Three, had 24 points to lead the Wizards (4-10), and Mitch Richmond and Rod Strickland, the backcourt part of the triumvirate, combined for 26 points, the Washington bench spelled the difference, outscoring Milwaukee's reserves, 44-19.
Second year guard Richard Hamilton had 18 - eight in the final quarter - including a three-pointer with 1:46 to play that gave Washington a 99-91 lead.
"We said before the game that we were tired of giving all these guys respect. We had to make them earn it," Richard Hamilton said. "I know `Rip' [Richard Hamilton] is not included as a part of the bench because he gets in really early, but he's a part of the bench," reserve forward Gerard King said. "He hit some big buckets down the stretch, and as they kept doubling Juwan, `Rip' was coming up big."
Richard Hamilton wasn't the only Washington reserve to come up big. King, a lightly used, 6-foot-9 second-year pro from Nicholls State, came up with eight of his season high 10 points to trigger a 12-2 run at the start of the fourth quarter to bring the Wizards from as many as eight down to two in front with 8:32 to go.
"It was the reverse of some of the other games we've had. And we did have some periods in the game where we didn't get some shots to fall, even though we had good looks. But our guys did a very good job of staying positive and maintaining their confidence and stuck with the game plan," Leonard Hamilton said.
And reserve center Cherokee Parks, the former Duke standout, led all rebounders with 13, including the one that led to Richard Hamilton's late three-pointer.
"It felt good. It really felt good. It was one of the best fourth quarters we've had all season," Parks said.
Said guard Chris Whitney, whose 10 points made him one of six Wizards in double figures: "Cherokee was big for us. He got big rebounds. Juwan played his usual tough game inside, and when Gerard came in, we exploited some matchups and he hit some big shots. We just made the plays down the stretch."
The Milwaukee starting backcourt of Sam Cassell (Dunbar) and Ray Allen torched the Washington backcourt for 59 combined points, with Allen, a member of the 2000 United States Olympic team, connecting for a season-high 37.
However, the Wizards shut down the Bucks (3-9) in the fourth quarter, holding them without a basket for 9:25, while making a remarkable 26 straight free throws, to snap a two-game losing streak and nail down only their second home win of the year.
"Both of us are at the bottom of the pack and it's the crab theory - you have to step on the teams that are on your level and try to fight them to get to the top," Allen said. "We felt that trying to beat on a team that is struggling like we are, and we continue to struggle, we have to find some confidence somewhere. But they played a good game [last night]."