Wizards fall short despite Jordan's 32

Rally in 4th not enough in 104-95 loss to Celtics

November 08, 2001|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - This was much better than Detroit, but not as good as Atlanta. The Washington Wizards rebounded from their worst performance of the season last night against the Boston Celtics at the FleetCenter, yet were eventually overrun by a truck named Antoine Walker.

After Michael Jordan and Christian Laettner led the Wizards on a spirited fourth-quarter comeback, it was Walker who eventually squashed the chance of another road victory for Washington. Walker's near triple double of 31 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists led the Celtics to a 104-95 victory.

Jordan finished with 32 points - the most since joining the Wizards and ending his three-year retirement - while Laettner's total of 29 was 19 more than he had scored in any of the team's first four games. Richard Hamilton added 19 for the Wizards.

But it wasn't enough for Washington (2-3) to complete its comeback from a 12-point, third-quarter deficit. Walker had help, too, getting 17 points from veteran point guard Kenny Anderson, and 16 points and 10 rebounds from rookie swingman Joe Johnson.

"We're not really as connected as we should be in the fourth quarter," said Jordan, whose three-point play with 7:16 left capped an 11-0 run that produced an 81-80 lead, the only time the Wizards were in front in the second half. "In Chicago, everyone understood their roles going into the fourth quarter. Right now, we're learning our roles."

Laettner was in a different role last night, starting at center instead of power forward to give the Wizards a little more scoring at that position. Playing in place of Jahidi White, Laettner got himself and the Wizards off to a good start.

"I hit my first couple of shots, and that helps," said Laettner, who finished 13-for-17 after coming in shooting a dismal 10-for-36 for the season, including 3-for-11 in Sunday's 100-78 loss to the Detroit Pistons in Auburn Hills, Mich. "The team did a nice job of moving the ball."

But the Celtics did an even better job, particularly in the second quarter and early in the third. Boston (3-2) pulled out to a 48-42 halftime lead that stretched to 62-50 on a shot by Johnson midway through the third quarter. The Celtics led 75-67 going into the fourth quarter.

Laettner kept the Wizards competitive, hitting four straight shots during the third-quarter run that Jordan completed by hitting a baseline jumper as he was being fouled by Paul Pierce. While he shut down the NBA's fifth-leading scorer down the stretch, Jordan gave Pierce problems defensively.

"I felt good. This is the first time I've played against a scorer," said Jordan, who held Pierce to 1-for-6 shooting in the fourth quarter. "I didn't want him to get in a rhythm."

Still, it was a defensive play by Pierce that might have turned the game in Boston's favor. After two free throws by Anderson pushed the lead to 94-89, Jordan pulled up from about 20 feet on the right side. But Pierce blocked Jordan's shot, and Johnson scored on a dunk at the other end.

Washington's last chance came after Chris Whitney's three-point shot with a little more than a minute left cut the deficit to 98-94. But Walker's 7-footer with 45.8 seconds to go pushed the lead back to six, and two more free throws by the 6-foot-9, 240-pound forward made it eight.

"I knew if I could get the ball down in the post, they'd have a tough time stopping me," Walker said. "We have the luxury of having two guys on this team who can score, and tonight I also had the opportunity to get to the free-throw line."

While disappointed with the outcome, Wizards coach Doug Collins was heartened by the effort.

"We're growing," he said. "Hopefully we'll learn how to finish these type of games. Turnovers killed us, and Antoine was magnificent. We have a lot of young guys. We have to play in these type of games to learn how to win them."

NOTES: Before last night's game, the Wizards announced they had waived veteran forward Loy Vaught. Having spent the season on the injured list with recurring back problems, the 34-year-old Vaughn plans to retire. The Wizards will try to negotiate a settlement on the last two years of his contract, worth more than $10 million. ... The Wizards announced that individual tickets are available for tomorrow's 7 p.m. game against the Golden State Warriors and Sunday's 1 p.m. game against the Seattle SuperSonics.

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