For Wizards, it's another losing rerun

Fourth-quarter fizzle results in 3rd defeat in row, 98-91 to Celtics

Pro Basketball

March 11, 2002|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

BOSTON -- The Washington Wizards' season, or at least the last week or so of it, is beginning to look like the movie Groundhog Day, where the team appears to relive the disappointment of the previous game in the next performance.

The Wizards once again arrived in the fourth quarter of a contest against a solid opponent, in this case, the Boston Celtics, with a chance to win, only to fall apart late in the game, this time resulting in a 98-91 loss at the Fleet Center yesterday.

The Wizards (29-33) led through most of the third quarter and trailed by no more than seven during most of the fourth, but just couldn't finish, falling for the third straight game and 12th time in their past 15.

"It's not anything other than in the last six minutes of the game we have not been able to finish," said Washington coach Doug Collins. "It's a carbon copy of the losses we've had over the last four or five games. Under pressure, we take bad shots and make bad decisions on both ends of the floor. Teams have capitalized on that."

The Celtics (35-27) didn't give Washington the end-of-game heartbreak that Detroit and Orlando applied in the past few days, but forwards Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, after sleepwalking through most of the first three quarters, came to life late in the second half, combining for 41 points. They scored 15 of Boston's 24 points in the fourth quarter.

The Wizards, who play host to Boston tonight at MCI Center, caught a break in the first half, as the Celtics shot 40 percent from the field, 2-for-14 from three-point range.

That the Wizards were even in the game, much less leading, was surprising given that they committed 11 first-half turnovers, a surprising number for a team that usually takes good care of the ball.

"You can look at our track record," said guard Chris Whitney. "That's uncharacteristic of us. We had 11 turnovers in the first half, and we've had games where we've had 11 turnovers. We have to take better care of the ball, and if we do that, we'll have an even better chance to win the game."

Rookie Kwame Brown, playing on his 20th birthday, gave Washington a badly needed spark in the first half, with eight points off the bench in seven minutes, as Washington led 53-48 at halftime.

"[Yesterday was] his birthday, and I thought it would be a nice way to show him that we believe in him, and I thought he responded very, very well. Kwame's got good instincts and makes good passes," Collins said.

However, Brown, who has played sporadically, got beaten twice by Celtics center Vitaly Potapenko on a single possession late in the game, as Potapenko got two big offensive rebounds, which allowed Boston to run down the clock with the Wizards trailing by three. Pierce hit two free throws with 53 seconds to go at the end of the sequence, shooting the Celtics' lead to 95-90.

Said Celtics coach Jim O'Brien: "[Those] were two really big rebounds by Vitaly late. They really may have been the game."

Richard Hamilton led the Wizards with 21 points, and Christian Laettner had a game-high 16 rebounds as Washington won the battle of the boards 44-32, but lost where it matters.

"It's getting frustrating because we're not finding a way to win," said forward Popeye Jones. "We're playing our hearts out, but we're not finding a way to win, and that's the frustrating part about it. We've got to go back to the drawing board and try to find a way, because the game is right there for us. It's two or three crucial mistakes that always cost us, and we've got to cut out those mistakes and get over the hump."

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