Wizards hold off Sixers, stay alive

Thomas leads 90-77 win

thin postseason hopes in East tied to Raptors

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

WASHINGTON - Given their precarious playoff position, the Washington Wizards could have been playing last night's game with the Philadelphia 76ers for little more than pride.

And the Wizards needed every ounce of that intangible to hold off the Sixers, who erased a 17-point second-half deficit to tie the game late in the fourth quarter.

In the end, reserve forward Etan Thomas refused to let Washington fold, scoring 14 points and pulling down 15 rebounds - both career highs - to will the Wizards to a 90-77 win over Philadelphia.

Thomas, a 6-foot-10 second-year front-court player from Syracuse, led the final charge and drew a standing ovation from the MCI Center crowd when he was lifted in the final seconds.

"I just got a lot of encouragement from my teammates, and the coaches have been telling me all season to keep working and things would pay off. That's what I've been trying to do: stay ready for when they need me," said Thomas, who also had three of Washington's 12 blocked shots.

The Wizards (36-43) managed to stay alive one more day in the Eastern Conference playoff race, as the Toronto Raptors' nine-game winning streak ended last night with a 98-82 loss to the Indiana Pacers.

Though the Milwaukee Bucks are free-falling to the bottom of the conference postseason lineup, where they are tied with the Raptors in the seventh and eighth spots, Milwaukee (39-39) holds a tie-breaker edge over Washington, and the Wizards cannot catch them in their three remaining games.

Therefore, the Wizards, who have a tie-breaker edge over the Raptors, need Toronto to lose its remaining four games, and Washington must win its three to squeak in.

After Philadelphia tied the score at 77 on Aaron McKie's layup with 4:43 to go in the fourth quarter, Washington held the Sixers (41-37) scoreless the rest of the way.

"[Coach Dough Collins] wanted us to pick up the `D.' " Thomas said. "He wanted us to play with a lot of emotion, heart and intensity. That's what he kept stressing and that's what we tried to do."

Richard Hamilton had 21 points to lead Washington and Courtney Alexander scored 16, including what turned out to be the game-winning jumper with 2:39 to go to give Washington the lead back at 79-77.

"I loved the way they played tonight," Sixers coach Larry Brown said of the Wizards. "They played with unbelievable effort and made big plays. Courtney Alexander hit a huge jumper, we settled for a couple of jumpers after we tied the score, and when you are fighting uphill so late in the game, you have to play perfect and we didn't."

To be fair, the Sixers were playing without three key players. Allen Iverson, last season's NBA Most Valuable Player, has been sidelined nine games with a broken left hand; forward Derrick Coleman sat out with a hyperextended left knee, and top reserve Speedy Claxton was recovering from a mild concussion suffered earlier in the week.

Still, the defending Eastern Conference champions battled Washington down the stretch, as guards Eric Snow, who had a career-high 26 points, and McKie, who had 24 off the bench, scored Philadelphia's last 15 points in the fourth quarter.

Washington's best player, Michael Jordan, was reduced to playing cheerleader and assistant coach, since he took himself out of commission last week to rehabilitate his ailing right knee.

Jordan, who has not been seen in an arena since he scored two points in 12 minutes on April 2 against the Los Angeles Lakers, came out at the end of halftime to provide moral support and left the floor just before the horn sounded.

FGFTReb

PhiladelphiaMinM-AM-AO-TAPFPTS

Harpring392-112-40-7326

Blount160-20-00-2060

Mutombo342-65-63-6139

Bell261-51-20-3233

Snow4110-195-71-55226

McKey252-30-01-4044

McKie359-224-42-33224

AJones80-10-01-5010

Cummings162-60-01-1325

Totals24028-7517-239-36172577

Percentages: FG .373, FT .739. 3-point goals: 4-8, .500 (McKie 2-5, Cummings 1-1, Snow 1-2). Team rebounds: 11. Blocked shots: 8 (Mutombo 5, McKie, Bell, A.Jones). Turnovers: 12 (Mutombo 4, McKie 2, Cummings 2, A.Jones 2, Snow, Blount). Steals: 7 (Snow 2, Harpring 2, Mutombo, McKey, Cummings). Technical fouls: Defensive three second, 4:51 second; Coach L.Brown, 3:39 second. FGFTReb

WashingtonMinM-AM-AO-TAPFPTS

Hamilton357-227-81-51121

Laettner172-50-00-3014

JWhite185-70-04-81310

Alexander376-103-32-34516

Whitney232-70-00-3826

Haywood50-10-00-1010

Nesby211-10-00-2042

KBrown40-20-00-1000

Lue193-91-10-1137

Simmons192-42-22-2026

Thomas253-58-147-151014

PJones171-22-40-4224

Totals24032-7523-3216-48182490

Percentages: FG .427, FT .719. 3-point goals: 3-8, .375 (Whitney 2-4, Alexander 1-1, Lue 0-3). Team rebounds: 10. Blocked shots: 12 (Thomas 3, Nesby 3, J.White 2, R.Hamilton 2, Haywood, Simmons). Turnovers: 12 (Whitney 3, J.White 3, Lue 2, R.Hamilton, P.Jones, Nesby, Haywood). Steals: 6 (Nesby 3, R.Hamilton, Thomas, Simmons). Technical fouls: Nesby, 6:56 second. Philadelphia19142420-77

Washington15332121-90

A-20,674 (20,674). T-2:21. Officials-Eddie F. Rush, Leroy Richardson, Michael Henderson.

Next for Wizards

Opponent:Philadelphia 76ers

Site:First Union Center, Philadelphia

When:Tomorrow, 7 p.m.

TV/Radio:Comcast SportsNet/WTEM (980 AM)

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