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.













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















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


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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