Wizards pull 105-103 surprise on Spurs

Bench leads rare victory over a team above .500

January 01, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - The Washington Wizards have developed a nice little habit of ending one year with a big win over a good team on New Year's Eve. It started two years ago with a blowout over Detroit, followed by last year's pasting of eventual Eastern Conference champion New Jersey that was punctuated by Michael Jordan's 45 points.

Nothing quite that spectacular happened last night at MCI Center, but the Wizards ushered out 2002 with a 105-103 win over the San Antonio Spurs.

The victory itself - Washington's second in the past three games while continuing the New Year's Eve pattern - was different in that it came with a solid contribution from their bench and it came against an opponent with a winning record.

Washington's bench, which was outscored the night before in Orlando 23-21 by Magic forward Pat Garrity alone, came up big last night, outscoring San Antonio's reserves 28-23. That effort was aided by little used forward Etan Thomas, who had 10 points and seven rebounds.

"I want to get in there and contribute to the team any time that I can," said Thomas, who had played a total of 13 minutes in the past five games, sitting out three of them. "I just have to come on and play hard and come with a lot of intensity. That's what I try to do."

Said Washington coach Doug Collins: "Our bench was great. When Etan does that for that, he gives us a strength and a power that we just don't have when he's not in the game."

Thomas, one of a rotation of Wizards to take turns guarding Tim Duncan, did a reasonable job. True, the reigning Most Valuable Player posted a game-high 35 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter for his 14th straight double double. But, the quartet of Thomas, Kwame Brown, Christian Laettner and Brendan Haywood wore Duncan down enough, taking advantage of the fact that the Spurs (19-13) were concluding a four-game-in-five-night Eastern stretch.

San Antonio, which lost for the first time in six years at MCI Center, helped by atypically self-destructing with 18 turnovers, including four consecutive miscues in a critical fourth quarter stretch, as well as having starting forward Stephen Jackson ejected in the third period for touching an official.

"That was an important stretch for us," said Jerry Stackhouse, who led Washington with 25 points and seven assists. "When you have a team like that and they start getting technical fouls and you start hearing the whistles blow, you have to take advantage.

"We just kept our composure and our poise and kept doing the things we were doing and we were able to actually extend the lead from there. They made a run, as great teams do, but we were able to get the win."

Indeed, in typical Washington fashion, the Wizards (14-17) sweated out the ending. After Tony Parker fouled Larry Hughes in the act of shooting a three-pointer, and Hughes sank all three foul shots to give the Wizards a 10-point lead with two minutes to go, San Antonio's Steve Smith hit a pair of threes in the final 1:28. But then Steve Kerr's three-point attempt with 25 seconds to go, which would have cut the Wizards' lead to three, rolled halfway down the basket and out.

David Robinson, in his final Washington appearance, had 17 points and 10 rebounds for the Spurs.

The Wizards' win - only the fourth in 19 games this season against teams with a winning record - may prove to be a springboard for a team desperate to ring in a new calendar year with some consistency and a few wins to boot.

"We're hoping," said Hughes, who finished with 22 points. "We feel like we're right there, that we're right on that line. We just need to play the same way every night, and do the things that give us the best opportunity to win and go out there every night and do the same thing. We can't stray away from that."

NOTES: Collins said rookie point guard Juan Dixon, who missed most of the month of December with a sprained left elbow, is about a week away from returning to the lineup.

Next for Wizards

Opponent:Chicago Bulls

Site:United Center, Chicago

When:Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.

TV/Radio:TNT/WTEM (980 AM)

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