Wizards close out Celtics for gritty win, reach .500

Stackhouse and Jordan rise late for 4th win in row

Pro Basketball

January 07, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

BOSTON - Months from now, when, perhaps, they've secured their first playoff berth in six years, the Washington Wizards may point to last night's gritty 100-95 win over the Boston Celtics as the moment when their season was forged into something special.

Against a good team and facing a hostile FleetCenter crowd, the Wizards in general and Jerry Stackhouse in particular gutted out a major win, the team's fourth straight, fifth in the past six and their first road win over a team above .500 in a month, since an 88-83 win at Detroit on Dec. 4.

"Those are the games we were losing early in the year," said coach Doug Collins, whose Wizards climbed to .500 for the first time since Nov. 22. "We weren't closing them out and our guys are getting a little bit of confidence. More important, our defense had gotten better in the fourth quarter."

The Wizards (17-17) clamped down on the Celtics (19-14) in the fourth period, limiting them to just 20 points in the period, while Stackhouse, who had 16 of his game-high 37 in the fourth, scored practically at will.

"We're getting more comfortable with things, but at the same time, we're executing," Stackhouse said. "That's important for us to be able to execute, especially late in games. Sometimes, we get in a few possessions where we're getting in a little too late in the shot clock and we need to work on that. But for the most part, in late-game situations, we were able to do what we had to do and guys stepped up and made shots for us."

Few shots were bigger than Michael Jordan's jumper with 32.8 seconds remaining, which gave the Wizards the lead after they had trailed 89-82 with 6:48 left.

Jordan, who was named NBA Eastern Conference Player of the Week largely on the strength of his 41-point Saturday performance in a double-overtime win against the Pacers, looked as though he was feeling the effects of playing a season-high 53 minutes just 48 hours before, particularly in the first half, when he shot just 4-for-10, and had little lift on his jumpers.

Jordan found the energy in the decisive sequence, when he pump-faked Eric Williams twice, got Williams in the air, then launched a 17-footer that went in to tie the score. Williams fouled Jordan, who converted the free throw, the last of his 19 points, to put Washington ahead 96-95.

Off a timeout, on the ensuing Boston possession, Paul Pierce, who had 30 points, looked to pass to Tony Delk on the right wing for a potential go-ahead three-pointer, but the pass sailed into the crowd. Stackhouse converted two free throws with 22.4 seconds left, and another two foul shots at the 14.4-second mark.

The taut thriller had all the feel of an October World Series game, rather than a pre-All-Star basketball contest. And for a second straight game, Collins went to his veteran closer, Charles Oakley, who came off the bench in the final seven minutes, to provide meaningful fouls and solid defense, as well as two rebounds.

"A couple of guys try to hold on to their fouls, but you can't take them home. You might as well use them," Oakley said. "I just have to be ready. I have been from day one. I come in for the challenge. The guys understand that they can do a little more, because they know I know. The guys know that when I'm in there, they can roam a little more. It's good to know that we have good corners, a good pass rush and good linebackers like the Pittsburgh Steelers."

NOTE: At halftime, the Celtics paid tribute to Wizards assistant coach Patrick Ewing, presenting him with a piece of the parquet floor from the old Boston Garden. Ewing, who retired from the game last season following a 17-year career, grew up in nearby Cambridge, Mass., and was a schoolboy legend at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School.

Next for Wizards

Opponent:Chicago Bulls

Site:MCI Center, Washington

When:Tomorrow, 7 p.m.

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

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