Celtics tug curtain toward Wizards

Playoff shot nearly lost as Boston wins, 87-83

April 10, 2003|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - On a night when the coach who popularized the phrase, "The opera ain't over 'til the fat lady sings," was at MCI Center, the Washington Wizards may have heard the strains singing them out of the Eastern Conference playoff race.

The Wizards' second-half charge fell short and they lost, 87-83, to the Boston Celtics last night in front of a crowd of 20,173 that included former coach Dick Motta and members of the 1978 Bullets.

The Wizards paid tribute to the only championship team in franchise history, but there was no party mood afterward.

With the Bucks (39-40) holding the tiebreaker over the Wizards (36-42) for winning the season series, either one more Washington loss or a Milwaukee win will knock the Wizards out of the race.

"We have to play out the games and see what happens," said Wizards guard Jerry Stackhouse. "We're going to continue to fight, but this is definitely a deflating loss."

It may sound like the same old song, but the Wizards failed to execute late after clawing their way back into the game. In this case, Washington made up a 13-point first-half deficit and took a three-point lead in the third quarter, only to wash out late in the fourth.

Boston rookie J.R. Bremer, who had started a good part of the season at point guard before being benched recently for Tony Delk, came off the bench to score 20 points, including the game-winning three-pointer with 19.4 seconds left.

"I've never played when the fat lady was singing," said the Wizards' Michael Jordan, who scored 21. "Obviously, it was a big game for us. The guy that we felt like had to make the big shot [Bremer] made the big shot all night long."

Although Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, Boston's Big Two, combined for 44 points, the Wizards largely kept them in check. But Bremer was the X-factor, hitting three of six three-pointers to boost Boston (42-36) into the playoffs.

"We thought we could get the win, especially since we'd beaten them three times," said Wizards forward Kwame Brown. "But unlike the last time, Antoine Walker made shots and J.R. Bremer hit some shots."

Walker and Bremer shot a combined 3-for-21 in the Wizards' 99-98 overtime victory Sunday in Boston. They were 16-for-32 last night.

The Wizards' loss negated a brilliant performance from Brown, who had 17 points and nine rebounds off the bench.

After Brown missed a short jumper in the lane with one second left on the shot clock, Bremer hit the decisive three-pointer from the left wing to give Boston an 85-83 lead.

Tyronn Lue missed a short jumper in the lane with about five seconds left, and Brown couldn't convert the tip-in. Walter McCarty was fouled on the rebound and hit one of two free throws with 1.1 seconds left.

Lue grabbed the rebound on the second free throw and immediately called timeout, but the Wizards didn't have any. Washington was assessed a technical and Pierce hit the ensuing free throw.

The Wizards pulled out all the promotional and emotional stops to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the franchise's only championship.

They dusted off the star-spangled replica jerseys from that season, as well as bringing back 10 members from that squad. They included forwards Bobby Dandridge and Mitch Kupchak, now the general manager of the Los Angeles Lakers, as well as the Wizards' current general manager, Wes Unseld.

But the echoes of a championship past weren't enough to push the current team over the hump.

Next for Wizards

Opponent: Miami Heat

Site: American Airlines Arena, Miami

When: Tomorrow, 8 p.m.

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

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