WASHINGTON - Juan Dixon's per formance last night at MCI Center was more than the final punch that floored the Chicago Bulls, more than the catalyst that officially transformed an emerging playoff rout into a best-of-three series, more than the finest game he's played since the 2002 NCAA final.
It was a testament to the powers of faith.
Not just Dixon's faith in himself, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan's faith in him. On Sunday, Dixon felt he needed redemption after one of the worst games of his adult life the day before, when he was the only, and most noticeable, blight on the Wizards" first victory over the Bulls. He also needed to make his case to Jordan, so he followed the coach to his car after practice and - well, begging wouldn't be too strong a word. He wouldn't let Jordan close his car door without several votes of confidence.
Don't worry, Jordan kept telling him, I still believe in you. Jordan proved it with just over three minutes left in last night's fourth game of their first-round series, at which point the Wizards were already badly beating the Bulls.
The sellout crowd was going nuts already, and they kept going even at the sight of Dixon entering the game - yet there had to be knots forming in a few thousand stomachs, with Dixon's 1-for-10 shooting (on Saturday) and revolving-door defense (in all three games, but worst on Saturday) fresh in their fevered minds.
Then Dixon started firing away. And six minutes later, he had filled it up with 14 gasp-inducing points, and the lead had exploded from 21-13 shortly after his entry to 41-22.
The Wizards kept piling it on, and eventually, it was time for an encore. Dixon began the fourth quarter by hitting his third three-pointer of the game, connecting on an alley-oop to Jared Jeffries, nearly making a sparkling block on Kirk Hinrich's drive, and then two more jumpers.
You almost thought it was College Park again. All that was missing was shattered storefronts and overturned cars along 6th Street NW.
Naturally, it was Dixon who made the free throws that slowed the Bulls comeback at the end, and that also gave him 35 points, his NBA career high. At the end, he had proved what he had to prove, too.
Along the way, he and Jordan and the rest of the Wizards proved again that declaring a winner in this series after the first two games in Chicago was wildly premature. They proved that they have more up their sleeves than the Big Three, a point first made in Game 3 when Etan Thomas and Michael Ruffin supplied some punch.
Now here was Dixon, who had finally found a smooth fit in his role off the bench until he sprained an ankle in the final month of the regular season. He was loathe to admit it, but he hadn't been the same player since then, and coming in the middle of one final stretch of injuries team-wide, it likely cost the Wizards both the home- court advantage in this series, and the edge and rhythm they had been creating.
That edge resurfaced Saturday, and Dixon provided the rhythm last night. Suddenly, the next three games - even with two of them, including a possible Game 7, in Chicago - are anyone's guess. Even if the Bulls catch a ride on their home crowd tomorrow , this clearly is not the same Wizards team that was bum-rushed out of United Center last week.
Makes you wonder how high this team could rise if every bench player could follow the example Dixon set, in Game 4 and the day before, when he sold himself and his faith to Eddie Jordan. For example, just to throw out a name, how about Kwame Brown?
Sorry, no sale. Brown stayed home for Sunday's practice and for last night's game with a stomach virus. Take the level of belief Jordan had in Dixon's resurgence; that's how much disbelief the organization appears to have in Brown's reason for not showing up. The sickness came upon him, it appears, hours after he had been chained to the bench in Game 3, even during garbage time, when Steve Blake and Laron Profit played and Wes Unseld and Earl Monroe were at the scorer's table.
Stomach virus, huh? Well, even if true, that makes two players in this series who can't be compared to Michael Jordan. Ben Gordon is the other, although, in his defense, he had fought a cold for two games (and played like it).
One player in particular, though, did go above and beyond - above and beyond the expectations many had for him, with the very notable exceptions of his coach and himself.