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Wizards reach second round, eliminate Bulls
WASHINGTON -- Yes, Washington, basketball life does exist beyond the first round of the playoffs. For the first time since 1982, the franchise is headed there.
Confetti flooded the MCI Center floor Friday night as the Wizards broke a 23-year drought without winning a playoff series by defeating the Chicago Bulls 94-91 behind 19 points from each of their Big Three and a fluke turnover that led to the go-ahead basket.
With 36 seconds remaining and the scored tied at 91 -- where it had been since Antawn Jamison's jumper with 2:08 remaining -- the Bulls called timeout. But Chris Duhon turned his back just as Kirk Hinrich threw him an inbounds pass, and the ball bounced off Duhon's back and was scooped up by Jared Jeffries, who raced downcourt for a dunk with 33 seconds remaining.
The Bulls had two more possessions, but Jannero Pargo missed badly with a jumper, and, after Washington's Juan Dixon made one of two free throws, Andres Nocioni missed a 3-pointer. Tyson Chandler rebounded but shot an ill-advised 2-point attempt with his team needing a 3 to tie.
Gilbert Arenas rebounded and tossed the ball into the crowd, the final 2 seconds ticking off the clock as the ball was airborne.
Jamison, Larry Hughes and Arenas scored 19 apiece as the Wizards won series 4-2, taking the final four games to advanced for the first time since the Bullets' 2-0 sweep of New Jersey in 1982, back when the first round was best-of-three.
This was the ninth time in NBA history that a team recovered from an 0-2 deficit to advance.
The Wizards aren't getting much of a break to enjoy their success. They open at top-seeded Miami on Sunday in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Nocioni and Hinrich scored 22 points apiece for the Bulls, who led for nearly the entire second half but failed to score in the final 2:53 after Chandler made a layup to put Chicago ahead 91-87.
Two defensive plays by the Wizards then turned the tide. Arenas blocked Hinrich's layup after Hinrich made a steal, and Jamison poked the ball away from Hinrich on the next possession. The Wizards converted both steals into baskets and tied the game.
The Bulls kept the game tight from the tipoff despite given little chance after a heartbreaking loss at home on Wednesday in Game 5 when they overcame a 22-point deficit but lost on Arenas' game-winner at the buzzer. Chicago hasn't won in Washington since 2001, a losing streak that has now reached 11 games.
Already having to make do without leading scorer Eddy Curry and forward Luol Deng for the playoffs, the Bulls started Ben Gordon because of Duhon's sore back. Duhon played 21 minutes and scored five points, but he was so stiff he had to lie on the floor when he wasn't in the game and had trouble guarding Arenas.
Nocioni, who had been quiet since scoring 25 points in Game 1, had 11 in the first quarter, helping the Bulls to a 26-23 lead at the start of the second.
The Bulls kept shooting well, and Pargo and Adrian Griffin came off the bench to lead a 10-3 run that put Chicago ahead 45-36. The Wizards stormed back to take the lead with a 10-run led by NBA steals leader Hughes.
Hughes stripped Gordon and made a layup, then knocked the ball away from Chandler and was flagrantly fouled by Chandler. Hughes made both free throws, and the Wizards kept the ball, turning the sequence into a five-point play when Arenas was made a layup and free throw after getting fouled on a baseline drive. Pargo's 3-pointer in the final minute gave the Bulls a 54-52 halftime lead.
Three-pointers by Duhon, Nocioni and Hinrich helped Chicago build an eight-point lead in the third. No one scored in the final 3:55 of the period, with the Wizards missing 10 shots in a row and the Bulls misfiring on eight straight. Hinrich scored 12 of Chicago's 20 points in the quarter.
Washington's missed-shot drought hit 13 before Jamison hit a 3-pointer early in the fourth, but the tension was still getting to both sides. Arenas missed eight straight shots before his 3-pointer with 7:44 to play cut Chicago's lead to 80-78.
Notes: Incredible as it may seem, Wizards coach Eddie Jordan was drinking a cup of water when Arenas' hit the game-winning shot at the buzzer in Game 5. "I was sitting down," Jordan said. "I said, 'Well, I've called the play, it's on them.' I'm drinking a sip of water, and the thing went in -- and the water went up. I baptized myself." ... Win or lose, the Wizards knew they would have to catch a flight for a Sunday game: either Game 7 at Chicago or Game 1 at Miami. "I've got my suntan lotion on one side of my bag, and my parka coat on the other side of the bag," Jordan said. "So I'm going with that bag one way or the other." ... Chicago's Gordon and Deng both made the NBA's All-Rookie team, but Chicago coach Scott Skiles felt Nocioni and Duhon deserved recognition as well. "Duhon, in particular, is the starting point guard for a 47-win team," Skiles said. "There's guys on that second team that were not even close to being on winning teams. I would hope the coaches were a little more insightful, but I guess not."