If you ignored the 80 games between the season opener and the season finale, this year was probably one of the best seasons in recent memory.
After scoring a career-high 29 points in his hometown, Roy Hibbert looked poised to be the Pacers' hero. Instead coach Jim O'Brien shelved him, opting for perimeter shooting to help the team hold onto its lead. Curiously, the perimeter shooting Pacers were an unhealthy 3-of-22 (13.6%) from 3-point land this evening, yet it seemed logical to rely on those shots with the game on the line. Well, logical may be the wrong word. Obviously, it didn't stop the Wiz from taking a one-point lead 1:47 left and after the Pacers scored only six points in seven minutes as shots never connected in the net (including a Gordon Hayward-esque Mike Dunleavy 3-pointer with 28.9 seconds to go), the blue and gold had one final chance. So with 3.1 seconds remaining, the ball went to Danny Granger and his wide open 15-footer on the right wing rattled in-and-out of the basket.
The final score was the Wizards only lead of the second half. While Andray Blatche put the exclamation mark on his season with a team-high 26 points, the Wizards rally from a 14-point third quarter deficit was fueled by its bench. Wizards head coach Flip Saunders followed through with his plan to spread playing time around in the season finale and the reserves responded by scoring all 24 of the team’s points in the final quarter.
And perhaps no one felt better than Cedric Jackson, who made the decisive three-pointer with 1:31 remaining. Jackson finished the season with his third different team, on his final 10-day contract, scored all of his career-high eight points in the final 5 ½ minutes. It may have helped that the Pacers had no idea who he was. "That little guard, I don't even know his name. No. 9, down the stretch, he was pretty good," said Granger, who had to look at the box score to figure out his name.
Granger missed an easy game-winner, meaning Washington got its 26th win of the year, one short of the total number of players that were on the roster at one time or another this season. It also dropped the Wizards down in the NBA Draft Lottery. "Everytime there’s something that ends, there’s something that begins," said Wizards head coach Flip Saunders. "For us, it’s a beginning. The decision we made two months ago, and I think where we’re at right now to where we felt we might be when that decision was made, we’re way ahead, in the development of Andray, JaVale, Nick [Young], Shaun [Livingston], where those guys are at and how those guys competed; knowing that we have three players in the top 35 draft picks, and having the flexibility with the salary cap. We’ve got a lot of things on the table. We can do a lot of things to improve, and also I think the players on this team can improve."
The Wizards have endured a season that almost defies comprehension. One of, it not the most bizarre, perplexing, unpredictable and disappointing seasons in franchise history came to an end on Wednesday as the Wizards defeated the Indiana Pacers, 98-97, at Verizon Center. "It was a season unlike any other I've experienced since I've been in the NBA," said Earl Boykins, a veteran of 11 seasons.
The Wizards’ 25 starting lineups nearly matched the win total (26) over 82 games and wasn’t much better than last year’s 19-victory campaign. Washington’s main hope lies in the fact that only six players are under contract for next season, leaving plenty of salary cap space to pursue free agents this summer. "It’s maybe not what I signed up for originally when I came," said coach Flip Saunders, completing his first season with the club. "But as all coaches, you love challenges. Through every adversity, through every challenge there’s opportunity, and I feel good where we’re at right now."