NEW YORK, Oct. 30 (Ticker) --
For Michael Jordan
, The Third Coming came up a little bit short.
Michael Jordan couldn't point the Wizards to an opening night victory.
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Jordan's greatly anticipated return had a bittersweet ending as he missed a potential tying 3-pointer in the final seconds, allowing the New York Knicks to escape with a 93-91 victory over the Washington Wizards.
Perhaps the greatest player in NBA history, Jordan retired for the second time three years ago. He left a lasting image as his final shot was a jumper in the final seconds that gave the Chicago Bulls their sixth championship in eight years.
After a 40-month hiatus, the 38-year-old Jordan reminded us all why we watch, lining up a potential tying shot from the right wing with 18 seconds remaining. But like many of his shots, it came up short.
"I guess the difference is I'm a little bit older," Jordan said. "The game's a little different, my teammates are a little different and the outcome was a little bit different."
Much was different about Jordan, starting with the fact that he played primarily at point guard. He handed out six assists and probably should have had six more.
With the new defensive rules allowing zones in effect, the Knicks repeatedly double-teamed him, chasing the ball out of his hands. The Wizards, who were a franchise-worst 19-63 last season, could not hit many of the open shots.
"We doubled Michael a lot," said Knicks swingman Latrell Sprewell
, who scored 28 points. "The guys on the team just didn't knock down the shots for him. They had a lot of open looks off the double."
"This is a young team," Jordan said. "Hopefully, we'll get better."
In 37 minutes, Jordan scored 19 points, a bit off his preseason average of 22.3 and much less than the 32.6 he posted in 53 career games against the Knicks, one of his favorite teams to torment.
"When that three went up, I thought it was in," said Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy, who has been on the painful end of many of Jordan's shots.
Jordan did not shoot well either, making just 7-of-21 shots as he played mostly on the perimeter. He had only two baskets in the second half, coming up short on most of his shots and throwing a couple of bad passes in the final period.
In all, it was somewhat of an empty feeling for the 392nd consecutive sellout crowd at Madison Square Garden, a national TV audience and 600 media members, a number normally seen at the NBA Finals.
This was the first NBA game televised by the BBC and the folks across the pond got a chance to see what all the commotion was about. It still came down to Jordan taking the big shot, which is what the Wizards would like to see all season.
"You know Michael. He's so competitive. He's disappointed," said Wizards first-year coach Doug Collins, who also coached Jordan in his early days in Chicago. "He wanted to win the game. I thought he did fine. He missed a few shots."
Sprewell's 3-pointer and jumper gave the Knicks the lead for good at 84-83 with 3:45 left. Jordan missed a jumper and threw a bad pass on consecutive possessions and Sprewell's turnaround jumper from the post extended the lead to 89-86 with 1:43 to go.
Jordan made a jumper but missed from the top of the circle on the next trip. Two free throws by Othella Harrington
gave the Knicks a 91-88 lead with 34 seconds to play, setting up the key sequence.
Jordan first tried a lob pass to the post that was intercepted by power forward Kurt Thomas
-- who promptly kicked it back to the Wizards trying to dribble out of the pack. The ball swung to an open Jordan on the right wing, but he banged the shot off the front of the rim. Thomas rebounded, drew a foul and made both free throws to seal it at 93-88 with 16 seconds left.
"It was pretty rushed," Jordan said. "I had a good look. My shots tonight were pretty short, pretty flat."
"I was just upset because I made a turnover," Thomas said. "Fortunately, he missed the shot and I was able to get the rebound. I shouldn't have even dribbled from the beginning."
scored 22 points, Thomas added 14 and Harrington nine and 12 rebounds for the Knicks, who beat the Wizards for the sixth consecutive time and improved to 35-21 in season openers.
scored 18 points off the bench for the Wizards, benefiting most from the attention paid to Jordan. Richard Hamilton
and Popeye Jones
added 13 points apiece, but Collins lost in his debut with Washington.
The ovation for Jordan during introductions was muted by the ongoing acknowledgement of the heroes of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Once the game began, Jordan went on the attack with mixed results.
Playing the point, he scored six points in the first quarter but also fired an airball and missed a contested layup he used to dunk in his younger days.
Jordan made Whitney look like a star in the second quarter, when Washington opened its largest lead at 35-24 with 6:51 to go. But he sat with 3:22 left and the Wizards allowed their nine-point lead to dwindle without him. Collins rushed Jordan back into the game to preserve a 43-41 halftime edge.
"We didn't finish the second quarter properly," Jordan said. "Doug wanted to rest me."
The Knicks carried the momentum into the third quarter, when Jordan failed to score from the field. Meanwhile, Houston (11) and Sprewell (8) combined for 19 points in the period as New York opened a 10-point bulge before settling for a 67-61 lead entering the final period.