Saunders helps light fire under Wizards in win over 76ers
When things are not going well on the floor, it is the job of the coach to shake things up. And that is exactly what Washington Wizards coach Flip Saunders did on Tuesday.
With his starters playing with about the same type of energy and momentum as the traffic since the area was blanketed in almost two feet of snow over the weekend, Saunders sat them all in the third quarter in favor of his reserves.
The move brought about the desired result at Verizon Center, lighting a spark under the regulars in the fourth quarter that translated to a 105-98 Washington victory in front of 15,435.
"We had guys that were mad," Saunders said of Antawn Jamison, Gilbert Arenas, Randy Foye, Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood. "I told them they could be mad but you're not half as mad as I am with the effort we gave. My second point was you have to have enough confidence when things aren't going right that you can put guys in and give you energy, get it turned around and get things going. That's what a team is."
Arenas scored 12 of his game-high 31 points in the fourth quarter, and Butler, who had four points through three quarters, added 10 in the fourth to help the Wizards (9-17) win for just the third time in the last 10 games.
Philadelphia (7-21), playing its third game in a row minus injured Allen Iverson (arthritis in left knee, left shoulder contusion), lost for the 15th time in its last 17 games. Elton Brand paced the Sixers with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Philadelphia, which plays its next six games on the road, hopes to have Iverson back in the lineup on Saturday when it begins its six-game road trip at Utah.
Saunders extracted his starters with 7:58 to play in the third quarter, allowing the benching to marinate for the rest of the quarter. At the time, the Wizards trailed 56-52 and weren't playing with the appropriate passion Saunders wanted. They had made just two field goals at the time while committing three turnovers.
While the reserves did not trim the lead at all -- Philadelphia led 79-72 at the start of the third quarter -- Arenas and Butler combined to score 18 of the Wizards' first 24 points in the fourth quarter, mostly on layups and shots from point-blank range, to push the Wizards to a 96-92 advantage following Butler's dunk with 4:42 left in the game.
76ers coach Eddie Jordan said that during the Washington run, he kept center Samuel Dalembert out too long. This led to the Wizards attacking the basket with little fear of repercussion.
"Overall it was a horrible fourth quarter from a defensive standpoint," Jordan said. "Gilbert was very good driving through the paint. He was certainly the catalyst for them. And we didn't have Sammie in there and nobody defended at the rim. You hope your guys defend a little better. I kept guys in there for offensive purposes because we had matchups we wanted. It worked for us a little bit but I probably stuck with it too long."
The Wizards, having beaten the Sixers at home twice this season, lead the season series 2-1. The teams face each other for a fourth and final time at Wachovia Center on Jan. 5.
The 76ers hope to be at full strength by then. The last time they played in Washington, back on Nov. 24, starting point guard Lou Williams suffered a broken jaw in a game in which he led the Sixers with 26 points.
Playing in just his second game since the injury, Williams finished with 12 points. Willie Green, starting in place of Williams, finished with 16 points.
Williams was involved in easily the most interesting play of the night.
With 30.1 seconds left in the game and the Wizards leading 103-98, the officials called a double personal foul on Williams, trying to score a layup, and Washington's Andray Blatche (10 points), who tried to block his shot. The result was jump ball at midcourt between Blatche and Dalembert. Washington won the jump ball and Green fouled Washington's Earl Boykins, who sank a pair of free throws for a 105-98 score.
Asked about the head-scratching moment shortly thereafter, Jordan said he "didn't get" an explanation from the officials, and "I wasn't looking for one either."