Jordan finished one point shy of 40 in what was likely his final
game at Madison Square Garden as New York blew all but one point of
a late 15-point lead and came away with a 97-96 victory Sunday.
"We were throwing the ball all over the place. We weren't
executing the trap,'' Latrell Sprewell said. "When you're up, you have a tendency to not be as focused. That was the case with us.''
The sight of a certain player wearing No. 23 probably had
something to do with it, too.
Recent Knicks history is littered with examples of them falling
short of their goals every time Jordan got in their way. There were
the five playoff defeats at the hands of Jordan and the Chicago
Bulls, the famous double-nickel game when Jordan returned from his
first retirement in 1995 and scored 55, along with many other
instances in which Jordan got the best of New York.
A compelling final chapter would have been added if the Wizards
could have pulled this one out.
"I didn't know how that would transpire,'' Jordan said.
"Perfect endings happen if you play hard and do all the necessary
things you need to do, but I wasn't trying to come up with
something that would be a perfect ending.''
Jordan was brilliant in the first half, scoring 26, and quiet
for most of the second half until the game went down to the final
That's when the Knicks nearly had a complete collapse, with the
NBA's leading free-throw shooter, Allan Houston, missing a pair
from the line with 18.8 seconds left and Shandon Anderson making
only one of two with 5.4 seconds remaining.
That left Washington trailing 97-94, but the Knicks wouldn't let
Jordan go for the tie. Sprewell fouled Jordan immediately after he
received the inbounds pass, forcing him to shoot two from the line.
Jordan made both with 4.2 seconds remaining, and the Knicks were
able to run out the clock with some quick passing off the inbounds
Jordan shot 13-for-22, with a dozen of his field goals coming
from outside, and 13-for-15 from the line for 39 points. He got
little help, however, as Larry Hughes and Juan Dixon scored 13 each
and Jerry Stackhouse was held to five.
The victory pulled New York within two games of ninth-place
Washington in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Knicks are
3½ games behind eighth-place Milwaukee.
"It's very disappointing when a 40-year-man has more desire
than a 24-, 25-, or 23-year old, diving for loose balls, busting
his chin and doing everything he can to get his team into the
playoffs, and it's not reciprocated from the other players on the
team,'' Jordan said. "Until guys let go of that macho, cool
attitude and do the necessary things that it takes to play the game
of basketball, it's going to be tough for Washington to make
Houston scored 28, Sprewell 20 and Anderson 17 for the Knicks.
Jordan re-entered the game with 10:29 left in the fourth quarter
and Washington trailing by eight. Just 25 seconds and two jump
shots later, Jordan had the crowd cheering for him and the deficit
down to four.
But Anderson scored the next five points to start a 13-2 run
that put the Knicks ahead 95-80 with 5:19 left. They didn't score
again until 30 seconds remained, and many in the crowd cheered for
Washington during the comeback.
"It was really bizarre, a strange feeling,'' Houston said.
"You're fighting so hard for the playoffs and it's almost like
you're on the road. But you know what? It's Michael.''
Unlike the last time he played his "last game'' at the Garden,
Jordan did not dig deep into his closet for a pair of original Air
Jordans. Instead, he wore the updated gray version of his signature
shoes and let his game, rather than his footwear, be the focus.
After missing his first two shots, Jordan sank seven of his next
eight -- all jumpers -- while the expression on his face turned from
annoyed to animated. Jordan exchanged barbs with Anderson as the
Knicks' small forward tried unsuccessfully to stop him.
"I didn't want to try to do too much, just work my way into a
rhythm,'' Jordan said. "That's kind of what happened until Shandon
Anderson and I had a conversation about back in the Utah days and
kind of kicked it up a notch, then we were in a battle.''
It was Jordan's 43rd appearance at the arena where he scored 30
or more points 25 times. Barring a meeting of the teams in the
playoffs, which is highly unlikely, it also was his last.
The Knicks have won four straight at home. They haven't
lost at home to an Eastern Conference opponent since Jan. 11. ...
New York beat Washington for the first time this season after two
defeats. The Wizards had won five straight against the Knicks.