Sun, May 08, 2005 - Page 24 News List

Jeffries conjures up win for Wizards

NBA PLAYOFFS Washington advanced to the second round for the first time since 1982 and is the ninth team in NBA history to rally from an 0-2 deficit to win a series


Jared Jeffries, left, of the Wizards, pressures Lawrence Funderburke of the Bulls during the first half of Game 6 of their playoff series at the MCI Center in Washington on Friday. Jefferies's steal and dunk with 32.7 seconds left in the game propelled Washington to a 94-91 series-clinching win over Chicago and their first playoff series win in 23 years.


The Washington Wizards needed a victory and Jared Jeffries was the least likely player to deliver it.

Jefferies's steal and dunk with 32.7 seconds left propelled the Washington Wizards to a 94-91 series-clinching victory (4-2) over the Chicago Bulls on Friday night in Game 6 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff matchup at the sold-out MCI Center.

The Wizards will play the Heat in Miami today in Game 1.

Jefferies's heroics began when he intercepted a Bulls inbounds pass that had bounced off Chris Duhon's back. Jefferies saw daylight and dribbled half the length of the court for the game-winning slam.

"I've never run that fast in my life," Jefferies said. "If you had timed me against Carl Lewis, I would have been right there with him."

For the second consecutive game, the Wizards won in the final seconds. Gilbert Arenas hit a 15-foot shot as time expired Wednesday night to set up Game 6 at home.

Jefferies was not the only reserve to excel for the Wizards in the series. Etan Thomas scored a season-high 20 points in the Game 3 victory and Juan Dixon poured in a career-high 35 in the Game 4 victiory.

"That's what this team is about," forward Michael Ruffin said. "A different guy every night. It shows how much heart we have and what got us here."

The second half of Game 6 provided another example. The Wizards trailed by as many as 10 points in the third quarter and were down 91-87 with less than three minutes left in the fourth. But Chicago would give up the last seven points of the game, allowing a sensational defensive play swing the game back toward Washington.

His team ahead by four, Chicago's Kirk Hinrich stripped Washington's Larry Hughes in the backcourt and drove toward the basket. But Arenas sprinted back to reject Hinrich's layup and gave possession back to the Wizards.

"He covered for me," Hughes said. "I got a little lazy with the ball, and I usually don't make the kind of play. But Gil had my back. He has all year."

Hughes, Arenas and Antawn Jamison, the team's Big Three who accounted for two-thirds of the team's points during the regular season, each finished with 19 points. Jefferies added 12, the last of which proved to be the winning points.

But the finish wasn't without the drama associated with a team that's gone a generation without tasting this sort of success. His team up two with 16 seconds left, Juan Dixon, a 90 percent foul shooter, made only one of two free throws. His miss was the team's seventh from the free throw line in the fourth quarter.

Without using their final time out, the Bulls came upcourt with a chance to tie. But Andres Nocioni, whose 22 points matched Hinrich's as tops for the Bulls missed a three-pointer with six seconds left. Tyson Chandler rebounded and missed two-point attempt, even though his team needed three points to tie.

Arenas, who scored eight of his points in the fourth quarter, grabbed the Chandler miss and flipped the ball into the stands, triggering a celebration that included pyrotechnics and streamers falling from the arena ceiling. A few fans ran on to the floor to celebrate, and Arenas jumped on the scorer's table, and, sticking with custom, tore off his jersey and fired it into the crowd.

"It's great, man," Arenas said. "All I kept saying was that I wasn't going back to Chicago. There was no way I was going to back to Chicago."

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