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Washington ends its playoff drought



Published: Sat, April 30, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Wizards' 117-99 win over Chicago was their first in 17 years.

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The game-defining moment came late in the first quarter, when the Washington Wizards became more than just the Big Three. Larry Hughes drew a double team and passed to a wide open Etan Thomas, whose two-handed dunk raised the roof and set the tone for things to come.

The Wizards won their first playoff game in 17 years Saturday, beating the Chicago Bulls 117-99 with a big-man attack notably absent in the first two games of the series.

Thomas scored 20 points on 8-for-9 shooting, grabbed nine rebounds and led a third-quarter spurt that put his team control, supplementing an attack that had come to rely too heavily on Hughes, Gilbert Arenas and Antawn Jamison.

"He was the X-factor," Chicago guard Ben Gordon said. "He really came in for them today and had an uncharacteristic game. Usually you see Arenas, Jamison or Hughes doing something, but he was very big."

Hadn't won since 1988

The win was the first in the postseason for the Wizards since May 8, 1988, when they beat Detroit 106-103 in Game 4 of a first-round series. Of immediate concern for the Wizards is that they cut the Bulls' series lead to 2-1, with Game 4 in Washington on Monday.

"We were very desperate," said Brendan Haywood, who added eight points and nine rebounds. "It's not impossible to come back from 0-3, but it's definitely very hard. We would have had to pull out our Boston Red Sox tapes."

The Bulls had taken a 2-0 series lead with their own X-factors -- Gordon and Andres Nocioni seemed unstoppable in Game 1, and Kirk Hinrich made nearly everything he shot in Game 2 -- but the over-the-top hero this time was a Wizards player known as much for his long dreadlocks and his book of poems called "More Than an Athlete."

Thomas took only five shots and scored nine points in the first two games of the series combined, and his performance Saturday nearly tripled his 7.1-point regular season average. He signed a six-year, $36.6 million contract last summer but missed the first 32 games of the season with an abdominal injury.

Supporting cast

"We have a special group in the Big Three, and I'm in the supporting cast," Thomas said. "Tonight, they needed me. I had to be ready just to finish. ... We can't rely on them totally for everything."

The Big Three played their parts, but the trio gained inspiration from unsung front court players Thomas, Haywood and Michael Ruffin, who had a season-high nine points. Arenas finished with 32 points, seven rebounds and seven assists. Hughes had 21 points and seven rebounds, and Jamison had 21 points and eight rebounds.

Tyson Chandler had 15 points and 10 rebounds to lead six players in double figures for the Bulls, who struggled with foul trouble in a closely called, rhythm-less game that included 67 combined fouls and 83 free throws. In addition, Gordon asked to leave the game at one point because he was hampered by a virus that caused him to miss practice Friday, and Nocioni was rocked momentarily after taking a shot to the groin in a collision with Hughes in the third quarter.

Did not finish

Chandler and Antonio Davis both fouled out in the fourth -- Davis was ejected when he confronted an official over his sixth foul -- and Hinrich got his fourth foul early in the third quarter.

"It is hard to beat a team three times in a row in this league," coach Scott Skiles said. "They came ready today. We were fortunate to be close at halftime. The chain of events with Kirk's foul and Andres going out, we just didn't have enough guys that played well to be in the game against a team of this quality in their building."




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